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Dupree v. Laster

December 23, 2008

CEDRIC DUPREE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EARLY LASTER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court are several post-trial Motions, filed by Plaintiff: Motion for New Trial/Motion to Set Aside Jury Verdict and/or Judgment (Doc. 240); three Supplemental Motions for New Trial (Docs. 245, 247 & 249); Motion for Reappointment of Counsel and/or Request for Leave to File Interlocutory Appeal (Doc. 246); and Motion to Expedite Post-Trial Motions of Plaintiff (Doc. 251). Defendants have responded to Plaintiff's original Motion for New Trial and to one of Plaintiff's Supplemental Motions for New Trial (Docs. 243 & 250). The Court will address each one in turn. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court denies all of Plaintiff's post-trial motions.

II. DISCUSSION

1. Plaintiff's Motion for New Trial

Plaintiff filed a § 1983 suit against Defendants. It went to a trial; the jury found in favor of Defendants. Plaintiff filed a timely Motion for New Trial (Doc. 240), asking the Court to set aside the jury verdict for the following reasons: (1) Defendants and their Agency did not allow Plaintiff his legal material; (2) Plaintiff was prejudiced when the jury witnessed his leg shackles on the last day of trial while leaving the courtroom; (3) the trial judge was prejudiced against Plaintiff, as he stated he did not believe Plaintiff to be honest regarding his account that he was attacked by the Defendant Agency during trial, in retaliation for filing this suit; and (4) Plaintiff received ineffective assistance of counsel in that counsel failed to call Plaintiff's witnesses.*fn1

"In ruling on a motion for new trial [made pursuant to FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 59(a)], federal law requires a district court to determine 'whether the verdict is against the weight of the evidence . . . the damages are excessive, or . . . for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving.' " Kapelanski v. Johnson, 390 F.3d 525, 530 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting EEOC v. Century Broadcasting Corp., 957 F.2d 1446, 1460 (7th Cir. 1992) (internal citation omitted)). A verdict determined to be "against the weight of the evidence" should only warrant a new trial "when the record shows that the jury's verdict resulted in a miscarriage of justice or where the verdict, on the record, cries out to be overturned or shocks our conscience." Latino v. Kaizer, 58 F.3d 310, 315 (7th Cir. 1995) (citing Williamson v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 1344, 1353 (3d Cir. 1991)). Further, because a district court's decision to grant or deny a new trial is accorded great deference, a reviewing court should reverse the decision only subject to a finding of "exceptional circumstances showing a clear abuse of discretion." General Foam Fabricators, Inc. v. Tenneco Chems., Inc., 695 F.2d 281, 288 (7th Cir. 1982) (quoting Stinebower v. Scala, 331 F.2d 366, 367 (7th Cir. 1964)).

Access to Legal Material

Plaintiff claims that "Defendants and their agency"*fn2 refused to allow him access to his legal materials during trial. Plaintiff does not further specify what legal materials were withheld or how this restricted access affected the outcome of the trial. Both before and during trial, Plaintiff was represented by counsel, who presumably had access to legal materials. Thus, if Plaintiff needed access to his legal materials, he could have asked his counsel. Perhaps, instead, Plaintiff is stating that IDOC personnel prevented him from keeping his legal materials in his cell during trial. Either way, as Defendants correctly note in their Response, this issue was never brought to either Defendants' or the Court's attention during the course of trial, thereby never allowing a chance to remedy the alleged problem. Not only is there a lack of evidence to show whether IDOC personnel actually prevented Plaintiff from accessing his legal materials during trial, the Court finds Plaintiff has failed to meet his burden to show why this warrants a new trial under the Rule 59(a) standard.

Viewing of Plaintiff's Leg Shackles

Plaintiff next states that on the third day of trial, the jury was able to see his leg shackles as he was being escorted out of the courtroom, while the jury was headed back to the jury room. Plaintiff claims this prejudiced him. He raised this concern, via counsel, with the Court when it allegedly occurred. At that time, the Court checked into whether this was true; the Court was satisfied with its conclusion that the jury had not seen Plaintiff's shackles and so there was no risk of Plaintiff being unduly prejudiced by it. (As Defendants explain, the courtroom bailiff informed the Court that no one on the jury actually saw Plaintiff's shackles.) Again, the Court finds Plaintiff has failed to meet his burden to show why this claim warrants a new trial under the Rule 59(a) standard.

Judge's Assessment of Plaintiff's Credibility

On the second day of trial, Plaintiff informed the Court that IDOC officials had recently "attacked" him in retaliation for filing suit. Plaintiff claims that the trial judge stated that he did not believe him and this evidences that the trial judge was prejudiced against him. Plaintiff misstates the events in question. When Plaintiff brought this alleged "attack" to the Court's attention, the trial judge took time to speak with Plaintiff off the record. Moreover, the trial judge allowed a long recess in order for Plaintiff to be given medical treatment. Although Plaintiff's injury appeared to be that of a self-inflicted nature, the trial judge never stated one way or the other whether he believed Plaintiff's story of the attack. In other words, Plaintiff has not shown any ...


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