A traveling salesman takes a client to a bar for drinks. As the two exit the bar, the bartender follows them out the door and stops them to demand that they pay their bill. An argument ensues, and after a brief scuffle, the bartender lies on the ground, bleeding from a stab wound to his abdomen.
When the police arrive, the salesman admits to stabbing the bartender with a pocket knife, but claims that he acted in self-defense, because the bartender tried to stab him first. Later, the police find a small kitchen knife in the bartender’s apron pocket, which they identify as part of a set belonging to the bar.
The only other witness to the incident, besides the salesman and the bartender, is the salesman’s client. The client, though, claims that he did not see what happened after the argument began.
The bartender sues the salesman for civil battery in federal court, seeking $250,000 in damages. The salesman pleads the affirmative defense of self-defense, as to which he bears the burden of proof. Under applicable law, the elements of self-defense are: (1) the defendant reasonably perceived (2) an imminent risk (3) of death or serious bodily injury. Also, the salesman counterclaims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, seeking $100,000 in damages.
The judge allows three months for discovery, and then holds a pretrial conference. At the conference, the bartender’s attorney asks the judge for permission to amend the complaint to add a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The salesman’s attorney objects, but the judge permits the amendment after the bartender’s attorney says that the bartender will not seek any further discovery to support the new claim.
The case is tried to a jury. The bartender testifies that: the salesman did not pay his bill, the bartender never brandished his knife to the salesman, and the salesman drew a knife without provocation and stabbed the bartender. The bartender also testifies that he routinely carries a knife in his apron while working, to slice fruit for garnishes.
The salesman testifies that there was a misunderstanding about the bill, and that the bartender attempted to stab him; the salesman thus acted only to prevent serious injury to himself. The salesman’s client testifies that he saw the bartender attempt to stab the salesman before the salesman drew his own knife. On cross-examination, when asked why he told the police that he did not see what happened, the client replies, “I don’t know. I guess I was in shock.” The judge thinks that both the client and the salesman look shifty and nervous on the stand, and he believes that the bartender is a much more credible witness.
At the close of evidence, the bartender moves for judgment as a matter of law on the issue of self-defense. The judge denies the motion and submits the case to the jury. The jury finds that the salesman acted in self-defense, and it returns a verdict of $100,000 in favor of the salesman on the counterclaim. The judge enters judgment on the verdict. Seven days after the entry of judgment, the bartender files a motion for a new trial, plus an alternative motion for relief from judgment. In support of the motions, the bartender argues that the salesman and the client were not believable witnesses.
Assume the court has jurisdiction over the claims and parties.
- Was the judge correct to allow the bartender to amend the complaint? Explain.
- Was the judge correct to deny the bartender’s motion for judgment as a matter of law? Explain.
- How should the judge rule on the bartender’s motion for relief from judgment? Explain.
- How should the judge rule on the bartender’s motion for a new trial? Explain.