Directed Verdict vs. Involuntary Dismissal
February 2, 2016 § 1 Comment
After the plaintiff or petitioner has rested in a chancery court bench trial, the defendant may move to dismiss on the ground that the plaintiff or petitioner has proven no right to relief. That is an involuntary dismissal, pursuant to MRCP 41(b), commonly referred to as a “41(b) motion.”
In a jury trial, a party may move for a directed verdict at the close of the other party’s case. That is a motion for directed verdict per MRCP 50(a).
The two are entirely different creatures. A 41(b) motion has no place in a jury trial, and a motion for directed verdict has no place in a bench trial.
The distinction was noted in the recent COA case, Carlson v. Brabham, handed down January 19, 2016. Judge Griffis explained:
¶10. “In a non-jury trial, such as this case, the appropriate motion is not a motion for [a] directed verdict pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 50; instead, the correct motion is a motion for [an] involuntary dismissal pursuant to Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b).” Partlow v. McDonald, 877 So. 2d 414, 416 (¶7) (Miss. Ct. App. 2003) (citation omitted) (citing Buelow v. Glidewell, 757 So. 2d 216, 220 (¶12) (Miss. 2000)). In this case, Brabham filed a Rule 50 motion for a directed verdict, rather than a Rule 41(b) involuntary-dismissal motion.
¶11. The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that in situations such as this, an appellate court must:
[C]onsider th[e] appeal based on the correct standard of review, which under Rule 41(b) is different than the standard of review applicable to a motion for a directed verdict under Rule 50. In considering a motion for [an] involuntary dismissal under Rule 41(b), the trial court should consider the evidence fairly, as distinguished from in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and the [trial court] should dismiss the case if it would find for the defendant. On appeal, [an appellate court] must apply the substantial evidence/manifest error standard to an appeal of a grant or denial of a motion to dismiss pursuant to [Rule 41(b)].
Id. at 416-17 (¶7) (internal quotations and citations omitted) (citing Miss. Real Estate Comm’n v. Geico Fin. Servs. Inc., 602 So. 2d 1155, 1156 n.1 (Miss. 1992)).
As I have pointed out here before, if you proceed under the wrong rule in chancery, you are inviting either of two unappetizing results: (a) the chancellor may overrule your motion because there is no such thing as directed verdict in a chancery bench trial; or (b) the chancellor may apply the wrong standard to the proof, and you could find yourself boomeranged back to chancery on a remand that you created by your own inattention to the distinction.