Donald E. Beard, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellant,
Wexford Health Sources, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.
October 30, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Central
District of Illinois. No. ll-CV-3360 - Colin Stirling
Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Easterbrook, Circuit Judges.
Easterbrook, Circuit Judge.
Health Sources provides medical care to inmates in
Illinois's prisons. Donald Beard, Jr., an inmate,
experiences chronic ankle pain. In December 2010 he consulted
with his prison's doctors about managing his condition.
Beard wanted surgery, but the doctors ordered conservative
treatment. When Beard's pain persisted, the doctors
considered referring Beard for surgical evaluation, a step
that requires Wexford's approval. It rejected the
doctors' requests for surgical evaluation, though it
authorized Beard to see a podiatrist in September 2012 and an
orthopedist in January 2015.
filed a pro se complaint in September 2011. He
alleged that members of the prison's medical staff and
administrative team were deliberately indifferent to his
serious medical need in violation of the Eighth Amendment
(applied to the states through the Fourteenth), and he sought
damages plus injunctive relief. The district court recruited
counsel, who added Wexford as a defendant and stipulated to
the dismissal of the individual defendants. Beard presented
his case against Wexford to a jury, which awarded him $10,
000 in compensatory damages and $500, 000 in punitive
persuaded the judge that the punitive-damages award violates
the Fourteenth Amendment's prohibition on excessive or
arbitrary punishment. The judge reduced punitive damages to
$50, 000. Initially he offered Beard a choice between
retrying the issue of punitive damages and accepting the
reduced award but later withdrew the option and entered a
judgment that awarded only $50, 000 in punitive damages (plus
the jury's compensatory award).
first argument on appeal is that the district court
improperly prevented him from presenting an additional theory
of liability. Beard convinced the jury to find Wexford
directly liable; he contends that he should have been allowed
to argue that Wexford also is vicariously liable for
its doctors' violations of his constitutional rights.
Beard maintains that Islander v. Forest Park, 690
F.2d 126 (7th Cir. 1982), which stopped him from pursuing
vicarious liability, should be overruled.
v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978),
holds that a municipal corporation cannot be vicariously
liable if its employees deprive others of their civil rights.
Is-kander treats private corporations the same way,
when their liability depends on performing governmental
functions. Beard maintains that Monell should be
limited to governmental litigants. But Beard has not
explained how Iskander harmed him. We asked
Beard's counsel what additional damages he would have
sought if Wexford could be found vicariously liable. He did
not point to any. So we need not decide whether
Iskander should be overruled; anything we say about
the subject would be advisory.
also contends that the district court erred in reducing the
jury's award of punitive damages without offering him a
new trial. Punitive damages punish blameworthy behavior and
deter defendants from committing future bad acts-the more
reprehensible a defendant's conduct and the more easily a
defendant can conceal violations, the higher the punitive
damages. See, e.g., Zazu Designs v. L'Oreal, S.A.,
979 F.2d 499, 508 (7th Cir. 1992). But excessive
punitive-damages awards violate the Due Process Clause. See,
e.g., State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v.
Campbell, 538 U.S. 408 (2003); BMW of North America,
Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996). The Justices have
instructed courts to review whether an award of punitive
damages exceeds the Due Process Clause's bounds by
considering the reprextensibility of the defendant's
conduct, the ratio between punitive and compensatory damages,
and any civil penalties that punish similar behavior. See,
e.g., BMW of North America, 517 U.S. at 574-75.
Applying these guideposts to the jury's verdict, the
district court concluded that an award of punitive damages
equal to fifty times compensatory damages violates the Due
Process Clause and must be reduced. The district court's
decision is consistent with the Supreme Court's caution
that "few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between
punitive and compensatory damages, to a significant degree,
will satisfy due process." State Farm, 538 U.S.
so good. But even taking the Court's caution about
single-digit ratios as a rule, the district court had nine
single digits (and an infinite number of fractions) from
which to choose. From these options, the court selected:
five. It concluded that, because a ratio of five to one
"better matches the reprextensibility of Wexford's
conduct, the actual harm suffered by [Beard], and the need
for deterrence and punishment of Wexford", a
punitive-damages award in excess of $50, 000 would offend the
Due Process Clause. It also decided that the Seventh
Amendment did not require it to offer Beard the option of a
new trial before it entered judgment on the reduced award.
decision to limit punitive damages to five times compensatory
damages was arbitrary-why the district court chose a
multiplier of five, rather than seven, or three, or nine and
one-half, it did not say. But because the Justices have
declined to reduce the relation between compensatory and
punitive damages to a formula, any ratio the district court
chose would have been arbitrary, though doubtless influenced
by an appreciation of the case's facts. See Mathias
v. Accor Economy Lodging, Inc., 347 F.3d 672, 678 (7th
Cir. 2003). See also State Farm, 538 U.S. at 424-25;
BMW of North America, 517 U.S. at 582-83. So the
prudent course when a district court reduces a
punitive-damages award is to offer the plaintiff a choice
between the reduced award and a new trial, for the jury
rather than the judge has the principal responsibility for
factual evaluations. If the plaintiff opts for a new trial,
the jury plays its traditional role. And if the plaintiff
accepts the reduced award-after all, there's no guarantee
that a second jury will award any punitive damages- then the
plaintiff has willingly forgone the jury option. Either way,
the jury participates in the process of applying the law to
the facts, cf. Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. v.
Haslip, 499 U.S. 1, 15-18 (1991), and the court plays
its part by policing the range of constitutionally acceptable
awards. See Mathias, 347 F.3d at 678.
of following that course and offering Beard the option of a
new trial, however, the district court entered an amended
judgment awarding Beard exactly $50, 000 in punitive damages.
Doing so was a procedural misstep, which calls for a
procedural solution: the district court's judgment must
be vacated and the case remanded for the court to offer Beard
the option of a new trial on damages.
remanding for the district court to follow prudent procedure,
we do not decide whether the Seventh Amendment prohibited the
court from unilaterally reducing Beard's award on
constitutional grounds. See, e.g., Ross v. Kansas City
Power & Light Co.,293 F.3d 1041, 1049-50 (8th Cir.
2002); Johansen v. Combustion Engineering, Inc., 170
F.3d 1320, 1330-33 (11th Cir. 1999). But see, e.g.,
Thomas v. iStar Financial, Inc.,652 F.3d 141,
146-47 (2d Cir. 2011); Southern Union Co. v. Irvin,563 F.3d 788, 792-93 & n.4 (9th Cir. 2009). The Justices
have not resolved that issue, and the district court should
not have addressed it either. Neither party asked the
district court to decide whether the Seventh Amendment allows
a judge to reduce punitive damages without offering a new
trial as an alternative. The district court created a
constitutional issue by taking a step neither party
requested: though Beard and Wexford disputed whether Beard
should have the option of a new trial on both
compensatory and punitive damages, Wexford never asked the
district court to reduce Beard's award without offering
him any choice at all. Courts must avoid unnecessary
constitutional adjudication, see, e.g., Spector Motor
Service, Inc. v. McLaughlin,323 U.S. 101, ...