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First American Title Insurance Company v. Northwest Title Insurance Agency, LLC

United States District Court, D. Utah

December 19, 2016

FIRST AMERICAN TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY and FIRST AMERICAN TITLE COMPANY, LLC, Plaintiffs,
v.
NORTHWEST TITLE INSURANCE AGENCY, LLC; MICHAEL SMITH; JEFF WILLIAMS; and KRISTI CARRELL, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING THE MOTIONS TO SET ASIDE VERDICT

          David Nuffer United States District Judge

         In the Motion to Set Aside Verdict for Double Recovery, [1] defendants move to “set aside the award of damages”[2] because the claims upon which those damages are based “are all premised on the same conduct and the same injury to First American.”[3] Defendants also “request that the Court dismiss First American's claim for punitive damages”[4] for insufficient evidence.

         Defendants also filed the Motion to Set Aside Verdict for Failure to Instruct and Improper Instruction or for Mistrial.[5] In that motion the defendants argue that the jury was not properly instructed on the standard of proof for malice.

         Both motions are DENIED for the reasons stated below.

         DISCUSSION

         The jury's verdict will not be disturbed.

         “A basic principle of compensatory damages is that an injury can be compensated only once.”[6] The defendants argue that the jury's verdict duplicates damages. In support, the defendants state that the three torts for which the jury found the defendants liable[7] are all based on the same conduct and injury. Allowing separate damages for each cause of action, the defendants argue, would duplicate damages.

         We cannot speculate on the basis for the jury's verdict. Regarding tortious interference for both Michael Smith and Northwest, the jury may have considered other agents of Northwest, e.g., Doug Smith, that tortiously interfered with First American's contracts: Michael Smith's breach of his fiduciary duty is the predicate improper means which enabled tortious interference by other agents of Northwest. A jury verdict should not be upset “on the basis of speculation.”[8]

Defendants also argue that the jury may have been confused by instruction 60. It stated The amount of damages you award may overlap among the defendants and among the claims.
If you find a defendant liable on multiple claims or if you find several defendants liable on a single claim, the court may take action to ensure that double recovery does not occur, and may require First American to elect between damage awards.

         From that, the defendants argue that the jury must have understood that the court would pare down their damage award. However, the instruction only stated “the court may take action” to prevent double recovery. The form of the verdict assures no double recovery was granted.

         Even though the jury assigned separate damage amounts for each cause of action, they also filled in the final line of the damages section: “The total amount of damages to be awarded to First American is $2, 725, 000.”[9] The jury clearly declared that their damage awards on each claim do not overlap.

         The jury was properly instructed regarding the burden of proof for malice.

         The defendants filed a separate motion arguing that the jury was not instructed on the clear and convincing standard for making a finding of “willful and malicious, or in reckless indifference ...


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