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Freeman v. Uchtman

March 28, 2007

GEOFFREY W. FREEMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALAN UCHTMAN,*FN1 DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Proud, Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Before the court is plaintiff's Motion for New Trial and Motion to Set Aside Judgment. (Doc. 207). Defendants have filed a response. (Doc. 208). Plaintiff filed a reply. (Doc. 209).

Procedural History

A jury trial on Counts 1 and 11, which alleged retaliation against defendants Walls, Bauersachs, Hasemeyer and Caraway, was held in April, 2005. The court granted judgment as a matter of law on Count 1 in favor of Bauersachs and Caraway, and in favor of all defendants (Walls, Bauersachs and Caraway) on Count 11. Count 1 sought only injunctive relief as to Walls. Thus, only Count 1 as to Hasemeyer was submitted to the jury. The jury was unable to reach a verdict and a mistrial was declared. See, Doc. 155.

On retrial, the jury found in favor of defendant Hasemeyer on Count 1. See, Docs. 186, 189.

In between the two jury trials, Freeman was transferred back to Menard Correctional Center. Therefore, Counts 4 and 5, which had been dismissed as moot, were reinstated. See, Doc. 170. Counts 4 and 5, which sought injunctive relief only, alleged equal protection violations due to racial discrimination. See, amended final pretrial order, Doc. 173.

The equal protection claim was tried to the court. The court took defendant's oral motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(c) under submission with the case. After making detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law, the court found in favor of defendant. See, Doc. 204.

Standard for Determination

With regard to the jury verdict, this court may grant a new trial "if the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, the damages are excessive, or if for other reasons the trial was not fair to the moving party." Tapia v. City of Greenwood, 965 F.2d 336, 338 (7th Cir.1992). See, Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). However, an error cannot be the basis for granting a new trial unless refusing to grant a new trial "appears to the court inconsistent with substantial justice. The court at every stage of the proceeding must disregard any error or defect in the proceeding which does not affect the substantial rights of the parties." Fed.R.Civ.P. 61.

With regard to the non-jury portions of the judgment, plaintiff's motion must be considered as a motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). See, U.S. v. Deutsch, 981 F.2d 299, 300-310 (7th Cir. 1992). (The Court notes that the version of Rule 59(e) that was in effect when Deutsch was decided required service of the motion within ten days. The current Rule requires filing of the motion within ten days.)

"A motion to amend or, in the alternative, to set aside the judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) may only be granted if movant shows there was a mistake of law or fact or presents newly-discovered evidence that could not have been discovered previously." Deutsch v. Burlington Northern Railroad Company, 983 F.2d 741, 744 (7th Cir. 1993).

Judgment as a Matter of Law, Counts 1 and 11

Count 1 alleged that defendants retaliated against plaintiff for filing a grievance dated September 1, 2001. The court granted defendants' oral motion for judgment as a matter of law as to Bauersachs and Caraway because there was no evidence that either of those defendants even knew the grievance existed. In addition, there was no evidence that either defendant took any retaliatory action against plaintiff. Count 1 sought only injunctive relief as to Walls. The evidence was that Walls had retired from the IDOC, and, therefore, no injunctive relief was available as to him.

Count 11 alleged that plaintiff was falsely accused of sending a powdery substance resembling anthrax to government offices in order to retaliate against him for filing lawsuits. The court granted judgment as a matter of law as to all defendants on this claim. There was no evidence that any defendant instigated the anthrax investigation for the purpose of retaliation. The evidence established only that Caraway received information from a federal agency about the powdery substance, ...


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