949 F.2d 1338 (4th Cir. 1991), 90-2499, Johnson v. Hugo's Skateway

Docket Nº:90-2499, 90-2509.
Citation:949 F.2d 1338
Party Name:James H. JOHNSON, a/k/a James H. Ferebee; Commonwealth of Virginia, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. HUGO'S SKATEWAY; Lois Leasing Firm, Incorporated, Defendants-Appellants. James H. JOHNSON, a/k/a James H. Ferebee, Plaintiff-Appellant, and Commonwealth of Virginia, Plaintiff, v. HUGO'S SKATEWAY; Lois Leasing Firm, Incorporated, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:November 22, 1991
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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Page 1338

949 F.2d 1338 (4th Cir. 1991)

James H. JOHNSON, a/k/a James H. Ferebee; Commonwealth of

Virginia, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

HUGO'S SKATEWAY; Lois Leasing Firm, Incorporated,

Defendants-Appellants.

James H. JOHNSON, a/k/a James H. Ferebee, Plaintiff-Appellant,

and

Commonwealth of Virginia, Plaintiff,

v.

HUGO'S SKATEWAY; Lois Leasing Firm, Incorporated,

Defendants-Appellees.

Nos. 90-2499, 90-2509.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 22, 1991

Argued May 7, 1991.

As Amended Dec. 9, 1991.

Page 1339

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1340

Earle Duncan Getchell, Jr., McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe, Richmond, Va., argued (Cynthia E. Hudson, on brief), for defendants-appellants.

Douglas Bruce McFadden, McFadden, Evans & Sill, Washington, D.C., argued (James A. Kline, IV, Jerusa Carl Wilson, Jr., on brief), for plaintiff-appellee Johnson.

William Mark Dunn, Asst. Atty. Gen., Richmond, Va., argued (Mary Sue Terry, Atty. Gen. of Virginia, on brief), for plaintiff-appellee Com. of Va.

Before MURNAGHAN and NIEMEYER, Circuit Judges, and YOUNG, Senior District Judge for the District of Maryland, sitting by designation.

OPINION

MURNAGHAN, Circuit Judge:

Appellee James H. Johnson also known as James H. Ferebee (Johnson), a 30 year-old black male, joined four friends for an evening of roller skating at appellant Hugo's Skateway (Hugo's) in Warrenton, Virginia. Johnson was the only black patron in the rink that evening. Johnson is a fairly accomplished skater whose exploits on the floor of Hugo's caught the attention of the skateway's management, particularly that of the owner, Edith Stribling, who allegedly felt that Johnson was skating in an unsafe manner. Within an hour of closing, Stribling directed the rink's assistant manager, Daniel Wright, to call Johnson off of the floor. Wright asked Johnson to accompany him to a "back room," but Johnson refused.

Stribling thereupon summoned the Fauquier County Sheriff's Department, and with about a half hour left until closing, Deputy Sheriff R. Edward Wines arrived. Wines promptly arrested Johnson by throwing him to the floor, placing him in a choke hold, and handcuffing him. Wines then took Johnson to the Fauquier County Jail, where Johnson was jailed without bond.

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Johnson brought suit against Wines and Hugo's in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia claiming deprivation of constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various pendent state law claims against both defendants.

After a directed verdict was entered in Hugo's favor on the section 1983 claim and false imprisonment and false arrest claims, and after a directed verdict was entered in Wines' favor on a racial harassment claim, the jury found against Wines on the three remaining claims against him and against Hugo's on a racial harassment claim. Compensatory damages of $200 and punitive damages of $500 were assessed against Wines. Compensatory damages of $25,000 and punitive damages of $175,000 were assessed against Hugo's.

Subsequently, counsel for Johnson filed an application for $113,469 in attorneys' fees and $1,308 in costs. The district court awarded $15,000 in fees and $654 in costs. Hugo's has appealed on various grounds. Johnson has cross-appealed on the issue of attorneys' fees.

I.

Johnson, a black male, resided in Centerville, Virginia. On February 17, 1989, Johnson attended Hugo's Skateway in Fauquier County for an evening of rollerskating. Johnson was accompanied by four of his friends; a white male, Mike Solater, and three white females, Susan Steele, Marcia Bowen, and Jennifer Stemp White. Johnson was the only black patron at Hugo's that night. The only other black person at the rink that evening--Clarence Lane--was a Hugo's employee.

It was undisputed that Johnson had skated for years; in his own opinion and in the opinions of his peers, he has been an accomplished, cautious skater who is controlled and even goes out of his way to help children in need on the skating floor. There was, nevertheless, conflicting testimony at trial as to whether Johnson was skating safely on the evening in question. Johnson and other witnesses presented by him testified that he was not causing any disturbance at the rink. Steele, for example, testified that Johnson has always been a careful skater, that on the night in question and on other occasions they had skated together, that Johnson was not causing anyone to fall down on the rink, and that Johnson had not moved children out of his way so that he could skate past. On the other hand, Edith Stribling testified that she requested three times over the rink intercom system that evening that skaters slow down, but admitted that she did not direct her announcements to Johnson in particular.

Nonetheless, with only about an hour left until closing, Hugo's assistant manager, Daniel Wright, at Stribling's direction, approached Johnson at rinkside and asked Johnson to accompany him off the skating floor. When doing so, however, Wright asked only that Johnson accompany him to the "back room." Wright admitted that he never told Johnson why he wanted to see him. Johnson replied that he would have left if that was what Hugo's wanted him to do, but he was not asked to do so.

Johnson, an out-of-towner, testified that he felt threatened by the unexplained request of a white manager in an overwhelmingly white establishment to accompany him to a "back room." While Johnson had had occasion to visit a room in the rear of the rink previously, there was no evidence that Johnson was familiar with the "back room" to which Wright asked him to proceed on the night in question. After Johnson refused to accompany Wright, Stribling summoned the Fauquier County Sheriff's Office to the rink.

Johnson testified that he could not understand why he was singled out from a crowd of approximately 150 people when he was not skating any differently from the other skaters, and after he had skated at times with employees of the rink. Lane corroborated Johnson's testimony by noting that, while working, he had "rhythm skated" with Johnson, for which no one had expressed any disapproval. Stribling admitted that Hugo's had a policy of warning skaters three times that their skating was unacceptable before the rink took any action. She did not know whether Johnson

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was given the same courtesy. Wright testified that part of the rink's objection to Johnson's skating concerned his skating within a rectangle painted on the center of the rink floor, but a rule prohibiting or limiting skating in that area was not posted at the rink and Johnson was never informed of such a rule.

Stribling testified at deposition that at least a half-hour passed, and testified at trial that about fifteen minutes had passed, between the time she called the sheriff's department and the time Deputy Wines arrived. Wines had known the Striblings for years, having been formerly employed by Hugo's as a private security guard. Before Wines arrived at the rink, Stribling did not attempt to talk to Johnson, despite the fact that he sat on a bench directly in front of the glass-enclosed office where Stribling was working.

Upon arriving at the rink, Wines immediately approached and spoke with Stribling, who directed his attention to Johnson, "a black man wearing tan pants." Thereafter, Wines arrested Johnson by throwing him to the ground, placing him in a choke hold, and handcuffing him; and then transported him to the magistrate's office and the Fauquier County Jail, where he was incarcerated for the night. Johnson was jailed without bond.

Sharon Crawford, an ex-employee of Hugo's, worked in the glass enclosed office where admission fees were collected with Stribling the night after the incident. Crawford and Stribling often worked together in the office. Crawford testified that after Stribling collected admission fees from interracial couples, Stribling would turn to people in the office and asked whether they had seen "that hussie with that nigger." Stribling admitted that she was collecting admission on February 17, 1989 and took admission from Johnson, who paid the requisite amount for himself and his white friends that night.

Charles Crawford had previously worked at the rink on Saturday nights as a skate guard, and was working the night after the incident in question. Upon arriving to work that night he was told by Stribling that "a nigger" had caused trouble on the previous night and had been ejected. Because one of Mr. Crawford's duties was to eject patrons who had been previously ejected, he was instructed to "keep an eye out" for Johnson and his "buddies" that night. Hugo's also had a policy of keeping "ejection slips" which recorded the names of ejected individuals and sometimes noted their race. Yet Stribling testified that the purpose of keeping the slips was to know "what they have done or what they were ejected for."

At the time of the Johnson incident, Hugo's was under a federal court consent decree entered on April 20, 1979 in the Eastern District of Virginia between the United States Department of Justice and Hugo's Skateway, et al. The consent decree had been executed after the Department of Justice had filed an action against Hugo's under 42 U.S.C. § 2000a et seq., regarding equal access to public accommodations for "discriminat[ing] against black persons by denying to them, on the basis of race, the use and enjoyment of the facilities and services of Hugo's on the same terms and conditions as the facilities were provided to white citizens."

The consent decree ordered that Hugo's make its facilities equally available to all citizens regardless of race or color, that...

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