Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict
JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE VERDICT
A judgment entered by the court in favor of one party even though the jury returned a verdict for the opposing party.
The phrase "judgment notwithstanding the verdict" is abbreviated JNOV, which stands for its Latin equivalent, judgment "non obstante veredicto." The remedy of JNOV applies only in cases decided by a jury. Originally this remedy could be entered only in favor of the plaintiff, and the similar remedy of arrest of judgment could be entered only in favor of the defendant. Under modern law a JNOV is generally available to both plaintiffs and defendants, and an arrest of judgment is primarily used with judgments in criminal cases. A JNOV is proper when the court finds that the party bearing the burden of proof fails to make out a prima facie case (a case that on first appearance will prevail unless contradicted by evidence).
To be granted relief by a JNOV, a party must make a motion seeking that relief. The motion generally must be made in writing and must set forth the specific reasons entitling the party to relief. Many statutes and rules require that the moving party must have previously sought a directed verdict, and that the grounds for the JNOV motion be the same or nearly the same as those for the directed verdict. A directed verdict is a request by a party that the judge enter a verdict in that party's behalf before the case is submitted to the jury.
Although a jury generally must return a verdict before a motion for JNOV can be made, if the jury does not agree on a verdict, as in a jury deadlocked, some courts will hear a motion for JNOV. However, some statutes do not permit a court to hear a motion for JNOV under such circumstances.
In deciding a motion for JNOV, the court is facing questions only of law, not fact. The court must consider only the evidence and any inferences therefrom, and must do so in the light most advantageous to the nonmoving party. The court must resolve any conflicts in favor of the party resisting the motion. If there is enough evidence to make out a prima facie case against the moving party, or evidence tending to support the verdict, then the court must deny the motion for JNOV. Some courts maintain that if there is a conflict of evidence, such that the jury could decide either way based on factors such as the credibility of witnesses, the court should deny the motion. Courts approach motions for JNOV with extreme caution and generally will grant them only in clear cases in which the evidence overwhelmingly supports the moving party.
In entering a JNOV, the court is simply reversing the jury's verdict; the motion cannot be the basis for increasing or decreasing the verdict. When granting a JNOV, the court needs to independently assess the damages or order a new trial on the issue of damages.
Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, both a JNOV and a motion for directed verdict are now encompassed within a motion for judgment as a matter of law. The change is one of terminology only and not of substance. Many state statutes or rules of court provide for the remedy of a JNOV, although they may call it something different. The applicable state statutes or rules are substantially similar to the federal rules.
A motion for JNOV is made at the close of all the evidence, after the jury returns a verdict, within a period of time specified by statute. An order granting a motion for a JNOV is often considered a delayed-action directed verdict because it presents the same issues. In fact, in some jurisdictions the denial of a motion for a directed verdict is a prerequisite to the entry of a JNOV. If the particular case involves several plaintiffs or defendants, each of them must separately make a proper motion for a directed verdict in order to move properly for a JNOV later. Current procedure holds a motion for JNOV proper when a prior motion for a directed verdict has been denied. If the court denies a motion for a directed verdict after all the evidence has been presented, then the court is deemed to have submitted the case to the jury subject to a later determination of the legal issues raised by the motion, and the court may grant a motion for JNOV after the jury returns a verdict.
To promote judicial economy, some statutes, including the federal rules, permit a party to make alternative motions for a JNOV and for a new trial. Those motions can also be made separately. The statutes that permit the alternative motions generally provide that the motions should be decided together, such that the trial court's rulings can be reviewed together on appeal. If the court denies the motion for a new trial, then the alternative motion for JNOV is also assumed to be denied. If the court grants the motion for a new trial, then the motion for JNOV is deemed to be effectively disposed of or denied. The court does not have to rule on the motion for JNOV if the motion presents the same issues on which the court ruled in considering motions for a directed verdict and for a new trial. Some court rules and statutes, including the federal rules, provide that a court may grant both of the alternative motions, even though they are inconsistent. Courts may avoid the inconsistency by providing that the ruling granting a new trial is effective only if the ruling granting a JNOV is overturned on appeal. In fact, federal courts have held that it is the duty of the trial court to so condition an order granting these alternative motions.
Parker, Joel A. 1999. "Capping Judicial Discretion: Drawing the Line for Oregon Trial Judges in Granting Motions for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict of a New Trial in Civil Cases." Oregon Law Review 78 (summer): 587–604.
Postel, Theodore. 1999. "Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict." Chicago Daily Law Bulletin 145 (January 6).