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Maine Energy Recovery Co. v. United Steel Structures
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	1999 ME 31
Docket: 	Yor-97-764
Argued:	October 6, 1998
Decided:	February 16, 1999

Panel:WATHEN, C.J., and CLIFFORD, RUDMAN, DANA, SAUFLEY, ALEXANDER, and
CALKINS, JJ.
	

MAINE ENERGY RECOVERY COMPANY v. UNITED STEEL STRUCTURES, INC.

RUDMAN, J.

	[¶1]	United Steel Structures, Inc. ("USS") appeals from the
judgment entered in the Superior Court (York County, Fritzsche, J.) after
the court granted Maine Energy Recovery Company's ("MERC's") renewed
motion for a judgment as a matter of law pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 50(b) and
set aside a jury verdict in favor of USS on MERC's claims for breach of
contract and breach of express warranty.  USS contends that the court erred
in vacating the jury verdict in favor of USS, entering a judgment for MERC as
a matter of law, and awarding $3,334,400.50 in damages to MERC.  We
agree that the court erred in setting aside the jury verdict and awarding
damages to MERC.  Therefore, we vacate the judgment and remand for
consideration of MERC's motion for a new trial, which the trial court
dismissed as moot. 
	[¶2]	The parties presented evidence at trial that tended to establish
the following facts.  The MERC "waste-to-energy" facility in Biddeford
produces fuel from garbage and uses the fuel to produce electricity.  In
1983, Kuhr Technology, Inc. ("KTI") entered a contract with General
Electric Company ("GE") to design and construct a "turn-key" facility.  In
1986, GE and USS entered a contract that obligated USS to design, supply
materials for, and construct a metal tipping building and a processing
building for MERC.  Thereafter, due to the accumulation of moisture inside
the completed tipping and processing buildings, substantial corrosion of the
buildings occurred.  In an attempt to recover damages for the corrosion of
the tipping and processing buildings, MERC sued USS for, inter alia, breach
of contract and breach of express warranty.{1}    
	[¶3]	The trial court denied USS's Rule 50(a) motion for a judgment
as a matter of law at the close of MERC's case.  See M.R. Civ. P. 50(a).  The
court also denied the Rule 50(a) motions that both USS and MERC offered at
the close of the evidence.  See id.  After the jury returned a unanimous
verdict in favor of USS on all counts, MERC orally renewed its motion for a
judgment as a matter of law pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 50(b).  The court denied
MERC's Rule 50(b) motion, stating:
		I'm not in the position of deciding whether I agree
	or disagree with the jury, that's not the task of the judge
	in a jury case.  The jury has been the [factfinder] and if
	there is substantial evidence to support any of the
	alternative findings that they could legally have made then
	the ruling at least at the trial level has to stand, the verdict
	has to stand.
		. . . .
		The question becomes: Is there any legitimate basis
	upon which the jury could have reached the verdict it did?
		One of the possible bases is whether . . . from the
	general conditions provisions . . . this abnormal condition
	situation applies.  [MERC has argued] that we are looking
	at normal versus abnormal for tipping buildings, but a
	counterargument can be made that no one, MERC or KTI,
	USS or General Electric, for whatever reason fully
	understood what the conditions were going to be inside
	that building once it was operation[al].  And so an
	argument can be made that if no one foresaw or
	anticipated the high degree of humidity that had turned
	out to be the case that the actual conditions could in fact
	be abnormal conditions.  It is clear that no one specifically
	and directly said to USS, "We're going to have a lot of
	moisture in here, folks, you have got to deal with that." 
	[MERC argued] that [USS] should have foreseen that and
	taken plans to deal with that and, if they didn't, it is their
	responsibility.  But the counterargument can be made that
	since nobody fully realized that, nobody warned them,
	nobody directed them, and there is no indication that
	anybody really realized this, that you can give the word,
	"abnormal," a different interpretation. . . .  Regardless of
	whether I would have reached a different decision, I don't
	think in the context of this case that is so clear as to
	preclude [USS] from making that potential argument and
	the jury possibly having adopted that as the basis for their
	decision.
The court entered a judgment for USS on September 18, 1997. 
	[¶4]	On September 26, 1997, MERC filed a motion{2} asking the court
to reconsider its denial of MERC's Rule 50(b) motion.  On December 10,
1997, the court granted MERC's motion, vacated the earlier judgment for
USS, and entered a judgment for MERC.  With notable brevity, the court's
written order stated, in pertinent part:
		After review of the written memoranda and oral
	argument I am convinced by the facts of the case, the
	contractual provisions and the legal principles and
	standards that the jury's verdict cannot be supported and
	must be set aside.  This is a decision that is not lightly
	made and has been made by me extremely rarely.  A
	careful review of the contractual documents, even when
	combined with an assessment of the facts in the light most
	favorable to the defendant, compels me to set aside the
	verdict and enter [a] judgment for the plaintiff in both
	cases in the uncontested amount sought at trial.
		I do not need to reach the issue of whether a new
	trial should be granted based on conduct of the
	defendant's lead attorney and will not rule on that issue.
		. . . .
		Plaintiff's motion for new trial is dismissed as moot.
On December 17, 1997, the court awarded damages to MERC in the amount
of $3,334,400.50.  
	[¶5]	Rule 50(a) provides that a court may grant a judgment as a
matter of law "if the court determines that, viewing the evidence and all
reasonable inferences therefrom most favorably to the party opposing the
motion, a jury could not reasonably find for that party on an issue that under
the substantive law is an essential element of the claim."  M.R. Civ. P. 50(a). 
Pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 50(b), a party seeking a judgment as a matter of law
after trial has the burden of establishing that the adverse jury verdict was
"clearly and manifestly wrong."  Townsend v. Chute Chem. Co., 1997 ME 46,
¶8, 691 A.2d 199, 202.  
	[¶6]	When we review the grant of a Rule 50(b) motion for a judgment
as a matter of law, we examine the jury's verdict to "determine if any
reasonable view of the evidence and those inferences that are justifiably
drawn from that evidence supports the jury verdict."  Townsend, 1997 ME
46, ¶8, 691 A.2d at 202 (quotations omitted).  We recently stated:
	In reviewing a trial court's disposition of a motion for [a]
	judgment as a matter of law, we view the evidence
	together with all justifiable inferences in the light most
	favorable to the party opposing the motion.  The motion
	should not be granted if "any reasonable view of the
	evidence could sustain a verdict for the opposing party
	. . . ."
Lewis v. Knowlton, 1997 ME 12, ¶ 6, 688 A.2d 912, 913 (quoting Currier v.
Toys 'R' Us, Inc., 680 A.2d 453, 455 (Me. 1996)) (emphasis added).  
	[¶7]	The burden of proof in an action for breach of contract or
express warranty is on the plaintiff.  The trial court instructed the jury that,
in order for MERC to prevail on its contract claim, the jury must find: (1)
breach of a material contract term; (2) causation; and (3) damages.  The
court also instructed the jury that, in order for MERC to prevail on its
express warranty claim, the jury must find: (1) that USS made promises
amounting to an express warranty; (2) breach of the warranty; (3) causation;
and (4) damages.  
	[¶8]	Viewing the evidence and all justifiable inferences therefrom in
the light most favorable to USS, the jury was not rationally compelled to
conclude that MERC had sustained its burden of proving all the above
elements of its claims for breach of contract and express warranty.  See
Lewis, 1997 ME 12, ¶ 8, 688 A.2d at 913.  Based on all the evidence,
reasonable minds could reach different conclusions on dispositive questions
of fact.  See Lewis, 1997 ME 12, ¶ 8, 688 A.2d at 913; C.N. Brown Co. v.
Gillen, 569 A.2d 1206, 1210 (Me. 1990) (discussing j.n.o.v. motions).{3}  In
fact, the trial court's own comments in denying MERC's original Rule 50(b)
motion cogently elucidated a possible rationale for the jury's factual
conclusions.  A court may not vacate a judgment entered upon a jury verdict
in a manner that would constitute a reexamination of the jury's factual
conclusions in contravention of article I, section 20 of the Maine
Constitution.  Cf. Most v. Most, 477 A.2d 250, 258 (Me. 1984) (examining
motion to alter or amend a judgment pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 59(e)). 
Therefore, the court erred in vacating the jury verdict and ruling that USS
breached the contracts and express warranties as a matter of law.{4}
	The entry is:
Judgment vacated.  Remanded for further
proceedings  consistent with the opinion herein.   

Attorneys for plaintiff: John H. Montgomery, Esq., (orally) Gordon F. Grimes, Esq. Susan Driscoll, Esq. Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson, P.A. P O Box 9729 Portland, ME 04104-5029 Attorneys for defendant: Harold J. Friedman, Esq., (orally) Michelle Allott, Esq. Friedman, Babcock & Gaythwaite P O Box 4726 Portland, ME 04112-4726
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . The court entered a summary judgment for USS "on any claim [by MERC] that there is an implied warranty of merchantability or an implied warranty for a particular purpose." {2} . Although entitled "motion for reconsideration," MERC's September 26, 1997 motion was, in essence, a renewed motion for a judgment as a matter of law pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 50(b). {3} . "If, on the basis of credible evidence in the record, reasonable minds could reach different conclusions in regard to a dispositive factual question, the court may not set aside the conclusion reflected in the jury's verdict." C.N. Brown Co. v. Gillen, 569 A.2d 1206, 1210 (Me. 1990) (quoting McCain Foods, Inc. v. St. Pierre, 463 A.2d 785, 788 (Me. 1983)) (discussing j.n.o.v. motions). {4} . Since we conclude that the court erroneously set aside the jury verdict pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 50(b), we need not address the other issues USS raised on appeal.