93 F.3d 1241 (4th Cir. 1996), 95-1263, Price v. City of Charlotte, N.C.

Docket Nº:95-1263.
Citation:93 F.3d 1241
Party Name:Darrell A. PRICE; David H. Holland; Robert A. Holl; Oswald D. Holshouser; Raymond T. Carlton; S. Vance Elstrom; Mark E. Corwin, Plaintiffs-Appellees, and Ronald M. Hayes; Randy Hagler, Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA, Defendant-Appellant, and North State Law Enforcement Officers Association, Defendant.
Case Date:September 03, 1996
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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93 F.3d 1241 (4th Cir. 1996)

Darrell A. PRICE; David H. Holland; Robert A. Holl;

Oswald D. Holshouser; Raymond T. Carlton; S.

Vance Elstrom; Mark E. Corwin,

Plaintiffs-Appellees,

and

Ronald M. Hayes; Randy Hagler, Plaintiffs,

v.

CITY OF CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA, Defendant-Appellant,

and

North State Law Enforcement Officers Association, Defendant.

No. 95-1263.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

September 3, 1996

Argued April 1, 1996.

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ARGUED: Frank Lane Williamson, Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellant. Louis L. Lesesne, Jr., Lesesne & Connette, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Jim D. Cooley, Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellant.

Before ERVIN, NIEMEYER, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed in part and reversed in part by published opinion. Judge WILLIAMS wrote the opinion, in which Judge ERVIN and Judge NIEMEYER joined.

OPINION

WILLIAMS, Circuit Judge:

Appellees, seven white police officers, sued Appellant, the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (West 1994), contending that promotions practices for advancement in the Charlotte Police Department violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court agreed, see Hayes v. City of Charlotte, 802 F.Supp. 1361 (W.D.N.C.1992), and enjoined the City from employing any race-based criteria in reaching its employment decisions; we affirmed in part, see Hayes v. North State Law Enforcement Officers Assoc., 10 F.3d 207 (4th Cir.1993). While we affirmed with respect to liability, we remanded the case to the district court to limit the scope of the injunction and to resolve issues stayed during the appeal. On remand, the district court enjoined the City from using unlawful racial preferences regarding promotions to sergeant within the

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police department, and a jury awarded each Appellee $3,000 in compensatory damages for his injury in being subjected to the unconstitutional promotions practice. 1 Accordingly, the district court entered judgment in Appellees' favor, denying the City of Charlotte's motions for judgment as a matter of law, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 50.

In this appeal, we must decide the propriety of awarding compensatory damages for Appellees' emotional distress flowing from the knowledge that the City excluded them from consideration for promotion to sergeant because of their race. Contending that Appellees would not have been promoted regardless of their race, the City contends that the district court erred in ruling that Appellees have standing to sue to recover compensatory damages. Additionally, the City posits that the evidence is insufficient to support the award of compensatory damages for Appellees' emotional distress. We conclude that Appellees have standing to sue to recover compensatory damages for emotional distress, but that the evidence is insufficient to support the verdict. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

I.

The facts are recited in Hayes, and we need address them only briefly here. In February 1991, the City promoted twenty-one police officers from patrol officer to police sergeant. Police Chief D.R. Stone determined that four of the twenty-one promotions would be awarded exclusively to African-Americans, regardless of the ranking on the promotions roster. The first eighteen promotions were awarded based on ranking, but only one of the promoted officers was African-American. In order to meet his quota of promoting four African-Americans to police sergeant, Chief Stone disregarded qualified white applicants for the remaining three promotions and selected three African-American applicants, whose rankings on the promotions roster were twenty-nine, sixty-two, and seventy-four, respectively. All seven Appellees outranked candidates sixty-two and seventy-four, as did forty-one other white applicants. A substantial number of white officers who were not promoted had rankings superior to those of any of the Appellants. Even if an invidious factor--the race of each candidate--had not entered the promotions calculus, Appellees would not have been selected for promotion to sergeant.

On remand, Appellees asserted claims of emotional distress, seeking compensatory damages. The City unsuccessfully sought summary judgment respecting the emotional distress claims, contending that their roster rankings did not qualify them for promotion to police sergeant, and they thus were not entitled to individual relief in the form of damages. Consequently, the issue of individual relief went to trial. At trial, Appellees sought to prove their claims of emotional distress by testifying that they experienced degradation and betrayal as a result of the City's unlawfully discriminatory promotions policy. Appellees' evidence of their emotional distress consisted exclusively of their own testimony. According to Appellees, they "had played by the rules," but the City "deceived" them by not basing its promotions on grounds of competence.

At the close of Appellees' case-in-chief, and again at the close of the evidence, the City moved unsuccessfully for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50. A jury returned a verdict in favor of each Appellee for $3,000 compensatory damages. Following entry of judgment, the City again unsuccessfully moved for judgment as a matter of law. Thereafter, the City appealed both from the final judgment and the order denying its post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law.

On appeal, the City advances two arguments regarding compensatory damages. First, the City asserts that it is not liable for any damages because Appellees are entitled solely to injunctive or declaratory relief. Second, the City posits that even if it is liable for compensatory damages, the evidence is

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insufficient to sustain the verdict. We address these arguments in turn.

II.

The City asserts first that Appellees lack standing to seek compensatory damages because they would not have been promoted to sergeant regardless of the unconstitutional racial criterion. According to the City, Appellees are not entitled to any damages because they suffered no compensable loss that can be satisfied by damages. A violation of equal protection is Appellees' sole injury, the City posits, and the remedy for such a violation is exclusively injunctive or declaratory relief. The City's position is that because there was only a "technical foul," Appellees are precluded from recovering damages.

Appellees contest this position, maintaining that the actual injury they suffered was their race-based exclusion from equal consideration for the promotion to sergeant, not the fact that they failed to obtain a promotion. According to Appellees, their injuries derive from the City's unconstitutional use of race to decide promotions in the police department, not from an ultimate denial of a promotion. Appellees' compensatory damages, therefore, are to redress the ignominy of denial of consideration for promotion solely because they are white.

Concluding that Appellees had standing to seek compensatory damages, the district court denied the City's motions for judgment as a matter of law on this basis. We review the district court's ruling de novo, see Trandes Corp. v. Guy Atkinson Co., 996 F.2d 655, 661 (4th Cir.), cert denied, 510 U.S. 965, 114 S.Ct. 443, 126 L.Ed.2d 377 (1993), and affirm.

We conclude that Supreme Court precedent forecloses the City's argument that Appellees are precluded from recovering any damages because they would not have been promoted regardless of the unlawful promotions scheme. In Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 98 S.Ct. 1042, 55 L.Ed.2d 252 (1978), the Court concluded that § 1983 "was intended to '[create] a species of tort liability' in favor of persons who are deprived of 'rights, privileges, or immunities secured' to them by the Constitution." Id. at 253, 98 S.Ct. at 1047 (alteration in original) (quoting Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 417, 96 S.Ct. 984, 988-89, 47 L.Ed.2d 128 (1976)). Thus, damages awarded pursuant to § 1983 often find their genesis in the common law of torts, and the gravamen of tort law is "compensation for the injury caused to plaintiff by defendant's breach of duty." Id. at 255, 98 S.Ct. at 1047 (internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added in part). Thus, "damages are available under [§ 1983] for actions 'found ... to have been violative of ... constitutional rights and to have caused compensable injury ....' " Id. at 255, 98 S.Ct. at 1047 (quoting Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308, 319, 95 S.Ct. 992, 999, 43 L.Ed.2d 214 (1975)). In endorsing an award of damages, Carey explained that the courts must not lose sight of the fact that such a plaintiff suffered a constitutional violation, and the federal courts must provide a remedy for the wrong suffered. See id. at 266, 98 S.Ct. at 1053-54.

While Carey concluded that damages for emotional distress are available under § 1983, the Court held that for a plaintiff to recover more than nominal damages, his injury must have actually been caused by the challenged conduct, and the injury must be sufficiently proved:

[W]e foresee no particular difficulty in producing evidence that mental and emotional distress actually was caused by the [constitutional violation]. Distress is a personal injury familiar to the law, customarily proved by showing the nature and circumstances of the wrong and its effect on the plaintiff. In sum, then, although mental and emotional distress caused by the [constitutional violation] itself is compensable under § 1983, we hold that neither the likelihood of such injury nor the difficulty of proving it is so great as to justify awarding compensatory damages without proof that such injury actually was caused.

Id. at...

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