At Boyd & Jenerette we understand the importance of coordination and planning between all members of your trial and appellate litigation team. When dispositive arguments are not properly presented to the trial court, it can cost the case.
TLO South Farms, Inc. v. Heartland Farms, Inc., No. 2D18-1639, 2019 Fla. App. LEXIS 14326 (Fla. 2d DCA Sept. 20, 2019).
In this case, TLO South Farms, Inc. and its president (TLO), a beekeeper, brought suit against Heartland Farms, Inc. and its president (Heartland) alleging breach of contract, negligence, and violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) arising out of an agreement for TLO to provide Heartland with pollination services for its crops.
During trial, Heartland moved for directed verdicts. With regard to the FDUTPA count, Heartland argued that “(1) absent any consumer transaction between TLO and [Heartland], TLO lacked standing to bring an action under FDUTPA; (2) a FDUTPA claim cannot be based solely on a breach of contract; and (3) TLO had failed to prove causation.” TLO opposed the motion for directed verdict, and the trial court reserved ruling on the issue. Following a jury verdict for TLO and discharge of the jury, Heartland renewed its motion for directed verdict “asserting that they were ‘just renew[ing] [their] arguments’ and ‘also focusing on the trade practices.’” The trial court denied the renewed motion.
Heartland then argued that the jury’s verdicts on the negligence count and the FDUTPA count were inconsistent and urged the court to set aside the verdict on the FDUTPA count, or alternatively to order a new trial on that count. Heartland argued in that motion that the evidence had failed to establish an FDUTPA violation, “that the verdict had been improperly based on sympathy for TLO . . . , and that the jury had improperly determined the damages on that county by simply adding up the damages that it had awarded on the breach-of-contract and negligence counts.” The trial court granted this motion, concluding that “there was no evidence upon which the jury could find that [Heartland] had engaged in unconscionable acts or practices and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of his trade or commerce.”
The Second District held that a “party cannot seek judgment in accordance with a previously-made motion for directed verdict unless that party has actually asserted the grounds raised in the motion for directed verdict made at the conclusion of evidence in the case.” On review, the Second District concluded that because Heartland had never challenged at trial the evidence establishing that it had engaged in unconscionable acts or deceptive practices, it was not now entitled to a have the verdict on that count set aside on that basis. The court noted that although Heartland had challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented at trial, that challenge was concerned squarely with a different element of a FDUTPA violation: causation.
In examining the trial court’s alternative order for a new trial, the Second District characterized that order as resting on the conclusions that the verdict was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence and inconsistent with the verdict on the negligence count. The court concluded that the inconsistent verdict argument was waived because Heartland did not object to the allegedly inconsistent verdicts prior to the jury having been discharged. Moreover, the court found unpersuasive the trial court’s conclusion that “the witnesses testified in the trial that [Heartland’s] farming operations were consistent in the same method and manner as all other farmers in central Florida.” Ultimately, the court concluded that because the case concerned specific actions of the defendants in a specific instance, “[t]estimony regarding [Heartland’s] general farming operations is not contrary to evidence supporting a finding that in this particular instance, [Heartland] did just that.”
This case highlights two important trial considerations: (1) arguments contained in renewed motions for directed verdict and to set aside the jury’s verdict must conform to the arguments made in the original motion for directed verdict; and (2) challenges arguing that the verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence should be specific and align with prior challenges to the evidence and the elements with which they were concerned.