829 F.2d 196 (1st Cir. 1987), 86-1475, Wagenmann v. Adams

Docket Nº:86-1475 to 86-1478.
Citation:829 F.2d 196
Party Name:Ronald E. WAGENMANN, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. Russell J. ADAMS, et al., Defendants, Appellees. Appeal of Gerald R. ANDERSON, Defendant, Appellant. Ronald E. WAGENMANN, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. Russell J. ADAMS, et al., Defendants, Appellees. Appeal of Edward P. HEALY, Defendant, Appellant. Ronald E. WAGENMANN, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. Russell J. ADAMS
Case Date:September 09, 1987
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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Page 196

829 F.2d 196 (1st Cir. 1987)

Ronald E. WAGENMANN, Plaintiff, Appellee,

v.

Russell J. ADAMS, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

Appeal of Gerald R. ANDERSON, Defendant, Appellant.

Ronald E. WAGENMANN, Plaintiff, Appellee,

v.

Russell J. ADAMS, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

Appeal of Edward P. HEALY, Defendant, Appellant.

Ronald E. WAGENMANN, Plaintiff, Appellee,

v.

Russell J. ADAMS, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

Appeal of Francis J. POZZI and Paul Campbell, Defendants,

Appellants.

Ronald E. WAGENMANN, Plaintiff, Appellant,

v.

Russell J. ADAMS, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

Nos. 86-1475 to 86-1478.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 9, 1987

Heard May 4, 1987.

Page 197

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 198

Gerard R. Laurence, with whom Milton, Laurence & Dixon, Worcester, Mass., was on brief, for defendant, appellant Gerald R. Anderson.

Richard R. Eurich, with whom Carol A. Griffin and Morrison, Mahoney & Miller, Boston, Mass., were on brief, for defendant, appellant Edward P. Healy.

James F. Bergin, Asst. City Sol., with whom Gary S. Brackett, City Sol., Worcester, Mass., was on brief, for defendants, appellants Francis J. Pozzi and Paul Campbell.

Stewart T. Herrick, with whom Tammy L. Arcuri, Catanzaro, Effren & Herrick, P.C., Ashland, Mass., Alex H. MacDonald, Steven Perlmutter and Harrison & Maguire, P.C., Boston, Mass., were on brief, for Ronald E. Wagenmann.

Page 199

Before COFFIN, ALDRICH and SELYA, Circuit Judges.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

It was early in the seventeenth century when George Herbert wrote:

"Marry your son when you will;

your daughter when you can."

The sagacity of that advice, suspect in any era, was called into grave doubt some three hundred fifty years later in Worcester, Massachusetts. In the process, bitterly-fought litigation ensued. These lawsuits have now wended their rancorous way to our doorstep. Because the underlying circumstances border on the chimerical, we set out an exegetic account.

I. TRAVEL OF THE CASES

The father of the daughter in question, plaintiff-appellee Ronald E. Wagenmann, commenced a civil action in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, asserting a laundry list of civil rights and pendent state tort claims against Gerald Anderson (Anderson), his son Stephen Anderson (Stephen), a state district court judge (whose plea of judicial immunity was later accepted), and several Worcester police officers (including the lead defendant, Adams, subsequently dropped from the case). Wagenmann's federal causes of action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 stemmed from alleged false arrest, excessive bail, and unlawful commitment to a mental institution. His state law claims were, for the most part, linked to the same averments, e.g., false imprisonment, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Wagenmann simultaneously brought suit against his quondam court-appointed attorney, appellant Edward P. Healy, for legal malpractice.

The cases were consolidated for trial. After six days of courtroom combat, each of the present appellants--Anderson, Healy, officer Francis J. Pozzi, and Lt. Paul Campbell--moved for directed verdicts on all counts. So did the defendant Daniel Egan, Worcester's deputy chief of police. The district court denied these motions, but took the case from the jury as to Stephen Anderson and as to defendants John Brabbs and Stephen Rhieu, both policemen. Except for Egan, Brabbs, Rhieu, Anderson the younger, and the four appellants, all of the other named defendants had departed the litigation, for one reason or another, before the close of trial.

On July 18, 1985, verdicts were returned in favor of the plaintiff on his federal civil rights claims for false arrest, excessive bail, and unlawful commitment, and on his tort claims for false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and legal malpractice. 1 The jury returned a defendants' verdict on the assault and battery count, and exonerated Egan on all charges. The jurors awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages against Pozzi, Campbell, and Anderson, jointly and severally, on Wagenmann's federal claim for false arrest. They rendered identical verdicts on Wagenmann's common law false imprisonment claim, and found the same three defendants liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress to the tune of $500,000. They awarded $100,000 against Pozzi under Sec. 1983 relative to the alleged bail manipulation. And, in connection with the civil rights claims generally, they tagged Anderson, Pozzi, and Campbell with punitive damages in the amounts of $50,000, $25,000, and $10,000, respectively. Last but not least, a $500,000 malpractice verdict was rendered against Healy.

Following the verdicts, which aggregated some $1,600,000 in compensatory damages and $85,000 in exemplary damages, the defendants all moved for judgments notwithstanding the verdict, Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b), and in the alternative, for new trials, Fed.R.Civ.P. 59. They maintained that the verdicts were contrary to the weight of the

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evidence and that the awards were excessive. At the same time, Wagenmann moved to amend or correct the judgment, Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), 60(a), (b), arguing that the clerk of court had overlooked the prejudgment interest to which the plaintiff claimed a statutory entitlement vis-a-vis his state law sorties. See M.G.L. ch. 231, Sec. 6B. On January 7, 1986, the district court denied all of the defendants' posttrial motions, and allowed plaintiff's motion for prejudgment interest. The court did, however, condition the denial of new trials on a substantial concession by the plaintiff as to damages. Although it found that the verdicts were not the result of passion and prejudice such as would necessitate an outright new trial, the district court branded the damages as excessive. Accordingly, it ordered remittiturs, the effect of which was to shrink the awards from a total of $1,685,000 to $285,000. 2 In a subsequent order dated October 17, 1986, the district court awarded plaintiff, as the prevailing party, $115,866.50 in attorneys' fees and $10,852.83 in costs as against the losing civil rights defendants (Pozzi, Campbell, and Anderson). See 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988.

The instant appeals challenge both the denial of the defendants' posttrial motions and the fee award. Moreover, Wagenmann has filed a protective cross-appeal, challenging the trial court's exclusion of certain proffered expert testimony anent the malpractice claim. 3

We restate briefly the principles which govern our review. The yardstick by which we take the measure of a refusal to grant a directed verdict is the same as that which we apply to the denial of a judgment n.o.v. Joia v. Jo-Ja Service Corp., 817 F.2d 908, 910 (1st Cir.1987); DeMars v. Equitable Life Assur. Soc. of U.S., 610 F.2d 55, 57 (1st Cir.1979). In conducting that exercise, we may not consider the credibility of witnesses, resolve conflicts in testimony, or evaluate the weight of the evidence. Miranda v. Munoz, 770 F.2d 255, 257 (1st Cir.1985). Rather, we must examine the evidence and the inferences reasonably to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Fishman v. Clancy, 763 F.2d 485, 486 (1st Cir.1985); Cazzola v. Codman & Shurtleff, Inc., 751 F.2d 53, 54 (1st Cir.1984). Put another way, "[w]e take the facts as shown by the [nonmovant's] evidence and by at least such of [movant's] uncontradicted and unimpeached evidence as, under all the circumstances, the jury virtually must have believed." Karelitz v. Damson Oil Corp., 820 F.2d 529, 530 (1st Cir.1987). A judgment notwithstanding the verdict should be granted only when the evidence, viewed from this perspective, is such that reasonable persons could reach but one conclusion. Hubbard v. Faros Fisheries, Inc., 626 F.2d 196, 199 (1st Cir.1980); Harrington v. United States, 504 F.2d 1306, 1311 (1st Cir.1974).

Appellants' motions for new trials on grounds which question the sufficiency of the evidence are subject to a different standard of review. In Hubbard, we said:

Although a district court judge may order a new trial even though there may be substantial evidence to support the verdict, ... where the trial judge has denied such a new trial motion it is "only in a very unusual case that we will reverse such a ruling as an abuse of discretion." Sears v. Pauly, 261 F.2d 304, 309 (1st Cir.1958). In order to award a new trial

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... we must find that the jury's verdict was so clearly against the weight of the evidence as to constitute a manifest miscarriage of justice.

626 F.2d at 200. See also Valm v. Hercules Fish Products, Inc., 701 F.2d 235, 237 (1st Cir.1983) (same); Coffran v. Hitchcock Clinic, Inc., 683 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1087, 103 S.Ct. 571, 74 L.Ed.2d 933 (1982) (similar). With these precepts in mind, we proceed to the task at hand, presenting the facts as the jury could have--and seemingly did--find them to be.

II. FACTUAL PREDICATE

Wagenmann, a resident of New York City, is a former New York police officer, a one-time firefighter, and the father of an only daughter (Linda). At the time of the events giving rise to this litigation, Wagenmann and Linda's mother, Yvonne de Bossiere, were married (albeit unhappily). One very real source of friction in the Wagenmann household was Linda's relationship with Stephen Anderson--a match which ultimately produced a serious rift between father and daughter. Following her junior year at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Linda defied paternal preferences and spent the summer with Stephen and his family. In December 1975, her Christmastime visit home was cut short by discord when her...

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