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National Music Museum: America's Shrine to Music v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

June 2, 2017

NATIONAL MUSIC MUSEUM AMERICA'S SHRINE TO MUSIC, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT JOHNSON and LARRY MOSS, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND JUDGMENT, MOTION TO AMEND COURT'S FINDINGS, MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL, AND MOTION FOR FURTHER ACTION

          KAREN E. SCHREIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Larry Moss challenges the court's memorandum opinion and order holding that plaintiff, National Music Museum: America's Shrine to Music (NMM), is the legal owner of a Martin D-35 guitar once owned by Elvis Presley. Moss moves to alter or amend the judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), to amend the court's findings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(b), for a new trial under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(b), and for further action after a nonjury trial under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(2). The court denies Moss's motions.

         BACKGROUND

         The facts below relate to Moss's arguments on res judicata and collateral estoppel. For a further recitation of the facts, see the court's Memorandum Opinion and Order (Docket 66).

         This case stems from the sale of a Martin D-35 guitar once owned by Elvis Presley. NMM and Moss both claim ownership of the Elvis guitar based on their respective agreements with defendant Robert Johnson, the guitar's previous owner. Moss entered into a contract with Johnson for the Elvis guitar on February 12, 2008, and NMM entered into its contract with Johnson on February 6, 2013.

         Litigation surrounding the guitar began February 13, 2014, when Moss filed a counterclaim against Johnson in Tennessee Chancery Court for specific performance, breach of warranty, breach of contract, and fraud. NMM was not a party to the suit. About five months later, NMM began this case in South Dakota state court, naming Johnson and Moss as defendants. Moss later removed this case to federal court.

         While this case was pending before this court, the Tennessee Chancery Court held a hearing on December 16, 2014, in the case between Moss and Johnson. At the conclusion of the Tennessee hearing, the court orally ordered that “Mr. Moss is -- has the right to ownership of the [Elvis guitar].” Docket 49-1 at 74-75. The court did not discuss which section of Tennessee's commercial code applied to the transaction. The court did not discuss the applicability of Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-2-401(2) or Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-2-401(3). After the court entered its oral order, Moss's attorney replied:

If the Court, please, this is going to be a little tricky for me because this order would be submitted to the Court in South Dakota, so I want to make certain that I get the order in a fashion that I need it to be if the Court, please. But assuming that the Court agrees with me. But that Moss has the right to enforce the contract all the way back until 2008, he is therefore, the equitable owner of that guitar.

Docket 49-1 at 75.

         The court responded, “So ordered. . . . That Mr. Moss is the rightful -- the equitable owner of the --.” Id. Moss's attorney agreed to draft the court's order. Again, no one discussed the application of Tennessee's commercial code or the exact date title passed from Johnson to Moss.

         About a month after the hearing, on January 8, 2015, the Tennessee Chancery Court issued its written order stating in part that “Mr. Moss holds legal and equitable title to the Martin D-35 guitar and the Gold Top ES-295 Gibson guitar, which were specifically identified to the contract, relating back to the date of contracting, February 12, 2008.” Exhibit 54 at 2. The order provided no legal citation for this conclusion.

         In the case before this court, the parties previously filed cross motions for summary judgment, and the court denied both motions. Docket 43. The court's order also held that res judicata and collateral estoppel did not apply to this case. A bench trial was held on August 2, 2016, and the parties filed post-trial briefs. The court issued its memorandum opinion and order along with a judgment on January 23, 2017. Moss now asks the court to reconsider its rulings.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The decision to grant or deny Moss's motions is at the court's discretion. See Coterel v. Dorel Juvenile Grp., Inc., 827 F.3d 804, 807 (8th Cir. 2016) (stating “[w]e review the district court's evidentiary rulings and its denial of a new trial for clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion” (citation omitted)); Burckhard v. BNSF Ry. Co., 837 F.3d 848, 857 (8th Cir. 2016) (stating “[w]e accord a district court broad discretion in determining whether to grant a motion to alter or amend judgment, and we will not reverse absent a clear abuse of discretion” (citation omitted)); Brewer v. Jonesboro Police Dep't, 653 F. App'x 853 (8th Cir. 2016) (indicating post-trial motions made under ...


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