United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ROBIN ALLMAN, MARGARET BAUGHER, MARK BAUGHER, KRISTIE BINDA, GARY DAVIS, ANDREW GREENE, AMBER LEWIS-LILLY, MICHAEL MCKINLEY, TIM STIRES, JEFF WELKER, and ROBERT ALLMAN, Plaintiffs,
KEVIN SMITH, in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as Mayor of the City of Anderson, and the CITY OF ANDERSON, Defendants.
ENTRY ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A
MATTER OF LAW OR ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL
WALTON PRATT, United States District Court Judge
the Court is a Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law filed
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 by Defendants
Kevin Smith (former- “Mayor Smith”) and the City
of Anderson (“the City”) (collectively,
“Defendants”). (Filing No. 214.) In the
alternative, Defendants move the Court for a new trial
because key jury instructions were unfairly prejudicial.
Id. After termination of their employment by
Defendants, Plaintiffs Robin Allman (“Ms.
Allman”), Margaret Baugher (“Ms. Baugher”),
Mark Baugher (“Mr. Baugher”), Kristie Binda
(“Binda”), Gary Davis (“Davis”),
Andrew Greene (“Greene”), Amber Lewis-Lilly
(“Lilly”), Michael McKinley
(“McKinley”), Tim Stires (“Stires”),
Jeff Welker (“Welker”), and Robert Allman
(“Mr. Allman”) (collectively,
“Plaintiffs”) sought relief in this Court.
(Filing No. 22.) Plaintiffs filed this action
alleging Defendants terminated them for engaging in political
activity protected by the First Amendment. Following a trial
held on March 15, 2016 through March 21, 2016 on
Plaintiffs' First Amendment claims, a jury found in favor
of certain Plaintiffs and entered a verdict for compensatory
damages. (Filing No. 169.) For the following
reasons, the Court DENIES Defendants'
Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and
DENIES the alternative Motion for a New
November 2011, Kevin Smith, a Republican, was elected Mayor
of Anderson, Indiana, and his term began on January 1, 2012.
Shortly prior to or immediately following the beginning of
Mayor Smith's term, the Plaintiffs-all City
employees-were terminated. Each of the Plaintiffs'
publically supported the Democratic candidate in the November
2011 election. On October 23, 2012, Plaintiffs filed an
Amended Complaint, alleging Defendants improperly terminated
them for political reasons in violation of the First
Amendment of the United States Constitution. (Filing No.
22.) On August 1, 2013, Defendants filed a Motion for
Summary Judgment, arguing each Plaintiffs' position
required political loyalty, thus exempting Plaintiffs from
First Amendment protection. The Court granted in part and
denied in part Defendants' request for summary judgment.
(Filing No. 79 at 25.) The Court specifically found
that a material issue of fact remained regarding whether
Plaintiffs' positions required political loyalty.
Id. The Court, however, granted Mayor Smith's
motion for summary judgment on the issue of qualified
immunity with respect to Mr. Baugher, Binda, Davis, Greene,
Lilly, McKinley, Stires, Welker and Mr. Allman. Id.
The Court denied summary judgment on the qualified immunity
issue as to Ms. Allman and Ms. Baugher. Id.
Monday, March 14, 2016, a jury trial commenced regarding: 1)
Plaintiffs' First Amendment claim against the City, 2)
Ms. Allman's and Ms. Baugher's First Amendment claim
against Mayor Smith, as well as 3) Defendants' defense
that they terminated each Plaintiff for nonpolitical reasons,
but-even if they terminated Plaintiffs for political
reasons-each Plaintiff held positions unprotected by the
First Amendment. At the close of evidence and prior to the
Court submitting the case to the jury, Defendants renewed a
motion for judgment as a matter of law with respect to each
Plaintiff. The Court granted in part and denied in part the
motion. (Filing No. 163.) The Court specifically
found that Mayor Smith was entitled to qualified immunity
with respect to Ms. Baugher's claim, however, the
remaining claims were left for the jury to determine.
Following deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor
of Mr. Baugher, Binda, Davis, Greene, McKinley, Stires,
Welker and Ms. Allman for a total of $731, 994.00 in
compensatory damages. (Filing No. 169.) The jury,
however, ruled in favor of Defendants with respect to claims
alleged by Lilly, Mr. Allman, and Ms. Baugher. Id.
On March 31, 2017, the Court entered a final judgment in
accordance with the jury's verdict. (Filing No.
207.) The Defendants timely requested judgment as a
matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b),
notwithstanding the verdict. (Filing No. 214.)
Defendants assert only that Plaintiffs' positions
required political loyalty. In the alternative, Defendants
contend they are entitled to a new trial under Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 59 because two key jury instructions were
erroneous and unfairly prejudiced them.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b)
Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a
district court to enter judgment against a party who has been
fully heard on an issue during a jury trial if a reasonable
jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to
find for the party on that issue. In deciding a Rule 50
motion, the court construes the evidence strictly in favor of
the party who prevailed before the jury and examines the
evidence only to determine whether the jury's verdict
could reasonably be based on that evidence.
Passananti v. Cook County, 689 F.3d 655, 659 (7th
Cir. 2012) (citations and quotation marks omitted).
Under Rule 50, both the district court and an appellate court
must construe the facts strictly in favor of the party that
prevailed at trial. Although the court examines the evidence
to determine whether the jury's verdict was based on that
evidence, the court does not make credibility determinations
or weigh the evidence.
Schandelmeier-Bartels v. Chi. Park Dist., 634 F.3d
372, 376 (7th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). If a Rule 50(a)
motion for judgment as a matter of law is made at the close
of evidence and is not granted, the moving party may renew
the motion no later than twenty-eight days after the entry of
judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59
Rule 59, the district court has broad discretion to grant or
deny a new trial. The court considers whether the verdict is
against the weight of the evidence, the damages are
excessive, or the trial was not fair to the moving party.
Marcus & Millichap Inv. Servs. of Chi., Inc. v.
Sekulovski, 639 F.3d 301, 313 (7th Cir. 2011). Parties
seeking a new trial under Rule 59 “bear a particularly
heavy burden because a court will set aside a verdict as
contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence only if no
rational jury could have rendered the verdict.”
Sekulovski, 639 F.3d at 314. “Rule 59(a) is
not intended to allow parties to merely relitigate old
matters or to present the case under new theories; rather, a
motion for a new trial not predicated on the discovery of new
evidence is intended to correct manifest errors of law or
fact.” Int'l Paper Co. v. Androscoggin Energy
LLC, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22066, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Sept.
move for judgment as a matter of law, arguing-based on the
evidence presented at the summary judgment stage and
trial-Plaintiffs occupied positions not protected by the
First Amendment. In the alternative, Defendants request a new
trial, to correct a manifest error of law. Defendants argue
the Court's instruction on the burden of proof was
contrary to Seventh Circuit precedent and the Court's
instruction on the issue of whether Plaintiffs occupied
positions where they had “meaningful input into
governmental decision-making” failed to adequately
define those terms. Each issue is addressed in turn.
Judgment as a Matter of Law based on Summary Judgment
pretrial motions, Defendants sought summary judgment on the
Plaintiffs' claims alleging that the written job
descriptions for Plaintiffs' positions identified duties
that placed them outside of the First Amendment based on the
“provisional safe harbor” for elected officials
described in Riley v. Blagojevich, 425 F.3d 357,
360-61 (7th Cir. 2005). The Court denied summary judgment, in
part, finding it would be impossible for the Court to
determine whether certain job descriptions were accurate or
reliable for purposes of the safe harbor provision set forth
in Riley. Defendants contend the Court erred in
denying their motion for summary judgment with respect to
Stires, Welker, and McKinley because-based on their job
descriptions-those Plaintiffs occupied sensitive,
Court, declines to address this contention because a party
may not “appeal an order denying summary judgment after
a full trial on the merits.” Ortiz v. Jordan,
562 U.S. 180, 184 (2011) (“May a party…appeal an
order denying summary judgment after a full trial on the
merits? Our answer is no”). “Once the case
proceeds to trial, the full record developed in court
supersedes the record existing at the time of the
summary-judgment motion.” Id. Accordingly,
because Defendants rely solely on the summary judgment record
in making this argument, the Court denies
Defendants' request for judgment as a matter of law on
Judgment as a Matter of Law based on Trial
next argue that the evidence presented at trial mandates
entry of judgment against all Plaintiffs because each
Plaintiff occupied a position that required political
the First Amendment, a government employee may not be
discharged on the basis of political affiliation, unless
“political loyalty is ‘essential to the discharge
of the employee's governmental
responsibilities.'” Tomczak v. City of
Chi., 765 F.2d 633, 640 (7th Cir. 1985) (quoting
Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 518 (1980)).
[T]his could be either because the job involves the making of
policy and thus the exercise of political judgment or the
provision of political advice to the elected superior, or
because it is a job (such as speechwriting) that gives the
holder access to his political superiors' confidential,
politically sensitive thoughts.
Riley v. Blagojevich, 425 F.3d 357, 359 (7th Cir.
2005) (citing Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 367-68
(1976); Branti, 445 U.S. at 518).
determining a Rule 50(b) motion, courts must review the
record as a whole and “draw all reasonable inferences
in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make
credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.”
Gracia v. SigmaTron Int'l, Inc., 842 F.3d 1010,
1018 (7th Cir. 2016) (citations omitted). Moreover:
the court must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving
party that the jury is not required to believe. ... That is,
the court should give credence to the evidence favoring the
nonmovant as well as that evidence supporting the moving
party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the
extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.
Id. (citations omitted). The Court will address the
trial evidence with respect to each ...