Rogers v. Cofield

Decision Date08 December 2011
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 08-10684-MBB
PartiesLIONEL ROGERS, Plaintiff, v. GERALD L. COFIELD, JR., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER RE:

DEFENDANT GERALD COFIELD'S RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT

AS A MATTER OF LAW AND/OR NEW TRIAL (DOCKET
ENTRY # 64); DEFENDANT GERALD COFIELD'S
MOTION FOR REMITTITUR

(DOCKET ENTRY # 66)

BOWLER, U.S.M.J.

Pending before this court are two post trial motions filed by defendant Gerald L. Cofield, Jr., an officer of the Boston Police Department ("Officer Cofield"), in this civil rights action challenging a jury award against him in the amount of $101,188.30. Officer Cofield moves for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b), Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule 50(b)"), on the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("section 1983") claim and for a new trial under Rule 59, Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule 59"), on the section 1983, the assault and the false arrest claims because the verdict is against the weight of the credible evidence or a miscarriage of justice. (Docket Entry # 64). In another motion, OfficerCofield seeks a remittitur of the $101,188.30 past and future compensatory damages award. (Docket Entry # 71).

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This suit arises out of events that took place on December 5, 2004, at the area B-2 police station in Roxbury, Massachusetts. After spending the day with his four children, plaintiff Lionel Rogers ("plaintiff"), who was in the process of a divorce, arrived at the police station, a prearranged drop off location for the children. Plaintiff's then wife, Artemisa Monteiro-Rogers ("Monteiro-Rogers"), was waiting at the station along with a friend, Elizabeth Mercado ("Mercado"), for the scheduled 4:00 p.m. drop off.

Plaintiff arrived at the police station at approximately 5:30 p.m. after seeing an afternoon movie with his children. The jury heard divergent accounts of what took place at the station once plaintiff arrived. Eventually, plaintiff was booked for assault and battery on a police officer and disturbing the peace and released on bail. On December 6, 2004, Officer Cofield applied for a criminal complaint citing the applicable statutes for the foregoing offenses.

Plaintiff initially brought suit against the City of Boston as well as Officer Cofield. The ten count complaint alleged violations of section 1983 and the Massachusetts Civil RightsAct1 and common law claims for assault and battery, false imprisonment, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, negligent hiring, malicious prosecution and abuse of process. Prior to trial, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the claims against the City of Boston and a number of claims against Officer Cofield, including the malicious prosecution claim. As narrowed, the case tried before the jury consisted of section 1983 violations on the basis of a false arrest and excessive force and common law claims for false arrest, assault, battery and abuse of process.2

After a four day trial, the jury returned a verdict inplaintiff's favor on the section 1983, false arrest and assault claims and in Officer Cofield's favor on the battery and abuse of process claims. The verdict form did not distinguish between the false arrest and excessive force theories of section 1983 liability. Neither party objected to the verdict form or to the jury charge.3 The charge repeatedly instructed the jury not to award "duplicate damages" for "the same injury awarded on another claim." (Docket Entry # 50, pp. 38, 49, 53 & 59).4

The verdict form asked the jury a general damages question for past compensatory damages in question seven and a second question for future compensatory damages in question eight. At 4:00 p.m. on the first and only day of deliberations, the jury asked the following question, "On question # 8 future damages do we need to have a dollar amount or can we say something like legal fees for this trial? How would we guess what they mightbe?" With counsel for both parties in the courtroom, this court drew their attention to the possibility that the jury might be confused about future legal fees which the instructions did not include.5 After discussing the issue, counsel for both parties agreed to the following written response, "It requires a dollar amount and I direct you back to the instructions on damages," whereupon the court security officer delivered the note and the response back to the jury.6

Fifteen minutes later, Officer Cofield's counsel returned to the courtroom wishing to be heard. Apologizing for not bringing the issue up earlier, Officer Cofield's counsel expressed concern about the jury thinking it could award damages for the cost ofbringing suit under section 1983. This court reminded counsel that she "had an opportunity," which counsel understood but nonetheless asked this court to further instruct the jury "not to speculate to award damages under section 1983."7 This court denied the untimely request.

At 4:50 p.m., the jury returned to the courtroom with a verdict. The jury awarded plaintiff $26,188.30 in past compensatory damages in answer to question seven and $75,000.00 in future compensatory damages in answer to question eight. The verdict form also asked the jury a factual question involving qualified immunity, to wit, whether "a reasonable policeman would have understood that the conduct of the defendant violated the plaintiff's right to be free from an unreasonable seizure of his person under the Fourth Amendment?" (Docket Entry # 52, No. 11) (capitalization omitted). The jury answered affirmatively. A second qualified immunity question asked the jury what amount, if any, of the total compensatory damages awarded in questions seven and nine, "represents damages solely for the section 1983 claim above and beyond any damages you included for the state lawclaims?" (Docket Entry # 52, No. 12) (capitalization omitted). The jury answered $26,188.30, i.e., the same amount the jury awarded for past compensatory damages.

I. MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW AND/OR A NEW TRIAL

A. Judgment as a Matter of Law on Section 1983 Claim

The standard applicable to a motion for judgment as a matter of law is well established. Under Rule 50(b), a court can set aside a jury verdict "'only . . . when "the evidence points so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of the moving party that no reasonable jury could have returned a verdict adverse to that party."'" Malone v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 610 F.3d 16, 20 (1st Cir. 2010); accord Mercado-Berrios v. Cancel-Alegria, 611 F.3d 18, 22 (1st Cir. 2010) (Rule 50(b) motion "granted when '"facts and inferences viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict point so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of the movant that a reasonable jury could not have returned the verdict"'"); Andrade v. Jamestown Housing Auth., 82 F.3d 1179, 1186 (1st Cir. 1996) (proper to allow motion where evidence "'would not permit a reasonable jury to find in favor of the plaintiff on any permissible claim or theory'"); Acevedo-Diaz v. Aponte, 1 F.3d 62, 66 (1st Cir. 1993) ("jury verdict may not be set aside . . . except on a '"determination that the evidence could lead areasonable person to only one conclusion"'") (emphasis in original).

Under Rule 50, the evidence is viewed "in the light most favorable to the verdict" and determines if "a rational jury could find in favor of the party who prevailed." Soto-Lebron v. Federal Express Corp., 538 F.3d 45, 56 (1st Cir. 2008); accord Granfield v. CSX Transp., Inc., 597 F.3d 474, 482 (1st Cir. 2010) (examining evidence "'and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from such evidence, in the light most favorable to the jury verdict'"). Evidence and inferences reasonably extracted therefrom are viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, i.e., in this instance plaintiff. Martinez-Serrano v. Quality Health Services Of Puerto Rico, Inc., 568 F.3d 278, 284 (1st Cir. 2009) (court "must scrutinize the evidence and the inferences reasonably extractable therefrom in the light most hospitable to the nonmovant"); Caldwell Tanks, Inc. v. Haley & Ward, Inc., 471 F.3d 210, 214 (1st Cir. 2006) (court examines "'evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom "in the light most favorable to the nonmovant"'" under Rule 50). Finally, it is improper to resolve conflicts in the testimony or to evaluate the credibility of witnesses when ruling on a Rule 50(b) motion. See Mandel v. Boston Phoenix, Inc., 456 F.3d 198, 208 (1st Cir.2006) (under Rule 50, court "'may not consider the credibility of witnesses, resolve conflicts in testimony, or evaluate the weight of the evidence'"); accord Webber v. International Paper Co., 417 F.3d 229, 233 (1st Cir. 2005) (Rule 50(b) requires viewing "all the evidence, reasonable inferences, and credibility determinations in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party").

As an initial matter, Officer Cofield submits that the jury is not allowed to go beyond plaintiff's version of the events and find Officer Cofield liable based on Officer Cofield's version of the events as a means to carry plaintiff's burden of proof on the section 1983 false arrest claim. (Docket Entry # 65). The argument contravenes the jury's ability to believe all or part of a witness' testimony and to assess the credibility and bias of each witness. See United States v. Nishnianidze, 342 F.3d 6, 14 (1st Cir. 2003) ("the jury's duty is to assess credibility, and it may accept or reject, in whole or in part, any testimony"); Holt v. Deere & Co., 24 F.3d 1289, 1295 (10th Cir. 1994) ("[a]s sole judges of the witnesses' credibility, the jurors were entitled to accept or reject the testimony of any witness in whole or in part"). Although a jury cannot speculate or engage in conjecture, see Malone v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 610 F.3d at 22 (considering Rule 50 motion and recognizing that jury'sliability finding cannot rely on speculation and conjecture), it can accept part of a witness' testimony and part of another witness' testimony, even if...

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