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INCONSISTENT VERDICT - JURY'S FAILURE TO FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS: JOHNSTON V. CASTLES AND CROWNS, INC., AND DELAIRE TIBBETTS

Johnston v. Castles and Crowns, Inc., and Delaire Tibbetts, [Ms. 1160171, Nov. 3, 2017] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2017). This decision by Justice Wise (Stuart, C.J., and Bolin, Parker, Murdock, Shaw, Main, and Bryan, JJ., concur; Sellers, J., dissents) reverses the Mobile Circuit Court’s judgment on a jury verdict in favor of Castles and Crowns and against Jami Johnston in the amount of $800,000 in compensatory damages and $1 in punitive damages for conversion and conspiracy. Ms. *14. The jury also awarded Castles and Crowns $75,000 in compensatory damages on a claim for unjust enrichment. Ms. *15. After the jury returned its verdict, the circuit court stated on the record that the judgment in favor of Castles and Crowns against Jami Johnston on the claim for unjust enrichment was inconsistent with the instructions given by the trial court and the court accordingly set aside the verdict in favor of Castles and Crowns for unjust enrichment. Ms. *15.

Johnston moved for a new trial contending that the verdicts were inconsistent with the trial court’s instruction to the jury “to consider Castles’s unjust enrichment claim against Johnston if it did not find against Johnston on conversion and conspiracy claims.” Ms. *24-25, (emphasis in the original). The Court held that Johnston was entitled to a new trial because

The jury found against Johnston on both the conversion and conspiracy claims. However, it then considered the unjust-enrichment claim and found against Johnston on that claim as well. Thus, the jury’s verdict was inconsistent with the trial court’s instructions and was obviously the result of confusion on the part of the jury.

Ms. *25. The Court held that the circuit court’s attempt to cure the inconsistency by setting aside the award for unjust enrichment “was based on mere speculation about the jury’s intent.” Ibid. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment and remanded the case for a new trial.

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