Skip Maine state header navigation

Agencies | Online Services | Help
Clewley v. Whitney
Download as PDF
Back to the Opinions page

MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	2002 ME 61
Docket:	Pen-01-11
Argued:	March 6, 2002
Decided:	April 11, 2002




	[¶1] Natalie Clewley appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court
(Penobscot County, Marsano, J.) following a jury verdict in favor of Dennis
Whitney in her civil action arising out of an automobile accident.  Clewley
contends that the verdict is inconsistent with the evidence and that the trial
court erred by: (1) restricting redirect examination of a police officer;
(2) allowing evidence regarding substantial damages that she asserted in a
demand to settle claims arising from a subsequent accident; and (3) failing to
give her requested jury instructions.  Because the evidentiary rulings were
within the range of the trial court's discretion, Clewley's objections to the
court's jury instructions were not sufficiently specific, and the evidence does
not compel a contrary result, we affirm the judgment.  Only the jury
instruction issue merits further discussion.
	[¶2] Natalie Clewley was a passenger in a motor vehicle travelling on
Union Street in Bangor on February 23, 1993.  At the intersection of Union
Street and an exit ramp from Interstate 95, the vehicle in which Clewley was
riding was involved in a collision with a vehicle operated by Dennis Whitney. 
The evidence would permit a fact-finder to determine that, at the time of the
collision in the evening hours, the road surface was icy and snow­p;packed and a
snow storm was ongoing.  The evidence could also support a finding that the
vehicle in which Clewley was riding was being operated at forty miles per hour,
fifteen miles per hour in excess of the posted twenty-five mile-per-hour speed
	[¶3] After the close of the evidence, the court and counsel for the
parties engaged in a substantial discussion regarding jury instructions.  Some
of that discussion was on the record and some may have been off the record. 
During this discussion, Clewley's counsel proposed many separately numbered
but duplicative jury instructions to address the negligence and rules of the
road issues upon which the court would be instructing the jury.  The
instructions that were particularly subject to counsel's comments were
proposed instructions 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, and 16.  The court indicated that it
would be covering many of the issues addressed in the separately numbered
instructions, but in its own words.  	
	[¶4]  Rather than engage in an extended discussion regarding each of
the separately numbered instructions, the court, as is common trial practice,
permitted counsel to file the separate instructions to preserve a basis to object
regarding any instructions that were not given.  The court indicated that with
this process, counsel was properly preserving objections to inconsistent
instructions, but the court reminded counsel that there would be further
opportunity for comment "after I finish." 
	[¶5] The court instructed the jury with its instructions generally
covering the areas addressed by Clewley's specific instruction requests.  After
the court completed its instructions on the substantive law, it invited counsel
to side bar to discuss instructions.  Counsel for Whitney made comments and
presented objections regarding the court's instructions at this time.  Counsel
for Clewley offered no objections or instruction requests.  The court then
recessed the jury to deliberate.  Approximately forty-five minutes later the jury
returned with a defense verdict.  Clewley filed a motion for new trial that was
denied and then brought this appeal. 
	[¶6] In her initial brief on appeal, Clewley generally complained about
the court's failure to utilize her proposed instructions but without addressing
any specific error in the court's instructions to the jury.  In her reply brief,
Clewley asserted that her requested instructions 8, 9, 14, 15, and 16 had not
been given and that instructions 7 and 10 had been given only in part.  At oral
argument, she more specifically focused on failure to give her proposed
instruction 16 which, arguably, may have clarified a point generally covered in
the court's instructions.  
	[¶7] Parties who engage in the practice of filing numerous, duplicative,
separately numbered jury instruction requests addressing similar issues with
varying language risk diverting attention away from issues of particular
concern in jury instructions for the case at hand, both at trial and on appeal. 
Repetitive quotations from authorities ten, thirty, or sixty years old add little
to development of the body of instructions that is necessary and appropriate
for the case immediately before the court.  Instruction requests should be
drafted in a way that is narrowly focused on the particular issues of concern in
the pending case.  See State v. Ashley, 666 A.2d 103, 107 (Me. 1995)
("[I]nstructions should be developed in a manner that explains the law to the
jury in the context of the individual case.").
	[¶8] On appellate review, a party can demonstrate entitlement to a
requested instruction only where the instruction was requested and not given
by the court and it: (1) states the law correctly; (2) is generated by the evidence
in the case; (3) is not misleading or confusing; and (4) is not otherwise
sufficiently covered in the court's instructions.  Mixer v. Tarratine Market, 1999
ME 27, ¶ 6, 724 A.2d 614, 615; see also Reno v. Townsend, 1997 ME 198, ¶ 4,
704 A.2d 309, 311.  In addition, the refusal to give the requested instruction
must have been prejudicial to the requesting party.  Mixer, 1999 ME 27, ¶ 6,
724 A.2d at 615.    
	[¶9] To preserve objections to instructions, a party must object before
jury deliberations begin, "stating distinctly the matter to which the party
objects and the grounds of the objection."  M.R. Civ. P. 51(b); accord M.R.
Crim. P. 30(b).  A generalized citation to a group of requested instructions is
insufficient to properly preserve objections to a particular point in the court's
jury instructions.  As the rules emphasize, an objecting party must state
distinctly to the trial court the grounds for the objection to the jury
instructions and point to the specific claimed inadequacy in the instructions
given by the trial court.  Failure to direct the court's attention to the
challenged language of its jury instructions or to offer a more acceptable
version of a specific instruction renders any generalized objection inadequate
to preserve the issue for appeal.  Morrey v. Stratton, 2000 ME 147, ¶ 9, 756 A.2d
496, 499; see also Fuller v. Central Maine Power Co., 598 A.2d 457, 460 (Me.
	[¶10]  The purpose of objections to instructions is to assist the trial
court in developing the most accurate and concise statement of the law
possible for instructing the jury, rather than to preserve points on appeal.
Where a party requests specific instructions and the court (1) explicitly refuses
to give the requested instructions, and (2) indicates in an on the record
discussion before instructions that the issue is preserved, the party's request
and objection is preserved as a claim of error only if the issue addressed in the
requested instructions is not contained in the court's instructions to the jury. 
See State v. Dumond, 2000 ME 95, ¶ 10, 751 A.2d 1014, 1017.  Where, as here,
specific instructions are proposed and the trial court generally covers the
subject matter of the proposed instructions in its own language, a party must
make a specific and focused objection after the instructions are completed and
propose language to correct the perceived problem in order to preserve the issue
for appeal.  
	[¶11]  After the jury was instructed in this case, no such focused
objection or proposed language was presented to the court.  In this context,
Clewley's proposed instructions which, at best, would clarify a matter
addressed by the court, did not sufficiently preserve any objection to the
instructions.  The court's instructions, as given, do not appear to be in error,
let alone the obvious error necessary to vacate when an objection is not
properly preserved.  See Morrey, 2000 ME 147, ¶ 10, 756 A.2d at 499. 
	The entry is:
			Judgment affirmed.
Attorneys for plaintiff: Martha J. Harris, Esq. (orally) John D. Bunker, Esq. Paine, Lynch & Harris, P.A. P O Box 1451 Bangor, ME 04402-1451 Attorneys for defendant: Christopher C. Dinan, Esq. (orally) Noah D. Wuesthoff, Esq. Monaghan Leahy, LLP P O Box 7046 Portland, ME 04112-7046