Directed Verdict vs. Involuntary Dismissal

December 3, 2014 § 4 Comments

Juries render verdicts. Judges in bench trials render judgments.

Thus, the proper motion after the plaintiff has rested in a jury trial is a motion for a directed verdict, per MRCP 50(a).

In a bench trial, which includes 99.9% of chancery matters, the proper motion is one for an involuntary dismissal, per MRCP 41(b), which states:

… After the plaintiff, in an action tried by the court without a jury, has completed the presentation of his evidence, the defendant, without waiving his right to offer evidence in the event the motion is not granted, may move for a dismissal on the ground that upon the facts and the law the plaintiff has shown no right to relief. The court may then render judgment against the plaintiff or may decline to render any judgment until the close of all the evidence …

In the case of SKL Investments v. Hardin and Torrence, handed down November 18, 2014, the COA said this:

¶12. “[T]he appropriate motion in a case tried without a jury is not a motion for [a] directed verdict, but involuntary dismissal, pursuant to Rule 41(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure.” Gulfport-Biloxi Reg’l Airport Auth. v. Montclair Travel Agency Inc., 937 So. 2d 1000, 1004 (¶13) (Miss. Ct. App. 2006). “When reviewing a dismissal under . . . Rule . . . 41(b), we will not overturn the decision of [the chancery court] if [its] findings are supported by substantial evidence unless [the chancery court] abused [its] discretion, was manifestly wrong, or applied an erroneous legal standard.” Jones v. Jones, 101 So. 3d 731, 732 (¶4) (Miss. Ct. App. 2012) (citation omitted).

We discussed the different standards to be applied by the court in each of the two rules in a previous post. The distinction is substantial.

Legal nerd that I am, it irks me when I read a decision of the appellate court referring to a R41(b) motion in chancery court as one for a directed verdict. There are no verdicts in chancery court except in the relatively rare event of a jury trial — which now occurs only when one is requested in a will contest, and when the chancellor impanels an advisory jury (assuming that can still be done under the MRCP).

Likewise, you could conceivably lead an unsuspecting chancellor in a bench trial into error by casting your motion as one for a directed verdict. When the chancellor applies the proper legal standard to that motion, she is automatically in error, since it does not apply in bench trials.

Terminology can make a difference.

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