The opinion of the court was delivered by: Clifford J. Proud U. S. Magistrate Judge
Before the Court is defendants Joan Frank and Mike Fisher's "Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law," filed post-trial in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. (Doc. 106). Also before the Court is plaintiff Kevin Campbell's memorandum in opposition. (Doc. 109).
Plaintiff Kevin Campbell is in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections and incarcerated at all relevant times at the Pinckneyville Correctional Center. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff brought suit against defendant Joan Frank, the prison dietary manager, and Mike Fisher, the prison dietary food supervisor, for injuries sustained February 23, 1999, when plaintiff was allegedly ordered to carry a 50 gallon trash can in derogation of a doctor's order limiting plaintiff to light duty. (Doc. 6). Plaintiff alleged that he injured his back, head and neck, and he ultimately sought medical attention and received an injection for his pain. Plaintiff alleged that Frank and Fisher were deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm to plaintiff's health or safety, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff sought damages for back pain, headaches and related complications. (Doc. 6; Doc. 43, p. 3; Doc. 100, p. 4).
The jury was instructed that if they found in favor of plaintiff, but there were no compensatory damages, then a verdict in the amount of one dollar should be rendered. (Doc. 100, p. 22). A jury found in favor of plaintiff and against both defendants, awarding plaintiff $1.00 (consistent with an instruction about nominal damages), and no punitive damages. (Doc. 97). On January 18, 2007, judgment was entered accordingly. (Doc. 101). The subject motion was filed January 31, 2007, in accordance with the ten-day time period allotted under Rule 59.
Defendant Fisher admitted ordering plaintiff to lift the garbage can, but he denied being aware of a light duty work order. However, now Fisher acknowledges evidence was presented supporting the claim that Fisher was aware of the medical determination that plaintiff could not perform heavy lifting, thereby creating a question of fact for the jury. Defendant Frank had no memory of the incident.
1. When deliberate indifference to harm is alleged, a plaintiff must suffer actual harm in order to be entitled to nominal damages; and
2. Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity, in that the right to nominal damages for fear of harm that never materializes is not clearly established.
Applicable Legal Standards
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) provides that in any action where there has been a jury trial, a new trial may be granted "for any of the reasons for which new trials have heretofore been granted in actions at law in the courts of the United States." That language has been interpreted to mean that a district court may grant a new trial only if the jury's verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence, or a new trial is necessary to prevent a miscarriage of justice. See Romero v. Cincinnati, Inc., 171 F.3d 1091, 1096 (7th Cir.1999); Lonsdorf v. Seefeldt, 47 F.3d 893, 897 (7th Cir.1995); Sokol Crystal Products, Inc. v. DSC Communications Corp., 15 F.3d 1427, 1432 (7th Cir.1994). "'[W]e will not set aside a jury verdict if a reasonable basis exists in the record to support that verdict. . . .' The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the prevailing party and issues of credibility and weight of evidence are within the purview of the jury." Carter v. Chicago Police Officers, 165 F.3d 1071, 1079 (7th Cir.1998)(quoting and citing to M.T. Bonk Co. v. Milton Bradley Co., 945 F.2d 1404, 1407 (7th Cir. 1991)). The decision whether to grant a motion for a new trial is within the trial court's discretion. Neal v. Honeywell, Inc., 191 F.3d 827, 831 (7th Cir.1999).
Citing Babcock v. White, 102 F.3d 267 (7th Cir. 1996), Doe v. Welborn, 110 F.3d 520 (7th Cir. 1997), and Calhoun v. DeTella, 319 F.3d 936 (7th Cir. 2003), defendants Frank and Fisher argue that liability cannot be sustained for an Eighth Amendment violation for deliberate indifference to safety, and nominal damages are inappropriate, if no actual harm is ever suffered by the plaintiff.
It was well established prior to the 1999 incident at issue that "a prison official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying humane conditions of confinement only if he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 847 (1994). The prison official must act or refuse to act with "deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety," meaning he must know of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.Id. at 835-837. The test for deliberate indifference is subjective: ...