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Frizzell v. Szabo

July 23, 2010

THOMAS FRIZZELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CARL SZABO AND SANGAMON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, U.S. District Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Sangamon County, Illinois, Sheriff's Department and Sangamon County Deputy Sheriff Carl Szabo's Post Trial Motions (d/e 71) and Plaintiff Thomas Frizzell's Rule 50(a) Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (d/e 73) and Rule 59 Motion for New Trial and/or To Alter the Judgment (d/e 72). On June 21, 2010, this Court began a jury trial on Frizzell's claims of false arrest and use of excessive force and Szabo's counterclaim for battery. On June 23, 2010, at the end of the trial, the jury returned verdicts: (1) in favor of the Frizzell on Szabo's battery claim, (2) in favor of the Defendants on Frizzell's false arrest claim, and (3) in favor of Frizzell on his excessive force claim. The jury awarded $1.00 to Frizzell in damages on the excessive force claim. No party seeks relief from the jury's verdict on the battery claim. All parties, however, seek relief from the jury's verdict on Frizzell's claims. For the reasons set forth below, the Motions are denied.

Frizzell and the Defendants seek relief under Rules 50 and 59. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a), 59(a) & (e). For purposes of the Rule 50 Motions, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Erickson v. Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections, 469 F.3d 600, 601 (7th Cir. 2006). For purposes of the Rule 59 Motions, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Kapelanski v. Johnson, 390 F.3d 525, 530 (7th Cir. 2004). In considering the evidence for both Motions, the Court leaves issues of credibility and weight to the jury. Kapelanski, 390 F.3d at 530; Von der Ruhr v. Immtech Intern., Inc., 570 F.3d 858, 866 (7th Cir. 2009).

When viewed in that light, the evidence shows that Defendant Szabo was in his marked squad car observing traffic on Sangamon Avenue looking for seatbelt violations. Szabo observed Plaintiff Thomas Frizzell driving without wearing his seatbelt. Szabo started to follow Frizzell to make a traffic stop. Frizzell was late for work at the Lowe's store on Dirksen Parkway in Sangamon County, Illinois. Frizzell started speeding, either because he was late or because he saw Deputy Szabo following him. In either event, Szabo followed Frizzell to the Lowe's parking lot and then turned on his flashing lights. Frizzell got out of his car. Szabo told Frizzell that he was stopping Frizzell for a seatbelt violation. Szabo told Frizzell to get back in his car, but Frizzell refused to follow Szabo's instructions and started to walk to the store's exit doors.

Szabo drove his car between Frizzell and the exit doors and ordered Frizzell to stop. Frizzell went around Szabo's car and went to the exit doors. Frizzell started to pry the doors open. Szabo exited his car and followed Frizzell on foot. Szabo grabbed Frizzell's forearm and told him to stop. Frizzell pulled free from Szabo's grip and continued into the vestibule area of the store. Frizzell said words to the effect that he did not do anything wrong. Szabo pulled out his taser. Szabo told Frizzell to stop or else he would shoot him with the taser. Frizzell did not stop.

Szabo shot Frizzell with the taser while in the vestibule. The taser gave Frizzell an electrical shock for five seconds. Frizzell fell to the ground. Szabo ordered Frizzell to stay down. Frizzell tried to get up and to remove the taser prongs from his back. Szabo reactivated the taser three more times to try to get Frizzell to obey his command to stay down. Frizzell continued to refuse to stay down. Szabo then unintentionally activated the taser a final time and shut off the taser before the taser completed the five-second shock. Szabo then sprayed mace into Frizzell's eyes and arrested and handcuffed Frizzell.

At the close of the evidence at trial, the Court held the instruction conference outside of the presence of the jury. At the conference, the Defendants proposed an instruction on damages that stated, in part:

If you decide in favor of Thomas Frizzell, then you must determine the amount of money that will fairly compensate him for any injury that you find he sustained as a direct result of being falsely arrested or subjected to unconstitutional force.....

If you find in favor of Thomas Frizzell but that the Plaintiff failed to prove compensatory damages, you must return a verdict for Thomas Frizzell in the amount of one dollar.

Jury Instructions Ruled on by the Court (d/e 70), at 59.*fn1 Frizzell objected to the $1.00 nominal damage instruction. The Court gave Frizzell's proposed instruction on damages and refused the Defendants' proposal. Id., at 24, 59.

During deliberations, the jury sent a note to the Court containing the following question:

Do we have to award any money if we find in favor of the Plaintiff?

Court Exhibit 3 Jury Question (d/e 67). The Court presented the note to counsel in open court without the presence of the jury. Counsel for Frizzell opposed providing any further instruction to the jury. Defendants' counsel proposed answering the question with the one-word answer, "No." Defense counsel argued that the jury should not award damages if none were proven. The Court, over the objection of both parties, sent a note containing the following answer to the jury:

If you find in favor of Plaintiff but find that Plaintiff has failed to prove compensatory damages, you must return a verdict for Plaintiff ...


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