Clehm v. Bae Sys. Ordnance Sys., Inc., Civil Action No. 7:16-cv-00012

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
Decision Date14 December 2018
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 7:16-cv-00012
PartiesCARLA A. CLEHM Plaintiff, v. BAE SYSTEMS ORDNANCE SYSTEMS, INC., et al., Defendants.

CARLA A. CLEHM Plaintiff,

Civil Action No. 7:16-cv-00012


December 14, 2018

By: Hon. Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge


This matter is before the court on incarcerated defendant Joshua Linkous' pro se post-trial motion for a new trial or, in the alternative, relief from judgment, pursuant to Rule 59 and Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, respectively. ECF Nos. 224-227. This case arises from multiple instances of sexual assault and battery perpetrated by defendant Joshua Linkous ("Linkous") against plaintiff Carla Clehm ("Clehm") while both were employed by BAE Systems, Inc. at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Radford, Virginia. Linkous' plea of guilty on June 30, 2015, and concomitant conviction for abusive sexual contact in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2244(a)(1), estopped him from contesting liability as to the state assault and battery claim alleged in Count II of the Clehm's Complaint and Second Amended Complaint. See 18 U.S.C. § 3664(1). The civil trial on Count II, conducted on August 23, 2018, was therefore limited to the question of damages. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Clehm in the amount of $500,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. Linkous contends, among other things, that the verdict is excessive and requests the court to order a new trial or, in the alternative, grant him relief from judgment.

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Linkous recites, albeit in a cursory and conclusory manner, a litany of grievances and exactly the same grounds in support of both motions. Clehm argues that Linkous' motions are entirely without merit and must be denied. The parties have briefed the issue making this matter ripe for the court's consideration. Upon a thorough review of the record and for the reasons set forth herein, Linkous' motions are DENIED.


In her action against defendant Joshua Linkous, plaintiff Carla Clehm alleged that while working at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant ("Arsenal"), she was sexually assaulted and battered on two occasions by Linkous. ECF No. 59, 3-4. From early 2014 to 2015, Clehm worked as a "helper" in the Tub House, a facility located within the Nitrocellulose Area of the Arsenal. Id. at 6. Linkous worked within this same area, but as a Nitrocellulose Chief Operator ("NCCO"), known colloquially as a "tub house chief." Id. at 4. Clehm was sexually assaulted by Linkous at work on two occasions, once on May 19, 2014, and again on or about June 5, 2014. Id. at 5-6. With respect to the May 19 incident, Clehm claims Linkous came up behind her as she was leaving a building at work and told her he needed to ask her something. When she tried to walk away, Linkous grabbed her clothing, pulled her towards him, and repeatedly questioned her about his wife's supposed infidelity. He then suggested they have sex as revenge against his wife. Clehm told Linkous that she was not interested and that she had to get back to her job. Linkous told Clehm to let him know anything she saw or heard and to keep in touch and so forth. A co-worker witnessed some of the incident (he interrupted the incident and spoke to Linkous), and later reported what he saw to human resources. Clehm was sexually assaulted and battered again by

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Linkous on or around June 5 after visiting her locker. In the statement of facts accompanying Linkous's guilty plea, Linkous admitted to the following with respect to the June 2014 assault:

In June 2014, I saw Victim 2 [Clehm] at her locker, near the break room in the Tub House. Victim 2 began to exit the Tub House. As she neared the exit, I grabbed her by the upper arm and dragged her into a room on the side of the Tub House where electrical circuit breakers are housed (the "breaker room"). I closed the door and turned off the lights. I pushed her against a control panel and pinned her down with my body. I forcibly kissed her, unbuttoned her coverall clothing, and kissed her breasts against her will. I put my hands inside her coveralls and touched her vaginal area over her underwear with my hand against her will.

ECF No. 59, at 5-6. Clehm claimed that during the June assault, she feared for her life and was only able to leave when she told Linkous that coworkers were waiting for her.

Linkous pled guilty to criminal charges of sexual assault and battery of Clehm and other female coworkers in United States v. Joshua Linkous. Case No. 7:15-cr-00016. Linkous was subsequently sentenced on October 13, 2015, to 14 years incarceration. In the aftermath of these events, Clehm suffered from various health issues, including migraines, inability to focus, debilitating headaches, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Clehm began seeking medical treatment for her stress at work and on August, 5, 2014, reported to her primary care doctor that she had been sexually assaulted. ECF No. 154-26. Clehm later began seeking psychiatric counseling from a licensed clinical social worker, as well as from BAE's Employee Assistance Program. Clehm continued to struggle with fear, intrusive thoughts, and difficulty sleeping. On March 28, 2016, she went out on short term disability leave with BAE's approval. ECF No. 154-13; ECF No. 154-2, at 388, 400. She subsequently brought a

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civil action against Linkous in connection with the conduct for which Linkous was convicted criminally. Pursuant to Rule 17(b) and (c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court appointed Thomas E. Strelka, Esq. to serve as guardian ad litem for Linkous in the civil action. On August, 23, 2018, following a one day trial limited to damages on Count II against defendant Linkous, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Clehm, awarding her $500,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages. A total of eight witnesses appeared on behalf of Clehm, including family, friends, former co-workers, Dr. Russell W. Melton from the Carilion Clinic, and Betty Jones, a Women's Resource Center counselor who worked with Clehm following the May and June 2014 assaults.

Linkous has moved for the court to set aside the judgment entered on August, 27, 2918, and asserts a variety of grounds ostensibly supporting his motions for a new trial and for relief from judgment. He first claims that the amount awarded to the plaintiff was "grossly excessive." ECF No. 225, at 1. He attributes this excessive judgment to, among other things, the court's denying his October 16, 2018, motion to continue, ECF No. 198, which he claims prevented him from "properly assist[ing]" in his defense at trial "even with the assistance of my guardian ad litem." ECF No. 225, at 2-3. Linkous also maintains that his inability to have "regular and frequent" communication with his guardian ad litem, Thomas Strelka, Esq., contributed to the purportedly excessive verdict. Id. at 2. He further avers that his interests were "overly prejudiced" by being required to participate in the trial from a correctional facility and that he was denied the "opportunity to reasonably prepare for trial." ECF No. 227, at 1-2. The grounds presented in support of both motions are identical, indeed reproduced verbatim in each motion. The court also notes that many of the grounds

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proffered in Linkous's post-trial motions presently before the court are the same as those raised in his pre-trial motion to continue filed on the eve of trial, ECF No. 198, which the court denied. The court will address each of Linkous' claims in turn.


The grant or denial of a motion for a new trial is entrusted to and a matter resting in the sound discretion of the district court. Wadsworth v. Clindon, 846 F.2d 265, 266 (4th Cir. 1988) (citing Old Dominion Stevedoring Corp. v. Polskie Linie Oceaniczne, 386 F.2d 193 (4th Cir. 1967)). The motion may be granted, "after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a)(1)(A). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit's list of acceptable grounds for which a court may exercise its discretion to grant a new trial includes: "(1) the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, or (2) is based upon evidence which is false, or (3) will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict." Atlas Food Sys. and Servs., Inc. v. Crane Nat. Vendors, Inc., 99 F.3d 587, 594 (4th Cir. 1996); Cline v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 294, 301 (4th Cir. 1998). "This discretion includes overturning verdicts for excessiveness and ordering a new trial without qualification or conditioned on the verdict winner's refusal to agree to a reduction (remittitur)." Gasperini v. Ctr. for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 432-33 (1996). To receive a new trial, the Fourth Circuit requires a finding that the jury verdict was made excessive by "passion and prejudice springing from indulgence, in the jury room, in such feelings, [that] may not be cured by a remittitur, but only a new trial." Bennett v. Fairfax Cty., Va., 432 F. Supp. 2d 596, 602 (E.D. Va. 2006) (citing Ford Motor

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Co. v. Mahone, 205 F.2d 267, 273 (4th Cir. 1953)). In other words, absent evidence of passion or prejudice by the jury, an excessive verdict alone is insufficient to grant a new trial. See Ford Motor Co. v. Mahone, 205 F.2d 267, 273 (4th Cir. 1953) (finding that an excessive verdict coupled with evidence that one of the jurors attempted to send a message to the plaintiff's counsel while the trial was in progress, which was designed to aid him in his conduct of the case, required a new trial); Allred v. Maersk Line, Ltd., 826 F.Supp. 965 (1993), 970 (E.D. Va. 1993), rev'd on other grounds, 35 F.3d 139 (4th Cir. 1994) (holding that although the jury award of $1,000,000.00 was excessive, the court could not order...

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