The Basis for a New Trial
October 8, 2014 § Leave a comment
MRCP 59(a) provides that the trial court may grant a new trial ” … in an action tried without a jury, for any of the reasons for which rehearings have heretofore been granted in suits in equity in the courts of Mississippi.” In non-jury cases ” … the court may open the judgment if one has been entered, take additional testimony, amend findings of fact and conclusions of law or make new findings of fact and conclusions, and direct entry of a new judgment.”
On its own initiative, the court may, within ten days of entry of a judgment, order a new trial (rehearing) for any of the above reasons. And the court may, after giving the parties’ notice, grant a new trial for reasons not stated in a motion. The court must spell out the grounds for its ruling.
In the case of Bariffe v. Estate of Lawson, et al., about which we posted yesterday, Justice Coleman’s dissent adds some important insight into how R59 is supposed to be applied by the trial court [beginning in ¶50]:
… Rule 59 must be read and interpreted in light of [MRCP] Rule 61, which provides:
No error in either the admission or the exclusion of evidence and no error in any ruling or order or in anything done or omitted by the court or by any of the parties is ground for granting a new trial or for setting aside a verdict or for vacating, modifying, or otherwise disturbing a judgment or order, unless refusal to take such action appears to the court inconsistent with substantial justice. The court at every stage of the proceeding must disregard any error or defect in the proceeding which does not affect the substantial rights of the parties.
Miss. R. Civ. P. 61. Thus, a harmless error in the proceedings that “does not affect the substantial rights of the parties” is not a sufficient reason for granting a new trial. Id. Applying Rule 59, the Court has held that trial courts have discretion in granting a new trial if the judge is convinced that (1) “a mistake of law or fact has been made” or (2) “injustice would attend allowing the judgment to stand.” Mayoza v. Mayoza, 526 So. 2d 547, 549-50 (Miss. 1988). …
As we discussed in the previous post, the chancellor granted a new trial in Bariffe because he felt that he had improperly limited the parties’ presentation of their cases in the first trial by imposition of time limits on the examination of witnesses. The majority found no error in his granting of a new trial. Judge Coleman would have held it to be error based on his analysis above.
If you are going to make a R59 motion and argument, make sure you define what substantial rights were affected by the judge’s ruling, and stress that point. If you are on the receiving end of the motion, argue that the movant has failed to raise an issue cognizable under R61.