Judgment as Matter of Law and Jury Instructions

Judgment as Matter of Law and Jury Instructions

     This short blog/article was written primarily for my own, Eric Roy’s, benefit.  For a more authoritative and comprehensive explanation of the matter I refer you to the Nevada Civil Practice Manual.  Here I briefly discuss rules regarding Judgment as a Matter of Law as well as a few rules regarding Jury Instructions.

     A judgment as a matter of law is a judgment entered by the judge.  Thus, in the case of a jury trial, the matter is removed from the hands of the jury so that the judge can enter an order.  Note that a judgment as a matter of law is only proper where there is such overwhelming evidence in favor of one party that a verdict to the contrary would be contrary to law.  This is a tall order and typically requires establishment of clear, self-consistent, and unimpeached evidence.  Sheeketski v. Bortoli, 86 Nev. 7004, 708, 475 P.2d 675 677 (1970).  Upon motion by one party for such judgment as a matter of law the court is required to view the evidence and all inferences from that evidence in a light most favorable to the party against whom the motion is directed.  The court is not to weigh in on the evidence or make determinations as to witness credibility.  The plaintiff or the defendant is entitled to motion for a judgment as a matter of law.  Parties can move for this judgment as a matter of law upon the resting of the opposing parties’ case.  Once all of the evidence is before the court a decision on the matter can be had.

      Jury instructions are those instructions that the jury is given prior to counsel’s final arguments, near the end of trial.  These instructions teach the jury the law as it should apply in the case at hand.  These instructions are in writing and the jurors can take the instructions into the jury room to refer to in deliberations.  The court is responsible for “charging” the jurors with these instructions, however it is trial counsel who in fact prepare these instructions.    As counsel, it is wise to begin preparing your jury instructions well in advance of trial.  If possible, submit your jury instructions to the court well before trial.  In this way the court will have time to review your proposed instructions well in advance of trial.  When counsel puts together these proposed instructions it is important that he or she submits legal authority supporting these proposed instructions.  After both parties have submitted their proposed instructions the court will decide what instructions to apply.  If counsel disagrees with the instructions selected by the court then it is important that an objection to these instructions be placed on the record.  Failure to object to the court’s instructions will likely constitute waiver of the issue on appeal.  Remember that each party has a right to have the jury instructed on each and every theory of the case as long as that theory is supported by at least some evidence. 

     If you, as counsel, wish to make an objection to a jury instruction be sure to specify what exact part of the instruction you are objecting to and also state the grounds supporting your objection.  This needs to be on the record.  You should put this objection on the record prior to the jury actually receiving the jury instructions.  You may be well served by submitting your objection in writing so as to thoroughly explain the grounds for your objection as well as the legal authority supporting your objection.  This of course gives the court ample time to consider your objection and corresponding law and argument supporting the matter.  An objection may be sustained if the instruction provides an incorrect statement of the law.  Additional grounds for an objection might be that the instruction is misleading, confusing, or incomplete.  Of course a jury instruction cannot assume a fact in issue as part of the instruction.  That would be highly improper.  By the same token, the trial court is prohibited from making any statements, when instructing the jurors, as to the sufficiency of the evidence presented.  The job of evaluating the sufficiency of the evidence lies solely with the jurors.