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Singer Oil Company LLC v. Newfield Exploration Mid-Continent Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

June 5, 2018

SINGER OIL COMPANY, LLC, an Oklahoma limited liability company, Plaintiff,
v.
NEWFIELD EXPLORATION MID-CONTINENT, INC., a foreign corporation domesticated to do business in Oklahoma; and HALLIBURTON ENERGY SERVICES, INC., a foreign corporation domesticated to do business in Oklahoma, Defendants.

          ORDER

          VICKI MILES-LaGRANGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is defendant Newfield Exploration Mid-Continent, Inc.'s (“Newfield”) Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment, for Remittitur, or in the Alternative, for a New Trial, filed December 18, 2017. On January 2, 2018, plaintiff filed its response, and on January 9, 2018, Newfield filed its reply. Based upon the parties' submissions, the Court makes its determination.

         I. Introduction

         This case was tried to a jury from November 8, 2017 through November 15, 2017. After deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff and against Newfield on plaintiff's private nuisance claim, negligence claim, and breach of contract claim and awarded damages in the amount of $257, 000.00. On November 20, 2017, the Court entered judgment consistent with the jury's verdict. Newfield now moves the Court to amend its judgment to exclude the tort claims and to reduce the damages to $32, 000, or, in the alternative, to order a new trial.

         II. Applicable Standards

         “Judgment as a matter of law is warranted only if the evidence points but one way and is susceptible to no reasonable inferences supporting the party opposing the motion. We do not weigh the evidence, pass on the credibility of the witnesses, or substitute our conclusions for that of the jury. However, we must enter judgment as a matter of law in favor of the moving party if there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis with respect to a claim or defense under the controlling law.” Mason v. Okla. Tpk. Auth., 115 F.3d 1442, 1450 (10th Cir. 1997) (internal quotations and citations omitted), overruled on other grounds by TW Telecom Holdings Inc. v. Carolina Internet Ltd., 661 F.3d 495 (10th Cir. 2011). In considering a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the court should construe the evidence and inferences most favorably to the non-moving party. Doan v. Seagate Tech., Inc., 82 F.3d 974, 976 (10th Cir. 1996).

         “A Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the judgment should be granted only to correct manifest errors of law or to present newly discovered evidence.” Phelps v. Hamilton, 122 F.3d 1309, 1324 (10th Cir. 1997) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         “[W]here the trial court believes that the judgment for damages is excessive, that is, it is against the weight of the evidence, the court may order a remittitur and alternatively direct that there be a new trial if the plaintiff refuses to accept it.” Holmes v. Wack, 464 F.2d 86, 89 (10th Cir. 1972).

         Finally, “[t]he decision whether to grant a new trial is committed to the informed discretion of the district court.” Ryder v. City of Topeka, 814 F.2d 1412, 1424 (10th Cir. 1987). In considering a motion for new trial, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Joyce v. Davis, 539 F.2d 1262, 1264 (10th Cir. 1976). “[T]he party seeking to set aside a jury verdict must demonstrate trial errors which constitute prejudicial error or that the verdict is not based on substantial evidence.” White v. Conoco, Inc., 710 F.2d 1442, 1443 (10th Cir. 1983). A new trial is appropriate if the verdict is “clearly, decidedly or overwhelmingly against the weight of the evidence.” Black v. Hieb's Enters., Inc., 805 F.2d 360, 363 (10th Cir. 1986) (internal citations omitted).

         III. Discussion

         A. Timeliness

         Plaintiff asserts that Newfield's motion is untimely. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 provides that a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and/or motion for new trial should be filed no later than twenty-eight days after the entry of judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b). While the jury returned its verdict on November 15, 2017, judgment was not entered in this case until November 20, 2017. Newfield filed the instant motion twenty-eight days later on December 18, 2017. Accordingly, the Court finds that Newfield's motion is timely.

         B. Consent and Release Agreement

         Newfield asserts that the Court erred in allowing plaintiff to pursue its tort claims and in failing to grant Newfield's motion for summary judgment or Rule 50 motion. Specifically, Newfield contends that the parties' Consent and Release Agreement (“Agreement”) unambiguously limits plaintiff to a contractual remedy. On October 10, 2017, the Court granted in part and denied in part Newfield's motion for summary judgment. In that Order, the Court found that the Agreement is ambiguous. Having carefully reviewed ...


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