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Reversal of Entry of Judgment in Favor of the Defendant by Reasoning that Trial Court’s Decision to Limit its Ruling to the Evidence Presented by the Plaintiff was Error

April 30, 2015 By Emily F. Belanger

In the case of Sullivan v. AboveNet Communications, Inc., the District of Columbia Court of Appeals was tasked with deciding whether the evidence presented at Trial was sufficient to withstand the Defendant’s Motion for Judgment, concluding that the totality of the evidence including the evidence put on the record by the Defendants, as opposed to solely the evidence presented in Plaintiff’s case-in-chief, warranted reversal of the Trial Court’s decision to grant Defendant’s Motion for Judgment.

In Sullivan, the Plaintiff filed a negligence action against AboveNet Communications, Inc. (“AboveNet”) and the District of Columbia (“District”), alleging that he sustained injuries after he lost his footing on the uneven surface surrounding a manhole cover that was installed by AboveNet. After the Plaintiff’s case-in-chief, the Defendants filed a Motion for Judgment, which the Trial Court reserved on.  Following the Defendants’ case, the jury concluded that the District was not negligent, but rendered a verdict against AboveNet. 

After the jury’s verdict, the Court re-examined AboveNet’s pending Motion for Judgment which argued, in part, that the Plaintiff failed to introduce evidence that AboveNet actually performed the poor work alleged.  As the Trial Court examined the Motion and the evidence in the case, the Court took issue with Plaintiff’s lack of evidence that AboveNet was the party actually responsible for installing the manhole.  Plaintiff’s Counsel objected to the Court’s limited review of the evidence, arguing that the Court appeared to have examined only the evidence as it existed at the close of the Plaintiff’s case instead of considering all of the evidence in the record, including the Defenses’ case. 

The Trial Court explained that it had simply taken the Motion for Judgment under advisement at the close of the Plaintiff’s case and was now granting the Motion.  Plaintiff appealed.  The Court of Appeals reversed the Trial Court, concluding that, after considering all of the evidence offered during trial, including evidence introduced by the Defendants, the review of the record indicated that there was evidence that AboveNet did the work.