Former law firm partner entitled to jury award overturned by trial court's JNOV, appeals court says

By Karen Kidd | Mar 29, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO — A law firm's former partner is entitled to an overturned jury award of almost $300,000 that followed his ouster from the firm, according to a state appeals court said in a recent ruling.

California's 1st District Court of Appeal, Division 2, reversed a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) handed down by San Francisco Superior Court, overturning the jury award because it didn't matter whether the evidence supported the award. 

"Because the question on a JNOV motion is whether the record contains substantial evidence that the plaintiff suffered damages in some amount - not whether the evidence supports the specific amount of damages awarded - we reverse," said the appeals court's 11-page ruling issued March 14.

The appeals court also ruled that the plaintiff in the case, Henry M. Burgoyne III, "is entitled to his costs on appeal."

Judge Alison Tucher, who usually sits on the bench of Alameda County Superior Court but who is pro tem in the 1st District through April 30, wrote the ruling for the majority in this case, in which Justice James A. Richman and Justice Marla J. Miller concurred.

Burgoyne, a co-founder with Karl Kronenberger of a San Francisco law firm, from which Kronenberger "ejected" Burgoyne in October 2011, according to the background portion of the appeal court's ruling. Burgoyne filed suit to recover damages from the law firm's accountants, damages Burgoyne claimed he suffered following his ejection from the firm, according to the ruling.

"A jury that heard the evidence agreed with Burgoyne," the ruling said. "They found the accountant, David Woo, and his firm, Goldstein Enright, liable on breach of contract, professional negligence, and breach of fiduciary duty causes of action, and they awarded Burgoyne $292,000 in damages."

San Francisco Superior Court entered the JNOV, finding that the jury's damages damage award "was not supported by substantial evidence," the appeals court's ruling said. Burgoyne appealed.

The appeals court found the trial court erred when it entered that JNOV in favor of the accountant and the firm, according to the appeal court's ruling. "The parties' dispute as to whether the trial court erred in awarding costs to Woo and Goldstein Enright is moot, in light of our decision on the JNOV motion," the appeals court's ruling said.

"The trial court’s original award of costs to Burgoyne is reinstated as part of the judgment in his favor on the jury verdict."

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