Spell v. McDaniel

Decision Date24 July 1987
Docket Number85-1714 and 85-1757,85-1691,Nos. 85-1524,85-1523,s. 85-1524
Citation824 F.2d 1380
PartiesHenry Z. SPELL, Appellee, v. Charles D. McDANIEL, Individually and as Patrolman, City of Fayetteville Police Department, and John P. Smith, City Manager, City of Fayetteville, Defendants, and William P. Dalton, Command Sergeant, City of Fayetteville Police Department; Roger T. Holman, Command Sergeant, City of Fayetteville Police Department; William C. Johnson, Director of Internal Affairs Division, City of Fayetteville Police Department; Daniel K. Dixon, Chief, City of Fayetteville Police Department; and the City of Fayetteville, N.C., a municipal corporation organized under and pursuant to the laws of the State of N.C., Appellants (Three Cases). Henry Z. SPELL, Appellee, v. Charles D. McDANIEL, Individually and as Patrolman, City of Fayetteville Police Department, Appellant, and William P. Dalton, Command Sergeant, City of Fayetteville Police Department; Roger T. Holman, Command Sergeant, City of Fayetteville Police Department; William C. Johnson, Director of Internal Affairs Division, City of Fayetteville Police Department; Daniel K. Dixon, Chief, City of Fayetteville Police Department; John P. Smith, City Manager, City of Fayetteville and the City of Fayetteville, N.C., a municipal corporation organized under and pursuant to the laws of the State of N.C., Defendants. Henry Z. SPELL, Appellee, v. Charles D. McDANIEL, Individually, Appellant, and Charles D. McDaniel, Patrolman, City of Fayetteville Police Department; William P. Dalton, Command Sergeant, City of Fayetteville Police Department; Roger T. Holman, Command Sergeant, City of Fayetteville Police Department; William C. Johnson, Director of Internal Affairs Division, City of Fayetteville Police Department; Daniel K. Dixon, Chief, City of Fayetteville Police Department; John P. Smith, City Manager, City of Fayetteville and the City of Fayetteville, N.C., a municipal corporation organized under and pursuant to the laws of the State of N.C., Defendants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

John N. Fountain and Gary S. Parsons (Gary K. Joyner, Raleigh, N.C., Carolin D. Bakewell, Richmond, Va., Bailey, Dixon, Wooten, McDonald, Fountain & Walker, Raleigh, N.C., Bobby G. Deaver; Brown, Fox & Deaver, Fayetteville, N.C., George Colvin Cochran, Law Center, University of Mississippi, on brief), for appellants.

Alfred S. Bryant (Bruce M. Marshall; Carter H. Tucker; Obenshain, Hinnant, Ellyson, Runkle & Bryant, Richmond, Va., on brief) and H. Gerald Beaver (William Richardson; Beaver, Thompson, Holt & Richardson, P.A., Fayetteville, N.C., on brief), for appellee.

Before PHILLIPS, CHAPMAN and WILKINSON, Circuit Judges.

JAMES DICKSON PHILLIPS, Circuit Judge:

This is a 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 action in which after two trials Henry Spell was awarded substantial damages against the City of Fayetteville, North Carolina (the City), and Charles McDaniel, a City police officer, as a result of physical injury inflicted on Spell by McDaniel while Spell was in McDaniel's custody following Spell's arrest. McDaniel and the City have appealed, assigning various trial rulings as error and challenging as unreasonable the amount of attorney fees awarded to Spell as prevailing party.

We find no reversible error in the trials and therefore affirm the judgment on the merits against McDaniel and the City. Except for its inclusion of a "contingency multiplier," we also affirm the district court's award of attorney fees.

I

Spell, admittedly inebriated on alcohol and quaaludes, was stopped by Officer McDaniel while driving an automobile in the City of Fayetteville. After talking with Spell and finding a quantity of quaaludes in his automobile, McDaniel arrested him along with a passenger in Spell's automobile, handcuffed the two of them and took them in a patrol car to the police station. There Spell was subjected to various sobriety tests, including a breathalyzer test, and was formally charged with driving while impaired and with the possession of quaaludes. 1 Just after Spell completed the breathalyzer test and was returned, still handcuffed and inebriated, to McDaniel's direct custody, McDaniel, possibly angered by Spell's failure to respond to his questioning, and in any event without any physical provocation, brutally assaulted Spell. When Spell warded off a blow toward his head by raising his arms, McDaniel seized his handcuffed arms, pulled them down and violently kneed Spell in the groin. The blow to Spell's groin ruptured one of his testicles, necessitating its surgical removal. This resulted in irreversible sterility and of course in considerable associated pain and suffering. 2

Spell then brought this Sec. 1983 action naming as defendants McDaniel, the City of Fayetteville, the City Manager, the City Chief of Police, the Director of the police department's Internal Affairs Division and two police department command sergeants. He structured the action as one against McDaniel in his individual and official capacities; against the City Manager, Smith, the Police Chief, Dixon, the Internal Affairs Division Director, Johnson, and the two command sergeants, Dalton and Holman, in their several official capacities; and against the City as a suable municipal corporation.

His pleaded theory of recovery against McDaniel individually was that McDaniel, acting under color of state law, had deprived him of rights secured by the fourth, fifth and fourteenth amendments by using excessive physical force against him in a custodial situation, thereby inflicting serious personal injuries. 3 For this conduct he sought recovery of money damages against McDaniel in his individual capacity.

His pleaded theory of recovery against the City of Fayetteville was that the City was liable for damages under the doctrine of Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), for the constitutional deprivation with consequent physical injuries directly inflicted by its employee McDaniel, because McDaniel's conduct was pursuant to a municipal "policy or custom." Id. at 694, 98 S.Ct. at 2037.

McDaniel denied inflicting any injury on Spell as a defense to the individual-capacity claim against him. The City also denied (for lack of sufficient knowledge or information) that McDaniel had inflicted injury on Spell, and alternatively denied that there was any basis for imposing municipal liability upon it under Monell. 4

The case then went to trial before a jury on the issues whether, as a matter of fact, McDaniel had assaulted Spell and was therefore liable individually, and if so, whether there existed a basis in law and fact for also imposing joint liability upon the City for the resulting constitutional deprivation.

After an 18-day trial, the jury returned verdicts finding McDaniel, in his individual capacity, and the City in its municipal capacity, jointly and severally liable. It awarded $1,000 in compensatory damages, and declined to award the punitive damages sought against McDaniel.

Spell then moved to set aside the $1,000 compensatory award as inadequate and for a new trial on the compensatory damages issue alone. The district court granted this motion, denying, inter alia, the defendants' counter-motion for new trial on all the issues if the verdict was to be set aside for inadequacy of the damage award.

On the re-trial of the damages issue, the jury returned a verdict for $900,000 compensatory damages. After denying defendants' renewed post-verdict motions for judgment n.o.v. or, alternatively, a new trial, the district court awarded Spell attorney fees and costs totalling $335,942.57. 616 F.Supp. 1069. Joint and several judgments against McDaniel and the City were then entered on the damage and fee awards.

This appeal followed.

Before us, the defendants join in contending that the district court erred in ordering a new trial on damages alone after setting aside as inadequate the first jury verdict; in making various evidentiary rulings; and in awarding unreasonably excessive attorney fees to Spell as prevailing party under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988.

The City alone contends that the evidence did not warrant submission of the municipal liability issue to the jury and, in the alternative, that the court's jury instructions on that issue were prejudicially erroneous.

Because they are the most serious and difficult, we consider first the municipal liability issues, then the others in order.

II

The City's challenge to the submission of the municipal liability issue and the jury instructions upon it are interrelated. Both essentially question the district court's understanding, hence application, of the law of municipal liability under Sec. 1983, as it relates to incidents of police brutality such as that charged here.

We therefore begin by discussing that body of law as it applies to this case.

A The Basic Principle

Municipalities are not liable under respondeat superior principles for all constitutional violations of their employees simply because of the employment relationship. Monell, 436 U.S. at 692-94, 98 S.Ct. at 2036-37. Instead, municipal liability results only "when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury." Id. at 694, 98 S.Ct. at 2037-38.

Municipal "Policy" and "Policymaking"

While municipal "policy" is found most obviously in municipal ordinances, regulations and the like which directly command or authorize constitutional violations, see, e.g., Monell, id., at 661, 694, 98 S.Ct. at 2020, 2037 (official pregnancy leave policy) it may also be found in formal or informal ad hoc "policy" choices or decisions of municipal officials authorized to make and implement municipal policy, see Pembaur v City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 106 S.Ct. 1292, 1301, ...

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