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Altizer v. Retherford

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 1, 2016

GEORGE PAT ALTIZER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN ROBERT RETHERFORD, et al. Defendants.

          ENTRY ON POST-TRIAL MOTIONS

          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

         This cause is before the Court on Defendant John Robert Retherford's Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict and/or in the Alternative a New Trial and/or Remittitur (Dkt. No. 74); the Plaintiff's motion to toll time (Dkt. No. 78); and Plaintiff George Pat Altizer's motion for prejudgment and postjudgment interest (Dkt. No. 80). The Plaintiff filed a response to the Defendant's motion (Dkt. No. 77), and the Defendant filed a response to the Plaintiff's motion for prejudgment and postjudgment interest (Dkt. No. 82). Being duly advised, the Court rules as follows.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The jury rendered a verdict in favor of Plaintiff George Pat Altizer on his excessive force claim against Defendant John Robert Retherford and awarded damages in the amount of $200, 000.00 in compensatory damages and $15, 000.00 in punitive damages. (Dkt. No. 73).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Defendant's Motion

         The Defendant moves for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, a new trial, or remittitur. When ruling on a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law following a jury verdict, the Court does not re-weigh the evidence presented at trial or make credibility determinations. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). The Court views the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. See Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150-51; Erickson v. Wis. Dep't of Corr., 469 F.3d 600, 601 (7th Cir. 2006). A court will overturn the jury's verdict only if no reasonable juror could have found in the non-moving party's favor. See Erickson, 469 F.3d at 601. “This is obviously a difficult standard to meet.” Waite v. Bd. of Trs. of Ill. Cmty. Coll. Dist. 508, 408 F.3d 339, 343 (7th Cir. 2005).

         Here, viewing the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, it is not the case that no reasonable juror could have found in the Plaintiff's favor. The testimony presented at trial established that the Defendant struck the Plaintiff, who was restrained on a gurney, in the face several times, breaking bones and causing great pain. A reasonable jury could have determined that the force used by the Defendant was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances. As such, the Court will not overturn the jury's verdict.

         The decision to grant a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a) is committed to the Court's discretion. Johnson v. Gen. Bd. of Pension & Health Benefits of United Methodist Church, 733 F.3d 722, 730 (7th Cir. 2013). A court will 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) (alteration omitted) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). This is a difficult burden for Defendants to meet. See Alverio v. Sam's Warehouse Club, Inc., 253 F.3d 933, 939 (7th Cir. 2001). A “mere scintilla” of evidence is not sufficient to sustain a verdict, but the Court should not substitute its view of the contested evidence in place of the jury's determination. Filipovich v. K & R Express Sys., Inc., 391 F.3d 859, 863 (7th Cir. 2004). If, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, there exists within the record any reasonable basis to support the verdict, the Court will not set aside a jury verdict. Kapelanski v. Johnson, 390 F.3d 525, 530 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). Issues of credibility and weight of evidence must be left to the jury. Id.; see also Turner v. Miller, 301 F.3d 599, 602 (7th Cir. 2002) (the test is whether “no rational juror could have found for the prevailing party”).

         The jury's verdict was not against the manifest weight of the evidence, nor has the Defendant identified reasons that the trial was not fair to him. Again, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, there is a reasonable basis to support the jury's verdict, and the Court will not set it aside.

         In considering a motion for remittitur, the jury's verdict must be given “proper deference.” Farfaras v. Citizens Bank & Trust of Chicago, 433 F.3d 558, 566 (7th Cir. 2006). A court considers the following factors: “whether (1) the award is monstrously excessive; (2) there is no rational connection between the award and the evidence, indicating that it is merely a product of the jury's fevered imaginings or personal vendettas; and (3) whether the award is roughly comparable to awards made in similar cases.” Adams v. City of Chicago, 798 F.3d 539, 543 (7th Cir. 2015) (citation and quotation omitted).

         The Defendant argues that the jury could not reasonably have reached a verdict of $200, 000 in compensatory damages and that such damages must have been based on speculation with no rational connection to the evidence.[1] The Court disagrees. The Plaintiff presented evidence regarding the pain and suffering he experienced as a result of the Defendant striking him in the face multiple times, fracturing several of the Plaintiff's bones. The Court declines to find that the award was monstrously excessive or that there was no rational connection between the award and the evidence. Further, the Plaintiff has pointed to similar cases in which roughly comparable awards have been made. As such, the Defendant's motion is denied.

         B. Motion to Toll Time

         The Plaintiff filed a motion to toll time to file attorney's fees and costs motion pending a ruling on the Defendant's post-trial motions. (Dkt. No. 78). The Court GRANTS the motion. The Plaintiff shall file his motion for ...


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