679 F.2d 1037 (2nd Cir. 1982), 307, Wheatley v. Ford

Docket Nº:307, 530, Dockets 81-7443, 81-7621.
Citation:679 F.2d 1037
Party Name:Robert WHEATLEY, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Police Officers Michael FORD, Roger Lafferty, Kevin Gorman, Detectives Edward Zaleski, Gary Tirelli, Jay Richards and Detective Sergeant William Wagner, Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:May 18, 1982
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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Page 1037

679 F.2d 1037 (2nd Cir. 1982)

Robert WHEATLEY, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Police Officers Michael FORD, Roger Lafferty, Kevin Gorman,

Detectives Edward Zaleski, Gary Tirelli, Jay

Richards and Detective Sergeant William

Wagner, Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 307, 530, Dockets 81-7443, 81-7621.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

May 18, 1982

Argued Dec. 7, 1981.

Page 1038

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Page 1039

Sydney J. Chase, Mineola, N. Y. (Ilene S. Cooper, Mineola, N. Y., on brief), for plaintiff-appellee.

Robert O. Boyhan, Deputy County Atty., Mineola, N. Y. (Edward G. McCabe, County Atty., of Nassau County, Mineola, N. Y., on brief), for defendants-appellants.

Before LUMBARD, WATERMAN and VAN GRAAFEILAND, Circuit Judges.

VAN GRAAFEILAND, Circuit Judge:

This is the second appeal in plaintiff's action for unlawful arrest and excessive use of force by defendants, members of the Nassau County Police Department. Plaintiff sued in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged violation of his constitutional rights. On the first trial, the jury found that Wheatley had been subjected to both an unconstitutional arrest and the unconstitutional use of force. It awarded plaintiff $800 for the unlawful arrest and $1 for the unlawful use of force.

On appeal, this Court reversed the $1 award and remanded the use of force issue for a new trial solely on the issue of damages. Wheatley v. Beetar, 637 F.2d 863 (2d Cir. 1980). One panel member voted against limiting the retrial to the issue of damages, on the ground that the nature and extent of plaintiff's alleged injuries were inextricably intertwined with the nature and extent of the defendants' alleged use of force. Id. at 868-69. The dissent believed that the seven defendants would be unfairly prejudiced by instructions that all seven of them had subjected plaintiff to excessive force, otherwise undescribed. Id. Upon retrial, the $1 verdict became a $55,000 verdict. In addition, the district court awarded attorney's fees of $39,742 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Defendants appeal from what they consider an excessive award of compensatory damages and from the award of attorney's fees.

I.

When reviewing a claim of excessive damages, an appellate court must accord substantial deference to the jury's determination of factual issues. Wheatley v. Beetar, supra, 637 F.2d at 865; Music Research, Inc. v. Vanguard Recording Society, Inc., 547 F.2d 192, 195 (2d Cir. 1976). In examining a lower court's discretionary refusal to set aside a verdict, an appellate court must view the evidence and draw all factual inferences in favor of the appellee. Grunenthal v. Long Island R. R. Co., 393 U.S. 156, 159, 89 S.Ct. 331, 333, 21 L.Ed.2d 309 (1968). Nevertheless, a judgment cannot be upheld where the damages awarded are so excessive "as to shock the judicial conscience." See United States ex rel Larkins v. Oswald, 510 F.2d...

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