First District Illinois Appellate Court Defines Standards Of Review For Motion For New Trial And For Judgment Notwithstanding Verdict

Heather Addis sued Exelon for retaliatory discharge. Unhappy with the jury’s defense verdict, Addis moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for a new trial. After those motions were denied, Addis appealed.

The First District Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the two issues had different standards of review on appeal. A motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict is reviewed de novo. A motion for a new trial, the court stated, is reviewed for a clear abuse of discretion. In this case, Addis’s appellate brief argued only for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Even though she appealed from the order denying her motion for a new trial, her failure to argue that position in her appellate brief resulted in waiver of her new trial position.

This opinion muddies the “abuse of discretion” standard by defining it with “manifest weight” language. The court stated: “In determining whether the trial court abused its discretion, we consider whether the jury’s verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence.” So which is it − abuse of discretion or manifest weight?

In the end, the confusion may not have mattered in this case. The court ruled that there was plenty of evidence for the jury to conclude in Exelon’s favor. “… [W]hen viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to defendant, we cannot find that the evidence so overwhelmingly favors plaintiff that no contrary verdict could stand. Therefore, we conclude that the circuit court properly denied plaintiff’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.” That sounds like a de novo review, which is what the court called for on the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

Read the whole opinion, Addis v. Exelon Generation Co., No. 1-06-2732 (12/26/07), by clicking here.