Raiders Lose on Independent Review of Order Granting New Trial

Congratulations!  The court has granted your motion for a new trial!

Now, just pray the trial judge doesn’t screw it up.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court opinion in The Oakland Raiders v. National Football League, case no. S132814 (July 2, 2007) demonstrates again that no winner of a new trial can have confidence in the order granting the new trial unless the court specifies its reasons in the order or files its specification of reasons within 10 days of the order, as required by Code of Civil Procedure section 657.  In this case, the court’s failure to specify its reasons results in a different standard of review on appeal that effectively shifts the burden of persuasion from the party appealing the order granting the new trial to the party defending the appeal . . .

In this dispute between The Oakland Raiders and their owner, the ever-colorful Al Davis, the trial court granted The Raiders’ motion for new trial on the ground of juror misconduct.  The Raiders had submitted juror declarations that juror J.A. had openly expressed severe bias against The Raiders during deliberations and that juror L.H., who was an attorney, committed misconduct by injecting her view of the law into the deliberations.  There ensued from there a battle of juror declarations, with the NFL submitting declarations from the alleged misbehaving jurors and others denying the accounts in the moving declarations, and The Raiders submitting yet more juror declarations in reply.  The trial court’s order granting the motion stated it was doing so on the ground of juror misconduct but did not specify its reasons, nor did the court file a separate specification of reasons within the jurisdictional 10-day limit.

Ordinarily — that is, if the trial court had filed the required specification of reasons for granting the new trial — the grant of the new trial would have been subject to review for abuse of discretion, and it would be up to the party appealing the grant of the new trial to convince the reviewing court that the new trial should not have been granted.  However, since in the absence of the specification of reasons the reviewing court in this case could not determine whether the trial court granted the motion on the basis of J.A.’s bias, L.H.’s misconduct, or both, the Supreme Court holds that “independent review” is the proper standard of review.

Under the “independent review” standard, the court of appeal was not required to show deference to the trial judge’s factfinding because the trial court failed to set forth findings.  The burden thus falls to the party that actually won the new trial motion — the respondent on the appeal  — to convince the reviewing court that the new trial should have been granted.  In other words, the roles of appellant and respondent are reversed regarding the burden of persuasion on appeal.  Under this “independent review” standard, the Supreme Court holds that The Raiders did not meet that burden of persuasion because “the testimonial evidence submitted by the parties in the form of juror declarations is sharply conflicting on every material issue, and the Raiders submitted no other evidence to support their motion for a new trial.”

For football fans, there is plenty of news coverage about the case.  For lawyers, the important part is . . . well, you just read it.  But you should also read the case, especially if you are a trial lawyer, because it details additional pitfalls in the new trial procedure. The bottom line is that a successful new trial movant is at the mercy of the court when it comes to the specification of reasons.

I have more thoughts on the case, not yet fully formed and requiring a second look at the opinion.  (Besides, this post is already long enough!)  If my thoughts pan out like I think they will, I’ll post a follow-up.

UPDATE (7/4/07): There is also some coverage at How Appealing and Law.com.