Bowden v. Caldor, Inc.

Decision Date01 September 1996
Docket NumberNo. 81,81
Citation710 A.2d 267,350 Md. 4
PartiesSamuel David BOWDEN v. CALDOR, INC. et al. ,
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Allan B. Rabineau (A. Samuel Peregoff, on brief), Baltimore, for Petitioner.

Patricia M. Thornton (McCarthy, Bacon & Costello, L.L.P., on brief), Lanham, for Respondents.

Argued before BELL, C.J., and ELDRIDGE, RODOWSKY, CHASANOW, KARWACKI *, and RAKER, JJ., and ROBERT C. MURPHY, Judge (retired), Specially Assigned.


This case presents several important issues concerning court review of jurors' punitive damages awards in tort actions.


In March 1988, the petitioner Samuel David Bowden, an African-American then sixteen years of age, was hired by the respondent Caldor, a regional retail department store chain, to work as a customer service representative in one of its Baltimore area stores. Shortly after reporting to work on June 15, 1988, Bowden was detained and interrogated for over four hours in a small, windowless office in the store by two employees of Caldor's security department, who accused him of stealing money and merchandise from the store. Bowden repeatedly denied their accusations. He made several attempts to leave the room or call his parents, but each time he was prevented from doing so by the security officers.

Bowden, out of fear, finally capitulated to the security officers' demands and signed a written statement, dictated by the security personnel, stating that he was responsible for thefts of money from the store. He was finally allowed to leave the store at approximately 11:00 p.m., nearly two hours after the store's scheduled closing time.

Bowden informed his parents of these events, and he and his mother returned to the store the following day to discuss the matter with the store's security manager and another store manager. During the discussion, the store manager shouted racial slurs at Bowden. 1 The security officer, in the presence of Bowden's mother, grabbed Bowden's arm, led him to his office inside the store, and demanded that he and his parents make restitution for the alleged thefts. When Bowden refused his demands, he was handcuffed and paraded through the store in full view of his fellow employees and store customers. He remained in full public view until Baltimore County police officers arrived and arrested him.

In December 1988, a juvenile court dismissed the charges against Bowden, finding that there was insufficient evidence from which to conclude that he had committed thefts from the store. In fact, there was no evidence that there had been any thefts.

Thereafter, Bowden commenced a civil action against Caldor and several of its security personnel in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, seeking compensatory and punitive damages. His complaint contained five counts charging false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, defamation, wrongful discharge, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Following a jury trial, Bowden was awarded $110,000 in compensatory damages, apportioned in varying amounts among the five torts. At the conclusion of a separate trial solely on punitive damages, the jury awarded Bowden $350,000 in punitive damages against Caldor. There was no indication, however, of the manner in which the award was to be apportioned among the five separate alleged causes of action.

Following the verdict, Caldor filed motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), a new trial, and/or a remittitur. The circuit court granted the JNOV motion on the wrongful discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress counts but denied the motion as to the remaining three counts. The effect of the Court's action was to reduce the compensatory damages award against Caldor from $110,000 to $60,000. The court also denied Caldor's motion for a new trial on punitive damages, and the court left the punitive damages award intact.

Caldor and Bowden both timely appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, and this Court issued a writ of certiorari prior to argument in the intermediate appellate court. While affirming the circuit court's post-trial rulings concerning liability, this Court reversed its denial of a new trial on the issue of punitive damages. Caldor, Inc. v. Bowden, 330 Md. 632, 641-664, 625 A.2d 959, 963-974 (1993). In so doing, the Court pointed out that there had been no apportionment of the punitive damages award among the various tort counts. Judge Chasanow for the Court explained (330 Md. at 663, 625 A.2d at 974):

"[O]ne of the purposes of punitive damages is to punish the wrongs of the defendant. The requirement of a compensatory damages foundation protects defendants from being punished for acts that the trial court determines the defendant did not commit. In assessing punitive damages, a jury might have been influenced by the number of distinct civil wrongs the defendants committed. In light of this concern and the clear weight of authority cited above, the award of punitive damages must be vacated and a new trial ordered for the sole purpose of calculating punitive damages based on the three remaining torts of false imprisonment, defamation, and malicious prosecution." 2

The case was remanded to the circuit court for a new trial on punitive damages.

A second trial on punitive damages was held before a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. The transcribed testimony of the witnesses called during the first trial was read to the new jury, and both sides were allowed to present any new evidence relevant to punitive damages. Bowden presented evidence of Caldor's financial condition and pecuniary resources. Caldor presented evidence of its loss prevention and store security policies.

Following the presentation of all evidence by both sides, the jury was instructed as to the policy and purposes underlying punitive damages awards, and the degree of proof required for such awards. The jury was informed of the amount of compensatory damages awarded in the first trial on the false imprisonment, defamation, and malicious prosecution counts, but it was not told of the amount of the first award of punitive damages. The jury subsequently awarded Bowden $9 million in punitive damages against Caldor, consisting of $3 million each for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, and defamation.

Caldor timely filed a "Motion for remittitur and/or JNOV and/or for a new trial." The circuit court denied the motions for JNOV and a new trial. Nevertheless the court, holding that the award was excessive, granted the motion for a remittitur. The court reduced the amount of the punitive damages award against Caldor to $350,000, the exact amount awarded in the first trial, and apportioned the award among the three torts. 3 Although the circuit court purported to rely on several factors in reducing the punitive damages award to $350,000, the most important factor was that an award exceeding the prior jury award would have a "chilling effect" on a defendant's right to appeal. The circuit court thus stated:

"To subject the defendants to nine million dollars in punitive damages after they successfully appealed an award of $350,000 strikes me as [a] kind of arbitrariness and violation of fundamental fairness ...; and if there were no other reason to grant remittitur, for that reason alone, even though we're breaking new ground here and even though ... North Carolina v. Pearce is somewhat of an attenuated, analogous, persuasive vehicle for reasoning, it stands out loud and clear that the Court of Appeals doesn't intend to bushwhack successful appellants and that the price of succeeding on appeal is not to be hit with a very large damage claim because that would have a chilling effect on people appealing in certain areas.

"And in order not to foreclose appellants' rights to appeal, knowing that they're going to suffer grave consequences by succeeding on appeal, there is no way that I can envision that the Court of Appeals would permit this nine million dollar verdict to stand where the original verdict was $350,000.

"So, if it were not for that reason--- if there were not other reasons to join this, for that reason alone ... that in the context of the retrial it appears to be totally inappropriate to allow that except, again, using the analogy of North Carolina v. Pearce, where there is subsequent identifiable misconduct.

"So that if Caldor had continued to harass Mr. Bowden, attempted to stop him from getting employment in the Baltimore City Police Department, had conducted a fear campaign against his mother and father, then I think an award greater than $350,000 could have occurred...."

Bowden appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, and Caldor noted a "conditional cross-appeal" to that court. 4 The Court of Special Appeals affirmed in an unreported opinion. The intermediate appellate court, after noting that it "would ordinarily have grave doubts about the constitutionality" of the circuit court's failure to offer Bowden the option of either accepting the remittitur or having a new trial ordered, nevertheless concluded that this Court's prior mandate and opinion in the matter placed the case on "different ground." The intermediate appellate court interpreted our earlier mandate and opinion in Caldor, Inc. v. Bowden, supra, as providing that the amount of punitive damages awarded on remand could not exceed the $350,000 awarded at the first trial. The Court of Special Appeals explained as follows:

"[A]bsent subsequent evidence on remand of extraordinary circumstances bearing on the factors governing an award of punitive damages, the Court of Appeals did not envision that the damage award would have increased as a result of the retrial. Otherwise, the Court's discussion leading up to the remand for purposes of recalculation, stating that the jury may have been influenced by the distinct number of civil wrongs committed by Caldor, would have been mere surplusage. In fact, we doubt...

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