Hobson v. Wilson

Decision Date01 June 1982
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 76-1326.
Citation556 F. Supp. 1157
PartiesJulius HOBSON, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Jerry V. WILSON, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia






J.E. McNeil and Daniel Schember, Washington, D.C., Anne Pilsbury, Norway, Me., Burton D. Weschsler, Urban Law Institute for Antioch School of Law, Herbert Semmel, Antioch School of Law, Washington, D.C., for plaintiffs.

David H. White, Dept. of Justice, Laura W. Bonn and George Barclay, Corp. Counsel, Washington, D.C., for defendants.


OBERDORFER, District Judge.

Plaintiffs brought this action for damages and injunctive relief against the District of Columbia and a number of active and retired members of the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") and the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI").1 The amended complaint filed October 28, 1977, alleged that defendants had systematically violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights, individually and through conspiracies, while plaintiffs engaged in lawful protest against government policy in the late 1960's and in the 1970's in the Washington area. Trial of the damages claim began on November 23, 1981, and continued for seventeen days.2 A jury of six returned verdicts, after nearly five days of deliberation, on December 23, 1981.3 Now before the Court are motions pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b), 59(a) for judgment notwithstanding the verdicts or, in the alternative, for a new trial.4

I. Introduction

The verdicts the jury returned found most of the defendants liable to plaintiffs and awarded most of the plaintiffs substantial sums in compensatory and punitive damages. The total amount of all awards to the eight prevailing plaintiffs against the 13 defendants found liable to them was $711,937.50. Three plaintiffs recovered $81,062.50 each and five recovered $93,750 each.5 One plaintiff, the Washington Area Women Strike for Peace ("WAWSP"), was found not to have been injured by any defendant, and consequently had no recovery.

The individual defendants found by the jury to be liable to one or more plaintiffs included five persons employed at FBI headquarters or the FBI Washington Field Office ("WFO"). Defendant Brennan was a section chief, and later assistant director, of the FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division from 1966 to 1971. Defendant Moore served from 1967 to 1974 as a section chief in the same division as Brennan. Defendant Jones held the post of Security Coordinating Supervisor at WFO from 1964 to 1974. Defendant Grimaldi worked as a special agent at WFO from 1968 to 1970 and defendant Pangburn held a similar position from 1968 to 1972.

The defendants employed by the District of Columbia included former MPD Chief Wilson, former Intelligence Division Inspector Herlihy, and four officers assigned to the Intelligence Division during some of the years when plaintiffs claimed to have been injured. Those officers were defendant Acree, a sergeant at the relevant time; defendant Scrapper, also a sergeant; defendant Suter, then a lieutenant; and defendant Mahaney, then a line officer. The other individual MPD defendants were three undercover officers assigned to the Intelligence Division during the relevant period: defendants Bynum, Jagen, and Markovich.

According to plaintiffs, the FBI defendants collaborated with each other, with other FBI agents, and with the MPD defendants in a variety of efforts to impede plaintiffs' association with others for the purpose of publicly expressing opposition to government policies, chiefly opposition to the Viet Nam War and to policies espoused by national and local officials on race relations. Many of defendants' activities alleged to have injured plaintiffs were related to COINTELPRO, a then-secret FBI activity begun in 1967 and discontinued in the early 1970's. COINTELPRO had two components: COINTELPRO — New Left, which concerned activities of persons opposed to American involvement in the Viet Nam War and other related policies of the national government, and COINTELPRO — Black Nationalist, which concerned activities of persons seeking enhancement of civil rights for black persons. According to a memorandum prepared by defendant Brennan and circulated to the other FBI defendants and to agents across the country, COINTELPRO, in its "New Left" dimension, had the following objective:

The purpose of this program is to expose, disrupt, and otherwise neutralize the activities of this group and persons connected with it. It is hoped that with this new program their violent and illegal activities may be reduced if not curtailed.

Plaintiffs' Exhibit 3. The purpose of COINTELPRO — Black Nationalist, according to an earlier memorandum, was inter alia to "prevent the coalition of militant black nationalist groups;" the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, then headed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of four "primary targets" listed in the same memorandum.6 The memorandum that had initiated COINTELPRO-Black Nationalist advised the agents to whom it was addressed, "You are urged to take an enthusiastic and imaginative approach to this new counterintelligence endeavor and the Bureau will be pleased to entertain any suggestions or techniques you may recommend." See Plaintiff's Exhibit 1. In addition to testimony there were in evidence some FBI documents indicating that COINTELPRO interfered tangibly with the protest activities of the kind carried on by plaintiffs. See, e.g., Plaintiffs' Exhibit 13 (WFO reporting that FBI distribution of fictitious addresses for housing of demonstrators at 1968 Chicago demonstrations caused "numerous demonstrators" to make "useless trips to locate nonexistent addresses."); Plaintiffs' Exhibit 69 ("security squad Buagents" supervised by defendant Jones instituted "an intensive interview program in the New Left community ..." which "produced tangible results in the disruption of the day to day activities in the New Left communes...."). At trial, plaintiffs asserted, and the jury evidently was persuaded, that plaintiffs were victims of three conspiracies, actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), to violate their civil rights. One such conspiracy, the jury found, included the five FBI defendants; another encompassed certain of the MPD defendants; and a third involved both FBI and MPD defendants. The jury also found that many of the defendants, acting outside the scope of any conspiracy, injured various plaintiffs in the exercise of their First-Amendment rights. The First-Amendment rights plaintiffs alleged had been violated included the opportunity to assemble for political protest, to associate with others in order to engage in political expression, and to speak on public issues, free of unreasonable government interference. Plaintiffs offered evidence of broad undertakings by defendants to disrupt their activities and of specific instances in which FBI and MPD action allegedly impeded those activities.

Only two defendants, Bynum and Markovich, were found to be not liable to any plaintiff. Having determined that the other defendants were liable on various claims, the jury awarded varying sums to the prevailing plaintiffs against those defendants. The jury found all defendants other than Markovich and Bynum liable to plaintiffs Bloom, Abbott, Pollock, Waskow, and WPC. The jury also returned verdicts for plaintiffs Hobson, Eaton, and Booker against the five FBI defendants but, among the MPD defendants, only against former Chief Wilson and former Inspector Herlihy. All defendants except the District of Columbia and MPD officer Mahaney were found to be liable for both compensatory and punitive damages.7 The largest judgment against any individual defendant was that awarded against defendant Brennan, whom the jury found personally liable for $9,375 to each of the eight prevailing plaintiffs, for a total of $75,000 of which $50,000 was compensatory, and $25,000 punitive, damages. The jury returned the smallest award against defendant Mahaney, who was found liable to five plaintiffs for $1,875 each, for a total of $9,375, all compensatory. Every prevailing plaintiff recovered $37,937.50, all compensatory, from the District of Columbia.8

In their present motions for relief from the verdicts, the defendants found liable to various plaintiffs state numerous grounds for judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("judgment n.o.v.") and for a new trial. Defendants assert that the instructions on conspiracy and on the defense afforded by the statute of limitations were erroneous, and that even if the instructions were correct, the jury improperly found conspiratorial liability and improperly denied them relief from plaintiffs' claims under the statute of limitations. Defendants also assert that the damages awarded were excessive, and that the Court erred in not instructing the jury that the United States would not pay an award against the FBI defendants. The District of Columbia objects to the instructions on municipal liability, and, assuming arguendo the instructions were not erroneous, to the verdicts the jury returned against it. And all defendants also claim that the verdicts against them for conduct allegedly performed outside the scope of the alleged conspiracies similarly were not supported by the evidence. There are numerous other objections in defendants' motions.9 Each plaintiff also has sought judgment n.o.v. against defendants Bynum and Markovich, and plaintiff WAWSP seeks judgment against all the other defendants as well as Bynum and Markovich.10 For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny all motions, except the motion of defendants Wilson and Herlihy for relief from the jury's award of punitive damages.

II. The Instructions and Proof of Liability
A. Liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3)
1. The Conspiracy Instructions

In their motion for a new trial the ...

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15 cases
  • Hobson v. Wilson
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • 17 de agosto de 1984
    ...activities of the WFO, and apparently believed him to have injured them in connection with COINTELPRO effort at the WFO." Hobson, 556 F.Supp. at 1184. Plaintiffs therefore included Mr. Jones as one of the FBI defendants named in their amended complaint filed October 28, 1977. 125 Plaintiffs......
  • Howard Gault Co. v. Texas Rural Legal Aid, Inc.
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    ...of their Quaker vigil in front of the White House; on remand, each plaintiff was awarded approximately $1000, Hobson v. Wilson, 556 F.Supp. 1157, 1191 (D.D.C. 1982)). Cf. Hobson v. Wilson, 737 F.2d 1, 58 (D.C.Cir.1984) ($3125 excessive compensation for FBI's denial, through planned disrupti......
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    ...a defendant has committed an act of concealment, where it turns on questions of fact, is a matter for the jury. Hobson v. Wilson, 556 F.Supp. 1157, 1174 (D.D.C.1982), aff'd in relevant part, 737 F.2d 1, 37 (D.C.Cir.1984). Similarly, what a plaintiff knew and when he knew it, in the context ......
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    ...statute plea in this Court both before and after the verdicts against them. See Memorandum and Order of October 29, 1981 at 2; 556 F.Supp. at 1174. The defendants' challenge to the denial of their motions for a directed verdict on statute of limitations grounds focused on the complex fraudu......
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