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Tami Skrovig, As Personal Representative of the Estate of v. Bnsf Railway Company

June 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeffrey L. VIKEN United States District Judge


On May 24, 2012, defendant BNSF Railway Company ("BNSF") filed a motion for stay of execution on judgment and a motion for waiver of supersedeas bond. (Docket 207). Plaintiff Tami Skrovig ("Skrovig") objects to both motions. (Docket 209). On May 2, 2012, following an eight-day jury trial, the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff in the amount of $2,000,000. (Docket 192). That same day, the court entered judgment in favor of Skrovig and against BNSF for that amount. (Docket 193). On June 28, 2012, the court entered an amended judgment including prejudgment interest. (Docket 217). BNSF argues the court should enter a stay of execution on the judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 62 pending resolution of defendant's post-trial motions and during the pendency of any appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. (Docket 207). BNSF's motion also requests the court waive any bond requirement as a condition precedent to a stay. Id. As an alternative, BNSF requests a 60-day stay to allow it to obtain a supersedeas bond. (Docket 207).

Rule 62 directs a stay of execution is permitted "[o]n appropriate terms for the opposing party's security . . . pending disposition of any of the following motions: (1) under Rule 50, for judgment as a matter of law; . . . [or] (3) under Rule 59, for a new trial . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 62(b). BNSF filed a Rule 50(b) motion and a Rule 59 motion on May 30, 2012. (Docket 211).

BNSF argues it is "financially capable of paying the $2 million judgment . . . . In these circumstances, BNSF's ability to pay the 'judgment is so plain that the cost of a bond would be a waste of money.' " (Docket 208 at pp. 2-3) (citing Dillon v. City of Chicago, 866 F.2d 902, 905 (7th Cir. 1989). BNSF is a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., and last year generated a net railway operating income of over $3 billion. Id.

Plaintiff proposed to BNSF that Skrovig would not oppose defendant's motion "under the condition that BNSF . . . agrees to pay any judgment affirmed on appeal, together with any pre-judgment and taxable costs awarded by the federal district and appellate courts, and post-judgment interest as provided by law within 30 days of the appellate court's decision." (Docket 210-1). If BNSF agreed to this arrangement, plaintiff authorized defendant to report to the court that Skrovig would not oppose BNSF's motion. Id. Rather than accept plaintiff's terms, BNSF filed the present motions and advised the court Skrovig opposed the motions. (Docket 207 at p. 2).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided some of the leading cases on waiver of a supersedeas bond. See Dillion, 866 F.2d 902; Northern Indiana Public Service Co. v. Carbon County Coal Co., 799 F.2d 265 (7th Cir. 1986); Lightfoot v. Walker, 797 F.2d 505 (7th Cir. 1986); and Olympia Equipment v. Western Union Telegraph Co., 786 F.2d 794 (7th Cir. 1986). Other frequently cited decisions on the appeal bond issue are Federal Prescription Service, Inc. v. American Pharmaceutical Association, 636 F.2d 755 (D.C. Cir. 1980) and Poplar Grove Planting & Refining Co. v. Bache Halsey Stuart, Inc., 600 F.2d 1189 (5th Cir. 1979).

"Rule 62(d)*fn1 only operates to provide that an appellant in all cases may obtain a stay as a matter of right by filing a supersedeas bond, and does not prohibit the district court from exercising a sound discretion to authorize unsecured stays in cases it considers appropriate." Fed. Prescription Serv., Inc., 636 F.2d at 757-58 (citing Popular Grove Planting & Refining Co., 600 F.2d at 1191 ("court has discretion to require less than full supersedeas bond where judgment debtor presents adequate alternative assurances or where a full bond would mean undue financial burden and court can restrain judgment debtor's financial dealings to provide alternative form of security for judgment creditor") (other citations omitted). "Rule 62(d) entitles the appellant who files a satisfactory supersedeas bond to a stay of money judgment as a matter of right. . . . But the Rule in no way necessarily implies that filing a bond is the only way to obtain a stay. It speaks only to stays granted as a matter of right, it does not speak to stays granted by the court in accordance with its discretion." Fed. Prescription Serv., Inc., 636 F.2d at 759 (referencing American Manufacturers Mutual Insurance Co. v. American Broadcasting Paramount Theatres, Inc., 385 U.S. 931 (1966) (Harlan, J., Circuit Justice).

The court is vested with discretion to determine whether a supersedeas bond should be required.

The purpose of the supersedeas bond is to secure the appellee from loss resulting from the stay of execution. Because the stay operates for the appellant's benefit and deprives the appellee of the immediate benefits of his judgment, a full supersedeas bond should be the requirement in normal circumstances, such as where there is some reasonable likelihood of the judgment debtor's inability or unwillingness to satisfy the judgment in full upon ultimate disposition of the case and where posting adequate security is practicable. In unusual circumstances, however, the district court in its discretion may order partially secured or unsecured stays if they do not unduly endanger the judgment creditor's interest in ultimate recovery.

Id. at 760-61. "[T]he amount of the [supersedeas] bond usually will be set in an amount that will permit satisfaction of the judgment in full, together with costs, interest, and damages for delay . . . ." Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure Civil § 2905 at p. 522. "[A] supersedeas bond is a privilege extended the judgment debtor as a price of interdicting the validity of an order to pay money." Poplar Grove Planting & Refining Co., 600 F.2d at 1191. "If a judgment debtor objectively demonstrates a present financial ability to facilely respond to a money judgment and presents to the court a financially secure plan for maintaining that same degree of solvency during the period of an appeal, the court may then exercise a discretion to substitute some form of guaranty of judgment responsibility for the usual supersedeas bond." Id. "Responsibility for deciding whether to require a bond as a condition of staying execution of the judgment pending appeal is vested initially in the district judge, and we shall reverse his decision only if convinced that he has acted unreasonably." Dillon, 866 F.2d 904 (citing Lightfoot, 797 F.2d at 507).

Criteria the court may examine in deciding whether to waive a supersedeas bond in the context of a civil money judgment include:

(1) the complexity of the collection process;

(2) the amount of time required to obtain a judgment after it is affirmed on appeal;

(3) the degree of confidence that the district court has in the availability of funds to ...

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