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Holton v. Bama Lanes Prattville, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

December 9, 2019

AMANDA HOLTON, Plaintiff,
v.
BAMA LANES PRATTVILLE, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ANDREW L. BRASHER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Bama Lanes Prattville, LLC's (“Bama Lanes”) Renewed Motion for Judgment as Matter of Law (Doc. 100) and Defendant Christopher Williams's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law. (Doc. 103). Upon consideration, the motions are DENIED.

         A three-day jury trial was held in this case. At the close of Plaintiff Amanda Holton's case-in-chief, Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law on all claims. The Court denied Defendants' motions, and thus “the court [was] considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). After hearing the evidence presented at trial, the jury found Defendant Bama Lanes liable for Negligent Training, Supervision, and Retention (Count VII) and Defendant Williams liable for Invasion of Privacy (Count IV). Defendants are now challenging the verdict on those claims.

         A district court's analysis of a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50 is the same regardless of whether the analysis “is undertaken before or after submitting the case to the jury.” Chaney v. City of Orlando, 483 F.3d 1221, 1227 (11th Cir. 2007). Accordingly, “in ruling on a party's renewed motion under Rule 50(b) after the jury has rendered a verdict, a court's sole consideration of the jury verdict is to assess whether that verdict is supported by sufficient evidence.” Id. To evaluate whether there is sufficient evidence to support the verdict, the court must consider “all the evidence, together with any logical inferences, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” McGinnis v. Am. Home Mortg. Servicing, Inc., 817 F.3d 1241, 1254 (11th Cir. 2016).

         I. Williams's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Williams argues that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's Invasion of Privacy claim because there was insufficient evidence from which a jury could have found for Plaintiff. Specifically, Williams claims that his conduct was not sufficiently offensive or objectionable to constitute an intrusion upon the plaintiff's physical solitude or seclusion. The Court disagrees.

         To establish an invasion of privacy claim based on a wrongful intrusion into one's private activities, Plaintiff had to show that “the matters intruded into [were] of a private nature” and that the wrongful intrusion was “so offensive or objectionable that a reasonable person subjected to it would experience outrage, mental suffering, shame, or humiliation.” Ex parte Atmore Cmty. Hosp., 719 So.2d 1190, 1194 (Ala. 1998) (citing Busby v. Truswal Sys. Corp., 551 So.2d 322, 323 (Ala. 1989)). Courts have long held that marriage and sexual concerns are “fundamental rights, entitled to privacy protection.” Phillips v. Smalley Maintenance Servs., Inc., 435 So.2d 705, 708 (Ala. 1983) (citing Eisenstadt, Sheriff v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972)). “While asking a co-employee for a date and making sexual propositions usually do not constitute an invasion of privacy, extensive inquiries into one's sex life or looking up one's skirt may constitute an invasion of privacy.” Ex parte Atmore, 719 So.2d at 1194.

         As an initial matter, Williams's summary of the evidence presented at trial reflects neither the extent nor the intrusiveness of his sexually harassing behavior. Though Williams acknowledges that Plaintiff “testified to many acts that occurred at the hands of Defendant Williams, ” he attempts to minimize Plaintiff's testimony, claiming that it was not corroborated by any other witnesses. (Doc. 103 at 2-3). But when deciding a Rule 50(b) motion, the court must not “weigh conflicting evidence and inferences, and determine the credibility of witnesses”-that is the task of the jury. Id.; see generally Slater v. U.S. Steel Corp., 871 F.3d 1174, 1190 (11th Cir. 2017) (Carnes, C.J., concurring) (collecting cases recognizing the “long-established law of this circuit” that the trier of fact is not required to credit any witness's testimony); Rodriguez v. Farm Stores Grocery, Inc., 518 F.3d 1259, 1264 (11th Cir. 2008) (“[I]t is not unusual for there to be evidence on both sides of the question, with the result hanging in the balance.”).

         At trial, Plaintiff testified that Williams repeatedly rubbed her shoulders despite her demanding that he stop; asked her questions about her underwear multiple times, including what kind she wore and whether they matched her bra; patted his legs and asked her to come sit on his lap; solicited her multiple times to come to his truck and “bang him”; asked her to go in the bathroom with him; got within three to four inches of her face “a few times”-so close that she could almost “taste” the alcohol on his breath; tossed shoes behind the counter that hit her legs; became irritated with her and threw a bowling ball, yelling “F this shit, I'm done”; and made other sexually-charged comments to her. (Doc. 100-2 at 11-15, 18-20, 30-31). Plaintiff further testified that, as a result of Williams's conduct and after rejecting his advances, she was fearful to leave the building “a couple of times” until he left the parking lot, that Williams made her feel unsafe and uncomfortable on multiple occasions, and that she was intimidated by him. (Doc. 100-2 at 11-13, 29-31, 74). And finally, Plaintiff testified that as a result of Williams's harassing behavior, she also suffered from mental and physical harm, including depression and weight loss. (Doc. 100-2 at 29, 64).

         In other words, this is not a case in which the alleged conduct amounts to a few lewd comments and unwanted sexual advances. See McIsaac v. WZEW-FM Corp., 495 So.2d 649 (Ala. 1986) (finding insufficient evidence of invasion of privacy claim where harasser told employee about an affair he had, asked the employee to have dinner and be available when he was in town, tried to kiss the employee, and made “suggestive lurks or little innuendos”). Rather, the evidence presented at the trial in this case-that Williams made numerous overt sexual propositions and demands, subjected Plaintiff to repeated unwanted physical touching, and asked intimate questions related to Plaintiff's personal life, such as what color her underwear was and whether it matched her bra-is more akin to the evidence that other courts in Alabama have found sufficient to establish an invasion of privacy claim. See, e.g., Ex parte Atmore, 719 So.2d at 1194 (finding that harasser's conduct in looking up plaintiff's skirt on more than occasion, making lewd comments, and asking the plaintiff to meet him outside of work for non-business purposes “constituted substantial evidence that he committed an invasion of privacy”); Busby, 551 So.2d at 324 (identifying 17 instances of the harasser's conduct-mostly consisting of sexual propositions, lewd comments about the plaintiffs' sex lives, and at least one instance of touching the plaintiffs' arms and necks-as evidence on which a jury could reasonably find that the harasser invaded the plaintiffs' privacy); Whitford v. Sub-Line Assocs., Inc., No. CV-17-BE-1678-S, 2017 WL 3118810, at *6-8 (N.D. Ala. July 21, 2017) (finding evidence legally sufficient to support invasion of privacy claim where harasser touched her all the time when they were working together-sometimes locking a door or blocking an exit-and continued a “running banter” of sexual comments at work, in phone calls, and in texts, including naming body parts and sex acts and asking about her sex life).

         For these reasons and based on the evidence presented at trial, the Court confirms its finding that the evidence presented at trial was legally sufficient to support the jury's verdict finding Williams liable for invasion of privacy.

         II. Bama Lanes's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Bama Lanes argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's Negligent Training, Supervision, and Retention claim because (1) the jury's verdict “is wholly unsupported by the evidence, ” (2) Plaintiff did not prove that Bama Lanes committed an underlying tort, and (3) the claim is barred by the statute of limitations.

         The Court first addresses Bama Lanes's second and third arguments as both are easily dismissed. With respect to Bama Lanes's second argument, Bama Lanes recognizes that Negligent Training, Supervision, and Retention is a derivative claim that requires proof of an underlying tort as its first element. Bama Lanes argues that "[n]o such finding was made" against Bama Lanes, and thus “the derivative claim derives from nothing and cannot stand.” (Doc. 100, ¶ 3, 6-8). But Plaintiff did not have to prove that Bama Lanes committed an underlying tort-only that one of its employees committed an underlying tort. McKinnes v. Am. Int'l Grp., Inc., 420 F.Supp.2d 1254, 1259 (M.D. Ala. 2006) (“[A] company cannot be independently guilty of negligent or wanton hiring, training, or supervising in the absence of some tort committed by its employee against the plaintiff[].”); Ellis v. Advanced Tech., Servs., Inc., 3:10-cv-555, 2010 WL 3526169, at *2 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 3, 2010) (“[A] negligent supervision claim must be based on a common-law, Alabama tort committed by an ...


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