Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, July 18, 2019


Page 1


Court of Appeal:

Vouching by ‘Rogue Juror’ Requires Reversal of Judgment


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday reversed a judgment based on a 9-3 jury finding that the defendant in a personal injury action did not negligently design and construct an irrigation system, saying that the verdict cannot stand because a juror, based on personal experience, vouched for the quality of the work.

Justice Kenneth Yegan of Div. Six commented:

“A ‘rogue juror’ is someone who, in a mischievous way, wanders apart from fellow jurors, does not follow the court’s instructions, and violates the juror’s oath….This undermines the integrity of trial by an impartial jury. Such a juror may not vote or influence other jurors based upon asserted expertise on a matter not in evidence at trial. This is juror misconduct which raises a presumption of prejudice. Here, it was not rebutted and we reverse.”

Juror’s Experience

The defendant, Cal West Rain, Inc., was sued by a man who was struck at a vineyard by a valve assembly that blew off an irrigation pipe. One of the jurors, identified only as “Reed,” was a pipefitter who had built an irrigation system for his own ranch.

According to jurors’ declarations, he insisted during deliberations that Cal West “installed the system like everybody in the industry does,” that it conformed to “industry standard” and that once “Cal West had done their testing, the ownership of the system transferred to the owner of the vineyard, and then anything that happened was the vineyard’s responsibility.

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Donald G. Umhofer found that juror misconduct had occurred but that the plaintiff, Ruben Nodal, was not prejudiced by it.

Yegan’s Opinion

Yegan disagreed, declaring:

“Jurors are not permitted to inject extraneous evidence, standards of care, or defense theories into the deliberations. Reed said the Cal West design and construction met the ‘industry standard’ and that ‘[a]nybody would have put [the system] together the exact same way....’ There was no evidence of that. Reed vouched for the design and construction based on his expertise as a pipefitter and farmer, and said that anything that happened after the system was put together and tested ‘was the vineyard’s responsibility.’ That was contrary to the evidence and instructions. The case was tried on a negligent design and construction theory. It mattered not whether ownership of the irrigation system transferred to the vineyard owner after Cal West built the system.”

He said the declarations indicate that Reed might have changed the views of as many as four jurors.

Judgment N.O.V.

Although the opinion reverses the judgment, Yegan said Umhofer’s denial of Nodal’s motion for a N.O.V. was properly denied.

“Where, as here, the evidence is conflicting or if several reasonable inferences may be drawn, the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict should be denied,” he wrote.

The case is Nodal v. Cal-West Rain, Inc., 2019 S.O.S. 3384.


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