Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Centrella v. Ritzcraft Corp. of Pennsylvania, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Vermont

February 12, 2018

Carmine Centrella and Mary Brennan-Centrella, Plaintiffs,
Ritz-Craft Corporation of Pennsylvania, Inc., and Mountain View Modular Homes, Inc., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER (DOCS. 140, 147, 169)

          John M. Conroy United States Magistrate Judge.

         This case arose from alleged misrepresentations and broken promises regarding a modular home purchased by Plaintiffs Carmine Centrella and Mary Brennan-Centrella in 2013. Defendant Ritz-Craft Corporation of Pennsylvania, Inc., manufactured the home; and Defendant Mountain View Modular Homes, Inc., completed and installed it, and sold it to Plaintiffs. After a five-day trial, a jury found in favor of Plaintiffs on their consumer protection claim but in favor of Ritz-Craft on Plaintiffs' breach of warranty claims.

         Pending before the Court is Ritz-Craft's Supplemental Motion for Post-Trial Relief, wherein Ritz-Craft seeks judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, a new trial, pursuant to Rules 50(b) and 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 169.)[1] Plaintiffs have filed an Opposition (Doc. 162), [2] and Ritz-Craft has replied (Doc. 163). For the reasons stated below, Ritz-Craft's Supplemental Motion for Post-Trial Relief (Doc. 169) is DENIED.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         At the time of their purchase of the modular home that is the subject of this case, Plaintiffs were residents of Connecticut and owned property in Isle La Motte, Vermont. They long planned to build a home on their Vermont property where they could retire and live with their family. With this in mind, Mary Brennan-Centrella researched home building and modular homes for years, focusing on energy-efficient homes. She eventually decided to contract with Mountain View for the purchase of a modular home.

         Around August 2012, Mountain View recommended Ritz-Craft to Plaintiffs. Mary knew Mountain View and Ritz-Craft were separate entities but assumed they had a working relationship and collaborated with each other in the installation of Ritz- Craft's homes. Mountain View's website affirmed this assumption, stating that it was allied with Ritz-Craft, describing Ritz-Craft's one- and ten-year warranties, and providing a link to a video of the president of Ritz-Craft making statements and warranties to consumers, including a warranty that Ritz-Craft homes provide maximum energy efficiency. The website also indicated that Ritz-Craft's modular homes were built to comply with all applicable local and state codes. Ritz-Craft's own website similarly described its warranties and contained other information that Plaintiffs reviewed before purchasing the home, including a statement that all Ritz-Craft homes are “inherently green” and energy efficient.

         Around November 2012, Plaintiffs visited the Ritz-Craft factory in Pennsylvania. A Mountain View representative met Plaintiffs at the front door of the factory. Upon entering the building, Plaintiffs observed a display in the lobby personally welcoming them. The couple toured the facility and was guided through the manufacturing process, step-by-step, for approximately four hours. During the tour, Plaintiffs met various Ritz-Craft employees and discussed the modular homes' energy efficiency. A Ritz-Craft employee emphasized the homes' energy efficiency and told Plaintiffs that a Ritz-Craft home--whether a base model or the top model-would meet Vermont's energy code. In deciding whether to purchase a Ritz-Craft modular home, Plaintiffs considered the representations made to them during this tour, as well as the representations made in Ritz-Craft's advertisements and corporate videos.

         On January 18, 2013, Plaintiffs entered into a Sales Agreement with Mountain View for the purchase and installation of a Ritz-Craft modular home. The parties agreed on a purchase price of $226, 875, which was later increased to approximately $246, 000. In addition, Plaintiffs paid Ritz-Craft $94, 262.47 for the home.

         After the Sales Agreement was signed, the modules for the home were delivered to the home site in Vermont, and in April 2013, they were set on a foundation. Thereafter, various problems arose. First, Mountain View discovered a missing tub shower enclosure, requiring Mountain View to purchase a tub and provide tile work. Later, an energy-efficiency report warned against Plaintiffs using the shower due to health and safety concerns.

         On July 18, 2013, Plaintiffs began occupying the house, and more problems arose. For example, when Plaintiffs turned on the heat downstairs, it turned on upstairs instead. Additionally, water poured onto the upstairs hardwood floor and leaked through to the first floor ceiling. Plaintiffs contacted a plumbing company to evaluate the situation, and the company found code violations in the plumbing and heating systems, along with elevated carbon monoxide levels. Plaintiffs hired another plumbing company to inspect the plumbing and heating systems in the house, and that company also found code violations. In January 2014, a mechanical company discovered frozen pipes in the upper story of the house. And later, a home inspector hired by Mountain View found problems in the insulation work within the home's walls. Plaintiffs notified Mountain View and Ritz-Craft about the home's defects and required repairs, including but not limited to inadequate installation of walls, defective plumbing design, energy code violations, and heating system problems resulting in excessive heating costs and inadequate heating.

         On June 2, 2014, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint against Ritz-Craft and Mountain View, alleging violations of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act (VCPA) and breaches of express and implied warranties in relation to Plaintiffs' purchase of the modular home. (Doc. 1.) About a year later, after a failed mediation attempt (Doc. 51), default was entered against Mountain View pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a) (Doc. 55), leaving Ritz-Craft as the only active defendant in the case. Thereafter, Ritz-Craft filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 63), which the Court denied in an Opinion and Order dated August 23, 2016 (Doc. 73). While the Motion for Summary Judgment was pending, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Leave to Amend the Complaint, which the Court granted. (Doc. 76.) On October 13, 2016, the Amended Complaint was filed: it added no new claims, but rather, alleged additional facts in support of the claims contained in the original Complaint. (Doc. 77.)

         Thereafter, the parties attended a second failed mediation, conducted additional discovery, and filed several motions in limine in preparation for trial. After a five-day trial in August 2017, the jury found in favor of Plaintiffs on their consumer protection claim, awarding them their consideration paid to Ritz-Craft for the home in the stipulated amount of $94, 262. (Doc. 134 at 1-2.) The jury found in favor of Ritz-Craft, however, on Plaintiffs' breach of warranty claims, finding that Plaintiffs failed to prove that Ritz-Craft made any warranties about the home to Plaintiffs or that Plaintiffs were in privity of contract with Ritz-Craft. (Id. at 2-3.)

         Both parties filed post-trial motions. Plaintiffs filed an Application for Costs and Attorney Fees (Doc. 141) and a Motion for Prejudgment Interest (Doc. 139), which are currently pending and will be addressed in a separate Opinion and Order. And Ritz-Craft filed the pending Supplemental Motion for Post-Trial Relief (Doc. 169), which is under consideration herein. Ritz-Craft's Post-Trial Motion contains both a Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law (id. at 5-20) and, in the alternative, a Rule 59(a) motion for a new trial (id. at 20-21), as discussed below.

         Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Relying on Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Ritz-Craft makes the following arguments in support of its motion for judgment as a matter of law: (1) the Court should have granted Ritz-Craft's Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to Plaintiffs' VCPA claim (Doc. 169 at 5-6); (2) the Court should have denied Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint (id. at 7); (3) the Court should have granted Ritz-Craft's Rule 50(a) motion for judgment as a matter of law, made orally after the close of Plaintiffs' evidence at trial, and the Court may now grant the motion post-trial under Rule 50(b) (id. at 7-13); (4) the jury charge regarding the VCPA claim contained information that was prejudicial to Ritz-Craft (id. at 14); (5) the verdict form improperly failed to require the jury to make an express finding of the particular misrepresentation or omission giving rise to a determination that Ritz-Craft violated the VCPA (id. at 14-17); (6) the Court should not have permitted Plaintiffs' expert James Bradley to testify regarding opinions that were not disclosed in his expert report (id. at 17-19); and (7) the Court's instruction to the jury regarding Mountain View's involvement in this lawsuit was insufficient (id. at 19-20).

         I. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) provides that:

If the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion. No later than 28 days after the entry of judgment-or if the motion addresses a jury issue not decided by a verdict, no later than 28 days after the jury was discharged-the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and may include an alternative or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59.

         To succeed on a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law, the moving party must show that, “after full hearing on an issue at trial, ‘there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury' to resolve the issue in favor of the non-moving party.” Cross v. New York City Transit Auth., 417 F.3d 241, 247 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1)); see Galdieri-Ambrosini v. Nat'l Realty & Dev. Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 289 (2d Cir. 1998) (“Judgment as a matter of law may not properly be granted under Rule 50 unless the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the opposing party, is insufficient to permit a reasonable juror to find in her favor.”). In reviewing a Rule 50 motion, the court “may consider all the record evidence, but in doing so it ‘must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.'” Cross, 417 F.3d at 247 (quoting Reeves. v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)); see S.E.C. v. Ginder, 752 F.3d 569, 574 (2d Cir. 2014) (“The court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that the jury might have drawn in his favor from the evidence.” (internal quotation marks omitted).) Thus, weak evidence does not itself justify judgment as a matter of law; and the judge's role is not to resolve problems with testimony, but rather, to determine whether a reasonable jury could make the inference the jury made.

         A movant's burden in achieving Rule 50 relief is “particularly heavy” where, as here, a jury has deliberated and returned its verdict. Cross, 417 F.3d at 248. The motion must be denied unless “the evidence is such that, without weighing the credibility of the witnesses or otherwise considering the weight of the evidence, there can be but one conclusion as to the verdict that reasonable [persons] could have reached.” Id. (quoting Samuels v. Air Transp. Local 504, 992 F.2d 12, 14 (2d Cir. 1993)). In other words, the court may grant a post-verdict Rule 50 motion only if there is “such a complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the jury's findings could only have been the result of sheer surmise and conjecture” or there is “such an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor of the movant that reasonable and fair[-]minded [persons] could not arrive at a verdict against him.” Id. (quoting Song v. Ives Labs., Inc., 957 F.2d 1041, 1046 (2d Cir. 1992)); see also Drake v. Allergan, Inc., 111 F.Supp.3d 562, 566 (D. Vt. 2015).

         II. Analysis

         A. Court's Prior Decisions on Ritz-Craft's Motion for Summary Judgment (VCPA Claim) and Plaintiffs' ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.