(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this workplace discrimination/personal injury case and its proceedings.)
It has long been the rule that in ruling upon a motion for new trial on the ground of insufficiency of evidence, the trial court is encouraged to sit as a thirteenth juror and reconsider and re-weigh the evidence. (See, e.g., Fountain Valley Chateau Blanc Homeowner’s Ass’n v. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs (1998) 67 Cal. App. 4th 743, 750-52.) In Norden v. Hartman, for example, the court affirmed the trial court’s grant of a motion for new trial based on insufficient evidence stating as follows:
This court has on many occasions, in similar workplace discrimination cases, commended the trial courts in granting new trials when, in the opinion of the court, sitting as a thirteenth juror, the weight of the evidence appears to be contrary to the jury’s determination …. This practice should not be discouraged. [Citations.]. On appeal all presumptions are in favor of the order and against the verdict. (Norden v. Hartman, supra, 111 Cal.App. 2d at 758.) In fact, the California Supreme Court long ago made clear that trial courts should not be reluctant to grant new trials for insufficiency of the evidence. The Supreme Court’s guidance is worthy of citation at length:
“We frequently have cause to believe that the judges of the superior court are too reluctant to exercise their power of granting a new trial for insufficiency of the evidence, and too much inclined to acquiesce in a verdict of the jury which does not meet with their own approval…. The trial court cannot rest upon a conflict in the evidence, but must weigh and consider the evidence for both parties, and determine for itself the just conclusion to be drawn from it. Where the decision is against the weight of the evidence it is the duty of that court to grant a new trial. [Citations omitted.] If the judge is not satisfied with the verdict, and is convinced that it is clearly against the weight of the evidence, it is his duty to set it aside, even though there may have been some conflict in the testimony. He has had the same opportunity as the jury to observe the manner of the witnesses, and to decide upon their credibility, and it is his duty to see that the verdict is not clearly against the weight of the evidence.”
The parties are entitled to the judgment of the jury in rendering a verdict, in the first instance; but upon a motion for a new trial they are equally entitled to the independent judgment of the judge as to whether such verdict is supported by the evidence. (Green v. Soule (1904) 145 Cal. 96, 102-103 [emphasis added].)
Thus, a motion for new trial based on insufficiency of the evidence allows a judge to disbelieve witnesses, re-weigh evidence and draw reasonable inferences contrary to that of the jury, and still, on appeal, retain a presumption of correctness that will be disturbed only upon a showing of manifest and unmistakable abuse. (Fountain Valley Chateau, supra, 67 Cal. App. 4th at 751 (judge has much wider latitude on motion for new trial than on a dispositive motion such as a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict).) (See Part 7 of 12.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.