Hardy v. City of Milwaukee

Decision Date27 February 2015
Docket NumberCase No. 13–CV–769–JPS.
Citation88 F.Supp.3d 852
PartiesLeo HARDY, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF MILWAUKEE, Officer Michael Gasser, Officer Keith Garland, Jr., and Officer Michael Valuch, Jr., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Wisconsin

Joel Feldman, Arthur Loevy, Elizabeth Mazur, Jonathan I. Loevy, Roshna B. Keen, Russell Ainsworth, Theresa Kleinhaus, Heather Lewis Donnell, Loevy & Loevy, Chicago, IL, Robin Shellow, The Shellow Group, Milwaukee, WI, for Plaintiff.

Jeffrey T. Nichols, Samuel C. Hall, Jr., Crivello Carlson S.C., Jenny Yuan, Susan E. Lappen, Assistant City Attorneys, Milwaukee City Attorney's Office, Milwaukee, WI, for Defendants.


J.P. STADTMUELLER, District Judge.

The plaintiff, Leo Hardy, filed suit in this case on July 10, 2013. He alleged that a number of Milwaukee Police Department (“MPD”) officers stopped him without reasonable suspicion, strip searched him, and falsely arrested him, and that no officer acted to intervene. He sued those officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that the stop, search, arrest, and failure to intervene violated his constitutional rights. Mr. Hardy also sued several MPD supervisors on a supervisory liability theory and the City of Milwaukee (“the City”) for indemnification.

Over the course of pretrial proceedings, Mr. Hardy's claims were narrowed substantially. By the time of trial, his claims remained only against Officers Michael Gasser, Keith Garland, and Michael Valuch.1 Mr. Hardy alleged that Officers Gasser and Garland: stopped him and searched him without reasonable suspicion; strip searched him and/or failed to intervene to prevent the other officer from strip searching him; and falsely arrested him. Mr. Hardy asserted that Officer Valuch strip searched him and/or failed to intervene to prevent others from doing so. Mr. Hardy sought compensatory and punitive damages for these alleged violations.

Mr. Hardy took his claims before a jury and prevailed in part. Specifically, the jury found that Officers Gasser and Garland lacked a reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk Mr. Hardy and that they falsely arrested him. However, the jury rejected Mr. Hardy's contention that he had been strip searched and likewise rejected his failure to intervene claims. The jury awarded Mr. Hardy the following damages:

$5,000.00 in compensatory damages on his stop-and-frisk claims ($2,500.00 apiece against Officers Gasser and Garland);
$1,000.00 in compensatory damages on his false arrest claim (jointly against Officers Gasser and Garland); and
$500,000.00 in punitive damages ($250,000.00 apiece against Officers Gasser and Garland).

The City2 filed post-trial motions. It requests a new trial (Docket # 226) or, in the alternative, an altered or amended judgment (Docket # 224). In support of its request for a new trial, pursuant to Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the City asserts that the Court made several evidentiary errors (Docket # 227 at 7–16); that the punitive damages issue should be re-tried (Docket # 227 at 16–19); and that the jury was confused or biased (Docket # 227 at 20–21). In support of its motion for an altered or amended judgment, pursuant to Rule 59(e), the City argues that the Court should significantly reduce the punitive damages award (Docket # 225 at 7–16) and strike the jury's false arrest finding (Docket # 225 at 17–18).

After those motions were fully briefed, the Court held a conference with the parties and, with the parties' consent, referred the case to the assigned magistrate judge for further mediation. (Docket # 245, # 246). That mediation ultimately proved unsuccessful. (Docket # 249, # 250).

Thus, the parties' post-trial motions are now before the Court and ready for decision. The Court will address each separately, beginning with the City's motion for a new trial.3


Rule 59(a) provides that the Court “may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues ... 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). This is generally accepted to mean that the Court “may only order a new trial if the jury's verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence, ... or if for other reasons the trial was not fair to the moving party.” Willis v. Lepine, 687 F.3d 826, 836 (7th Cir.2012) (quoting Marcus & Millichap Inv. Servs. v. Sekulovski, 639 F.3d 301, 313 (7th Cir.2011) ; Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 610 F.3d 434, 440 (7th Cir.2010) ) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The City's Rule 59(a) motion is rather confusing. It is untethered from the Rule 59(a) standard set forth above. It identifies alleged legal errors that may have affected the fairness of the trial (the Court's evidentiary rulings) and alleged evidence of unfairness (the jury's verdict), but never ties those items together into a cohesive argument in favor of a new trial. Instead, it appears that, as Mr. Hardy puts it, the City's motion for a new trial is at bottom an attempt to remit the jury's punitive damages award.” (Docket # 238 at 3).

In the end, as best the Court can discern, the City's motion for a new trial relates almost entirely to the fairness aspect of the Rule 59(a) standard. In asserting that the Court committed evidentiary errors, the City is essentially contending that it was deprived of a fair trial because the admitted evidence improperly prejudiced the jury. The City also argues that the size of the award, itself, is evidence that the trial was unfair. Finally, the City posits that the jury was somehow irrational or inflamed, such that the verdict it rendered was unfair.

Despite the City's focus on the fairness aspect of Rule 59(a), the Court will address that Rule's evidentiary aspect, specifically whether the jury's findings were against the manifest weight of the evidence. Thereafter, the Court will address the more important issues regarding fairness.

1.1 Weight of the Evidence

For the most part, the City never asserts that the jury's verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Nor could it. The Court should “set aside a verdict as contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence only if no rational jury could have rendered the verdict.” Lewis v. City of Chicago Police Dep't, 590 F.3d 427, 440 (7th Cir.2009). That high bar has not been met here.

There are several portions of the jury's verdict that the City suggests were against the manifest weight of the evidence: the stop-and-frisk portion; the false arrest portion; and the punitive damages portion.

1.1.1 Stop–and–Frisk Claim

In this case, the jury's verdict in Mr. Hardy's favor on the stop-and-frisk claim was entirely supported by the evidence, rather than against it in any way. In the Court's view, a preponderance of the evidence amply demonstrated that Officers Gasser and Garland lacked any reasonable suspicion to stop and search Mr. Hardy.

Officers Gasser and Garland attempted to justify their initial stop of Mr. Hardy by providing shifting reasons for the stop. (Compare Docket # 215 at 185:7–192:19, with Docket # 216, 463:15–468:20). Perhaps it was for investigatory purposes (Docket # 215 at 225:10–226:23), but then Mr. Hardy should have been free to leave or to decline to cooperate, see, e.g., United States v. Tyler, 512 F.3d 405, 409 (7th Cir.2008), which he was not. Perhaps it was because Officer Gasser smelled marijuana on Mr. Hardy (Docket # 215 at 185:7–192:19), but Officer Garland testified that he did not smell marijuana (Docket # 216 at 464:13–23) and, in the end, no officer found marijuana or drug paraphernalia on Mr. Hardy or in his car (Docket # 215 at 191:22–192:15). Perhaps the officers believed that Mr. Hardy was carrying a gun in violation of his probation (see, e.g., Docket # 216 at 452:6–9, 465:10–466:8), but the incident report made no mention of such possibility and the officers' actions were not consistent with such a belief (Docket # 216 at 465:10–466:8). Mr. Hardy did not commit any crimes or traffic violations. (Docket # 216 at 457:2–7).

Given that the officers could not identify any reason for a stop, together with the fact that their inconsistent testimony significantly reduced their credibility,4 there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could reach its verdict in favor of Mr. Hardy on his stop-and-frisk claim. Simply put, the evidence showed that the officers did not know—at the time of the stop or at the time of trial—why they stopped Mr. Hardy. The Court finds it exceedingly likely that Officers Gasser and Garland did not formulate their offered justifications until after the stop and search of Mr. Hardy had already occurred. The verdict evidences the jury's reasoned belief that this was the case.

For these reasons, the Court concludes that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict on Mr. Hardy's stop-and-frisk claims. To the extent that the City's motion suggests otherwise, the Court must deny it.

1.1.2 False Arrest Claim

In its motion for a new trial, the City argues (rather obliquely) that the jury's false arrest finding is against the manifest weight of the evidence. (See, e.g., Docket # 227 at 19, 21). This argument, however, relates more to the legal underpinnings of Mr. Hardy's false arrest claim than to the underlying evidence. The City appears to acknowledge this, having set forth the argument in much greater detail in its Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend the judgment. That being the case, the Court will wait to address the argument until it addresses the City's Rule 59(e) motion in Section 2.1, infra.

1.1.3 Punitive Damages Award

The jury's award of punitive damages is the only portion of the verdict that the City clearly challenges on the basis of the sufficiency of the evidence.5 (See Docket # 227 at 16–19). The City posits that “Mr. Hardy did not present sufficient evidence to prove evil motive or intent or reckless or callous indifference on the part of Officers...

To continue reading

Request your trial
12 cases
  • United States v. Fuller
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan
    • August 11, 2015
    ...probable cause to believe that Fuller resisted or obstructed lawful police conduct.13 See Hardy v. City of Milwaukee, 88 F.Supp.3d 852, 871–80, 2015 WL 816998 at **16–24 (E.D.Wisc.2015) (holding that officers did not have probable cause to arrest a suspect who fled from an unlawful detentio......
  • Kaiser v. Johnson & Johnson & Ethicon, Inc., 2:17-cv-00114-PPS-JEM
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana
    • August 8, 2018
    ...a new trial ‘unless there was an error that caused some prejudice to the substantial rights of the parties.’ " Hardy v. City of Milwaukee , 88 F.Supp.3d 852, 861 (E.D. Wis. 2015) (quoting Lemons v. Skidmore, 985 F.2d 354, 357 (7th Cir. 1993) ). Each argument is addressed in turn, but none w......
  • Bryant v. Ramos
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Wisconsin
    • February 13, 2017
    ...U.S. 690, 696, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 134 L.Ed.2d 911 (1996); Tebbens v. Mushol, 692 F.3d 807, 817 (7th Cir.2012)).Hardy v. City of Milwaukee, 88 F. Supp. 3d 852, 869-80 (E.D. Wis. 2015). The plaintiff alleges that the defendant arrested her for "absconding without paying." Wis. Stat. §943.21(1m)(......
  • Sommerfield v. City of Chi.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • March 31, 2018
    ...v. City of Chicago, No. 12 C 7844, 2016 WL 4158914, at *25 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 5, 2016) (Gottschall, J.) (quoting Hardy v. City of Milwaukee, 88 F. Supp. 3d 852, 883 (E.D. Wis. 2015)) (alterations omitted); see also Lampley, 340 F.3d at 486 ("[B]ecause Title VII cases are so fact-specific, 'we ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT