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Moss v. Westerman

January 29, 2009

CARL MOSS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DARRELL WESTERMAN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. Introduction

In August 2004, inmate Carl Moss filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants (officers and staff employed by the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") deprived him of his constitutional rights by putting him in segregation, violating procedures during a disciplinary hearing and retaliating against him for filing a grievance. Only Moss's claim that Darrell Westerman retaliated against him in violation of the First Amendment survived threshold review.

The case proceeded to a two-day jury trial before the undersigned Judge, beginning on September 8, 2008. On September 9, 2008, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Moss and against Westerman. On September 23, 2008, Westerman renewed his motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial. For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES that motion (Doc. 122).

II. Analysis

Westerman tenders four grounds to support his request: (1) the record was insufficient to support a finding of retaliation in violation of Moss's First Amendment rights; (2) Westerman is entitled to qualified immunity; (3) the Court erred in not giving an instruction to the jury that prison rules against insolence are constitutional; and (4) the Court erred in not given an instruction to the jury referencing the balancing test in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987).

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).

The law of this Circuit holds:

A new trial may be granted only if the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence.... "[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)(emphasis added). Accord Cefalu v. Village of Elk Grove, 211 F.3d 416, 424 (7th Cir. 2000).

Westerman contends that the jury's verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence. To satisfy this standard, he must demonstrate that no rational jury could have rendered a verdict against him. King v. Harrington, 447 F.3d 531, 534 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Woodward v. Correctional Medical Services of Illinois, Inc., 368 F.3d 917, 926 (7th Cir. 2004)).

Under this standard, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to Moss, "leaving issues of credibility and weight of evidence to the jury." King, 447 F.3d at 534 (citing Kapelanski v. Johnson, 390 F.3d 525, 530 (7th Cir. 2004).

Here, the jury's verdict was not contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Nor is the record is devoid of a reasonable basis to support the verdict.

At trial, Moss testified that he was standing in line to go to the law library with his legal papers in an envelope, which he believed complied with Menard's policy. Tr. 9: 5-7; 10:21-24. Moss stated that he was confronted by Westerman who took the envelope and "tried to dump the envelope in front of me." Tr. 11:13-16; 12:14-15. Moss did not touch the envelope but grabbed the papers so they wouldn't be blown around in the wind. Tr. 12:24-13:3. Moss testified that he politely and nonconfrontationally attempted to show Westerman the bulletin, which he ...


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