Key Decisions

November 2012- A Party Seeking A New Trial

(filed under: Key Decisions Archive | November 20, 2012)

A Party Seeking A New Trial Based On Alleged Juror Misconduct Has The Burden Of Proving It

Barboni v. Tuomi
(Cal. Ct. of App., 4th Dist.), filed October 1, 2012

Jean Barboni sued Fred and Linda Tuomi for injuries she claimed to have suffered in a slip and fall on their driveway.  A jury ruled the Tuomis were not negligent.

Barboni made a motion for new trial based on juror misconduct.  She asserted that the jury wrongfully considered evidence of liability insurance against the court’s instructions.

The trial court denied her motion.

The Court of Appeal affirmed.  It concluded the trial court properly considered competing juror declarations and found Barboni failed to establish juror misconduct.

Juror misconduct is one of the specified grounds for granting a new trial.  The trial court must undertake a three-step process to evaluate a motion for new trial based on juror misconduct.  The trial court must first determine whether the affidavits supporting the motion are admissible.  Second, if the evidence is admissible, the trial court must determine whether the facts establish misconduct.  Third, assuming misconduct, the trial court must determine whether the misconduct was prejudicial.

Like any issue of admissibility, an appellate court must review rulings on admissibility for abuse of discretion.

As to the existence of misconduct, the moving party bears the burden of establishing juror misconduct and the appellate court must accept the trial court’s credibility determinations and findings on questions of historical fact if supported by substantial evidence.

As to prejudice, an appellate court reviews the entire record, including the evidence, and makes an independent determination as to whether the misconduct was prejudicial.

The court determined that there was substantial evidence from which the trial court could have found there as no juror misconduct.  Although Barboni provided a declaration by one juror saying that the jury considered the possibility of liability insurance and felt Barboni was seeking a double recovery, the Tuomis submitted declarations from other jurors to the contrary.  Their declarations also stated the jurors felt Barboni was at fault for her fall and had exaggerated her injuries and that this is why the declarants found against her.  This was sufficient to support the denial of Barboni’s motion.

The court also rejected Barboni’s claims that she was entitled to a new trial because the trial court permitted the Tuomis to belatedly designate their expert witnesses.  The court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion on this point, and even if there was error, it did not constitute a miscarriage of justice requiring a new trial.