785 F.2d 631 (8th Cir. 1986), 84-1753, Williams v. Mensey

Docket Nº:84-1753.
Citation:785 F.2d 631
Party Name:Ernest C. WILLIAMS, Appellant, v. A. MENSEY; R. Bordeaux; J. Simmons; V. Vaughn; Armstrong; W. Pecha; St. Louis County; Edward M. Moreland; William Breeding, Appellees.
Case Date:March 07, 1986
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 631

785 F.2d 631 (8th Cir. 1986)

Ernest C. WILLIAMS, Appellant,

v.

A. MENSEY; R. Bordeaux; J. Simmons; V. Vaughn;

Armstrong; W. Pecha; St. Louis County; Edward

M. Moreland; William Breeding, Appellees.

No. 84-1753.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 7, 1986

Submitted April 11, 1985.

Resubmitted Oct. 7, 1985.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 633

Theodore J. MacDonald, Jr., St. Louis, Mo., for appellant.

Eugene Buckley, St. Louis, Mo., for appellees.

Before ROSS and JOHN R. GIBSON, Circuit Judges, and COLLINSON, [*] District Judge.

ROSS, Circuit Judge.

Ernest C. Williams filed this 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 action against St. Louis County and eight employees of the county alleging that he was assaulted on various occasions by fellow inmates and prison guards while he was a pretrial detainee at the St. Louis County Jail. The individual defendants include the Director of Justice Services of the County, Edward Moreland, the Chief of Custody of the Jail, William Breeding, and the Deputy Chief of Custody, Aaron Mensey. The other individual defendants, Arnold Armstrong, Joe Simmons, William Pecha, Vince Vaughn, and Robert Bordeaux, are correctional officers.

Williams appeals from a judgment entered in favor of all of the defendants except Armstrong. He contends that the trial court erred in: (1) granting St. Louis County's motion for a directed verdict, (2) denying his motion to compel St. Louis County to produce the personnel files of the individual defendants, (3) denying his motion for a mistrial based on improper questions propounded by defendants' counsel, and (4) overruling his objections to the introduction of evidence relating to various fights which he had been involved in at the jail. Williams also argues that the damage award of $1.00 against Armstrong is inadequate as a matter of law and that the trial court abused its discretion in setting the amount of attorney fees recoverable from Armstrong at $1,000. After considering Williams' arguments, we affirm the judgment.

FACTS

Williams arrived at the St. Louis County Jail in January of 1981 and was detained in the jail while awaiting trial for murder. The murder trial was held in December of 1981 and led to Williams' conviction.

Williams instigated this lawsuit by filing a pro se complaint in November of 1981. Thereafter, an attorney who was appointed to represent him (Williams' present counsel) filed a three-count amended complaint.

Count one of Williams' complaint included three allegations of wrongdoing by Arnold Armstrong, a correctional officer at the jail. First, Williams alleged that Armstrong accused him of being a "snitch" (i.e., an informant) in front of other inmates in March of 1981 and at various times throughout his detention in the county jail. This accusation is blamed for certain physical attacks and rude treatment inflicted upon Williams by other inmates between April and September of 1981. Second, Williams alleged that Armstrong watched a group of inmates attack him on September 1, 1981, but did not immediately intervene to stop the beating. Finally, Williams alleged that on September 15, 1981, Armstrong entered his cell and hit him in the face.

Count one of Williams' complaint also included an allegation of wrongdoing by the other correctional officers named in the suit. This allegation involves an incident which occurred on September 2, 1981. Williams

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had been moved out of the general population and into an isolation cell after the September 1, 1981 attack. The next day he was informed that he would be moved back to a cell in the general population. When he refused to move, several correctional officers (Simmons, Pecha, Vaughn, and Bordeaux) attempted to physically remove him from the isolation cell. Williams alleges that after the officers had restrained him, Simmons punched him in the right eye with sufficient force to knock his head into the concrete wall of his cell.

Count two of Williams' complaint, which basically reasserted the facts in count one by reference, was abandoned at the end of trial. Count three of Williams' complaint sought recovery for the defendants' alleged failure to give adequate medical attention to the eye and head injuries which he incurred in the September 2nd struggle.

During pretrial discovery, Williams filed a motion to compel St. Louis County to produce the personnel files of the individual defendants (except Moreland and Breeding). See FED.R.CIV.P. 34. The court ordered the personnel files delivered under seal for purposes of an in camera inspection. After an in camera inspection, the court decided to deny Williams' motion since the information in the files would not be admissible at trial and would not reasonably lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. See FED.R.CIV.P. 26(b)(1) (scope of discovery). The court later rejected Williams' motion to seal the files in the record in order to preserve the issue for appeal.

The case then proceeded to trial. At the close of all the evidence, the court granted St. Louis County's motion for a directed verdict. The court then submitted special verdict forms to the jury. After deliberating, the jury found Armstrong liable on count one of Williams' complaint and awarded damages of $1.00, but returned a defendants' verdict in all other respects.

Subsequently, Williams' request for attorney fees was denied by the district court due to his limited success. This denial was reversed by order of this court on February 23, 1984, and remanded for reconsideration in light of the en banc decision in Fast v. School District of Ladue, 728 F.2d 1030 (8th Cir.1984). On remand, the district court granted attorney fees in the amount of $1,000.

After hearing oral argument on this appeal, we entered an order requesting the trial court to conduct another in camera examination of the personnel files requested by Williams. The order stated: "The court should determine whether these files contain the same material as when the court first examined them, and make a record of any such omissions or additions. The court should then forward this record, along with the files, or a copy of the files, to this court, under seal, so that we may grant an informed appellate review of Williams' case." Williams v. Mensey, No. 84-1753, slip op. at 2 (8th Cir. May 10, 1985). We also asked the trial court "to reconsider the amount of attorney's fees which it awarded and to articulate reasons for the amount of the fee award which it determines that Williams is entitled to." Id.

By an order entered on October 7, 1985, the trial court complied with our request. The court provided this court with photocopies of the personnel files and informed us that the files contained the same material, except for certain noted additions, as when originally reviewed. The court also reiterated its view that a $1,000 attorney fee award was reasonable and articulated reasons for setting the award at this amount.

With these preliminaries concluded, Williams' claims are ready for our review.

DISCUSSION

1. County Liability

As a local governmental unit, St. Louis County is not "wholly immune from suit under Sec. 1983." Monell...

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