Tuesday, July 3, 2007
High Court Rejects Order Granting New Trial in Suit Against NFL
Justices Cite Trial Judge’s Lack of Stated Reasons, Conflicts in Evidence in Upholding C.A. Ruling
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A trial judge’s order granting new trial on the ground of jury misconduct, unsupported by a timely statement of reasons, need not be granted deference by an appellate court, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The high court unanimously agreed with Div. Two of this district’s Court of Appeal, upholding its February 2005 ruling in favor of the National Football League in a conspiracy suit brought by the Oakland Raiders. The lower panel overturned Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Hubbell’s order granting the Raiders a new trial after a jury rejected the team’s $1.2 billion conspiracy suit.
Jurors concluded the league did not interfere with the team’s negotiations to build a stadium at Hollywood Park in the mid-1990s, and that the Raiders did not own the right to put an NFL team in Los Angeles and thus were not entitled to compensation from the league for freeing up those rights by moving to Oakland.
Hubbell, who has since retired, granted the Raiders a new trial on the ground of juror misconduct. Such rulings are usually reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard, but Justice Joyce L. Kennard, writing for the court, said the decision was subject to independent review because Hubbell did not adequately state his reasons.
The trial judge’s statement that “the objectively ascertainable acts of Juror misconduct were prejudicial to the Oakland Raiders’ right to a fair trial,” Kennard explained, did not comply with Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 657’s requirement that the court, within 10 days of its order granting new trial, “specify the ground or grounds upon which it is granted and the court’s reason or reasons for granting the new trial upon each ground stated.”
The Raiders moved back to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995—13 years after the team moved south.
After that move, the Raiders sued the NFL and Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, claiming, among other things, that the league interfered with their plans to move from the Los Angeles Coliseum to a new stadium by insisting that the new facility also host a second NFL team.
The Raiders sued on theories of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, civil conspiracy, bad faith, unjust enrichment, and tortious interference with business relations. All of the team’s claims, however, were rejected either by Hubbell—who granted the league summary adjudication on several causes of action—or by the jury after a six-week trial and 15 days of deliberations.
But the judge later ordered a new trial on the five causes of action that went to the jury, finding in favor of the Raiders on their claim that a juror was biased because he said to fellow jurors during deliberations that he hated the team and its owner, Al Davis, and would never find in their favor in the case.
The juror responded in a declaration that after several days of tense deliberations, he made the statement as a joke, mentioning a small bet on the team that he had lost in Las Vegas years earlier. Declarations by other jurors showed that some of them never heard the comment and others disagreed as to whether it was serious.
There were also claims by some jurors that another juror, a lawyer, sought to persuade the jury to ignore the judge’s instructions and follow the juror’s explanations of the law, a claim the attorney/juror denied. Juror declarations showed a significant split as to what the panelists remembered her as saying.
Kennard explained yesterday that Sec. 657’s requirement of a statement of reasons for granting a new trial is strict, and that the 10-day limit for filing the statement is jurisdictional. Describing the issue before the high court as a narrow one, Kennard explained that the intent behind the requirement would be frustrated if the deferential abuse-of-discretion standard were applied in the absence of the statement of reasons.
The justice distinguished cases applying a deferential standard of review to the question of whether juror misconduct was prejudicial. Before addressing the issue of prejudice, Kennard explained, the court must decide whether the misconduct occurred, as to which the cases cited by the Raiders do not require deference.
“We address only the situation in which there is conflicting evidence on the issue of juror misconduct, not the question whether misconduct, shown by the record, is prejudicial,” Kennard wrote. “We do not address the situation in which apparently conflicting declarations can be reconciled, so that on close examination it is determined that the crucial allegations of misconduct are not in dispute.”
Turning to the merits, Kennard said the jurors’ declarations were “sharply conflicting on every material issue,” precluding the high court from concluding that the Raiders met their burden of proving misconduct.
All of the justices except Marvin Baxter concurred in the opinion. Baxter concurred separately, joined by Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justice Carlos Moreno, saying the decision does not preclude an appellate court from applying a deferential standard of review where the trial judge’s reasons for granting a new trial are clear, even if the statute is not strictly complied with.
The case was argued in the high court by Larry R. Feldman of Kaye Scholer for the Raiders and Gregg H. Levy of Covington & Burling’s Washington, D.C. office for the NFL.
The case is The Oakland Raiders v. National Football League, 07 S.O.S. 4265.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company