MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.
In this case we are called upon to determine the appropriate procedure under Rule 50 (b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
"Comes the defendant, Montgomery Ward & Company, and files its motion praying that the jury's verdict herein and the judgment rendered and entered thereon be set aside and judgment entered herein for the defendant notwithstanding the verdict, and its motion for a new trial in the alternative, and as grounds therefor states . . ."
Thereunder, in heading A, it set out nine reasons in support of the motion for judgment, four of which were general, to the effect that the verdict was contrary to law, to the evidence, to the law and the evidence, and that the court erred in refusing to direct a verdict. Four challenged the sufficiency of the evidence as to negligence, as to the existence of the employment relation,
Under heading B, in support of the motion for a new trial, the same reasons as were assigned for the other motion were, with an immaterial exception, repeated; and additional reasons were added to the effect that the damages were excessive; that the court erred in ruling upon evidence, and in refusing to give requested instructions.
The motion concluded thus:
"Wherefore, the defendant prays that the verdict of the jury herein, and the judgment rendered and entered thereon, be set aside, and a judgment rendered and entered herein in favor of the defendant; and defendant further prays in the alternative that in the event the Court refuses to set aside the verdict rendered for the plaintiff and the judgment in favor of the plaintiff rendered and entered on said verdict, and refuses to render and enter judgment herein in favor of the defendant notwithstanding said verdict and judgment, that the court set aside said verdict and judgment on behalf of the plaintiff and grant the defendant a new trial herein."
The District Court rendered an opinion
The plaintiff filed a motion praying that, to limit the issues on appeal, the court's order and judgment specifically show the grounds on which relief was granted, and "in order that the judgment of the appellate court may be final," the motion for a new trial be overruled. The court, however, merely entered a judgment for the defendant notwithstanding the verdict.
The plaintiff appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided that the District Court erred in holding the evidence insufficient to make a case for a jury. It reversed the judgment and remanded the cause with instructions to the District Court to enter judgment on the verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
The importance of a decision by this court, respecting the proper practice under Rule 50 (b), and a conflict of decisions,
The Circuit Court of Appeals said:
"Strictly speaking the motion did not pray for relief in the `alternative,' giving the court a choice between
The defendant contends that the rule continues the existing practice respecting granting of new trials, and also regulates the procedure for rendering judgment notwithstanding a verdict; that the provision for an alternative motion for a new trial would be meaningless and nugatory if the granting of the motion for judgment operated automatically to dismiss it, since the bases of the two motions are, or may be, different, and orderly procedure requires that the court first rule on the motion for judgment, the granting of which renders unnecessary a ruling upon the motion for a new trial, which should be reserved until final disposition of the former.
The plaintiff insists that the trial court is limited to a choice of action on one motion or the other, but cannot rule upon the motion for judgment and leave that for a new trial to be disposed of only if judgment notwithstanding
We shall consider the plaintiff's contentions in inverse order.
1. While we took the case to review the Circuit Court's construction of the rule, it is true that if the defendant elected to stand on its motion for judgment and, in effect, withdrew its motion for a new trial, we do not reach the question involved in our grant of certiorari. We are, however, unable to spell out any such election or withdrawal. The motion for a new trial assigned grounds not appropriate to be considered in connection with the motion for judgment. It put forward claims that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence and was excessive; that the court erred in rulings on evidence and in refusing requested instructions. An affirmative finding with respect to any of these claims would have required a new trial whereas none of them could be considered in connection with the motion for judgment.
We think that when the defendant urged upon the District Court that it should not decide the motion for a new trial because it passed out of existence and consideration on the granting of the motion for judgment, all that defendant meant was that, having granted the motion for judgment, the court had no occasion to pass upon the reasons assigned in support of the motion for a new trial. That would obviously have been true if no appeal had been taken from the District Court's action or if that action had been affirmed upon appeal.
2. We come then to the substantial question which moved us to issue the writ, namely, whether under Rule
The rule was adopted for the purpose of speeding litigation and preventing unnecessary retrials. It does not alter the right of either party to have a question of law reserved upon the decision of which the court might enter judgment for one party in spite of a verdict in favor of the other.
Rule 50 (b) merely renders unnecessary a request for reservation of the question of law or a formal reservation; and, in addition, regulates the time and manner of moving for direction and of moving for judgment on the basis of the refusal to direct. It adds nothing of substance to rights of litigants heretofore existing and available through a more cumbersome procedure.
A motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict did not, at common law, preclude a motion for a new trial.
Each motion, as the rule recognizes, has its own office. The motion for judgment cannot be granted unless, as matter of law, the opponent of the movant failed to make a case and, therefore, a verdict in movant's favor should have been directed. The motion for a new trial may invoke the discretion of the court in so far as it is bottomed on the claim that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, that the damages are excessive, or that, for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving; and may raise questions of law arising out of alleged substantial errors in admission or rejection of evidence or instructions to the jury.
We are of opinion that the provision of the rule, — "A motion for a new trial may be joined with this motion, or a new trial may be prayed for in the alternative" — does not confine the trial judge to an initial choice of disposing of either motion, the exercise of which choice precludes consideration of the remaining motion. We hold that the phrase "in the alternative" means that the things to which it refers are to be taken not together but one in the place of the other.
The rule contemplates that either party to the action is entitled to the trial judge's decision on both motions, if both are presented. A decision in favor of the moving party upon the motion for judgment ends the litigation and often makes it possible for an appellate court to dispose of the case without remanding it for a new trial. If, however, as in the present instance, the trial court erred in granting the motion the party against whom the verdict went is entitled to have his motion for a new trial considered in respect of asserted substantial trial errors
The plaintiff urges that, whereas the rule was intended to expedite litigation, to prevent unnecessary trials, and to save the time of courts and litigants, the course urged by the defendant tends to extend the duration of litigation, to create unnecessary hardship, and to defeat the purpose of the rule.
We are of opinion that the position is untenable. This case well illustrates the efficacy of the procedure sanctioned by the rule. In view of the trial judge's conclusion that the plaintiff failed to make out a case for the jury he would, under the earlier practice, simply have
Much of the delay formerly encountered may be avoided by pursuing the course for which the defendant contends. But the courts should so administer the rule as to accomplish all that is permissible under its terms. Is it necessary, if the trial judge's order for judgment be reversed on appeal, that only thereafter he deal with the alternative motion? If so, and he then refuses to set aside the original judgment, a second appeal will lie, — not from his order denying a new trial, for that order, save in most exceptional circumstances, is not appealable,
If alternative prayers or motions are presented, as here, we hold that the trial judge should rule on the motion for judgment. Whatever his ruling thereon he should also rule on the motion for a new trial, indicating the grounds of his decision. If he denies a judgment n.o.v. and also denies a new trial the judgment on the verdict stands, and the losing party may appeal
Should the trial judge enter judgment n.o.v. and, in the alternative, grant a new trial on any of the grounds assigned therefor, his disposition of the motion for a new trial would not ordinarily be reviewable,
We might reverse and direct that the cause be remanded to the District Court to pass on both motions.
In the circumstances, we think the failure of the District Court to rule in the alternative on both matters can be cured without depriving the defendant of opportunity to have its motion for a new trial heard and decided by the trial court, by modifying the judgment below to provide that the cause be remanded to the District Court to hear and rule upon that motion.