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Wyatt Frazer and Della Murphy, Individually v. City of East St. Louis; Alvin Parks

November 3, 2011

WYATT FRAZER AND DELLA MURPHY, INDIVIDUALLY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF EAST ST. LOUIS; ALVIN PARKS, JR., IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS MAYOR OF THE CITY OF EAST ST. LOUIS; AND ROBERT BETTS, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CITY MANAGER FOR THE CITY OF EAST ST. LOUIS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on the motion for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) or, in the alternative, for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1) filed by defendants City of East St. Louis ("City"), Alvin Parks and Robert Betts (Doc. 70). Plaintiffs Wyatt Frazer and Della Murphy have responded to the motion (Doc. 74), and the defendants have replied to that response (Doc. 75).

I. Facts and Procedural History

Plaintiffs Frazer and Murphy served on the City's Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. After Frazer objected to the Police Department's rejection of a white police chief candidate and after both plaintiffs objected to Police Department hiring practices they believed discriminated against white people, the City removed them from their positions as commissioners. Frazer and Murphy believed their terminations were wrongful and sued. The Court granted judgment in favor of the defendants on some claims; the remaining claims were tried to a jury. On July 13, 2011, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the defendants on Frazer's claim under42 U.S.C. § 1983 for retaliation in violation of his First Amendment right to speak out against discriminatory hiring of the police chief and in favor of both plaintiffs on their claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 for retaliation for opposing what they believed to be racially discriminatory hiring practices. The jury awarded each plaintiff $5,500 in compensatory damages and $15,000 in punitive damages. The defendants now ask the Court to grant judgment as a matter of law on the plaintiffs' § 1981 claim, to strike or reduce the award of punitive damages and to grant a new trial on the plaintiffs' § 1981 claim.

As a preliminary matter, the plaintiffs urge the Court to deny the defendants' motion because it was filed more than ten days after entry of judgment. While this argument might have had some merit several years ago, the 2009 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure extended the filing period to 28 days. The defendants' motion, filed 28 days after entry of judgment, was therefore timely.

II. Legal Standards

A. Judgment as a Matter of Law -- Rule 50(b)

The Court may grant judgment as a matter of law during trial if "a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue." Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1).

If the Court denies the motion, the moving party may renew it after entry of judgment on the verdict. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b). In response to a post-verdict motion under Rule 50(b), the Court may allow the judgment to stand, order a new trial or direct entry of judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b).

In deciding the motion, the Court should consider all of the evidence, but must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party and must not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). "That is, the court should give credence to the evidence favoring the non-movant as well as that 'evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.'" Id. at 151 (quoting 9A C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2529, at 300 (2d ed. 1995)). This standard mirrors the standard for granting summary judgment. Reeves, 530 U.S. at 150 (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-51 (1986)); Murray v. Chicago Transit Auth., 252 F.3d 880, 887 (7th Cir. 2001).

B. Motion for a New Trial -- Rule 59(a)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(A) allows the Court to grant a new jury trial "for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." This includes where the verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence, the damages are excessive, or the trial was unfair to the moving party. Kapelanski v. Johnson, 390 F.3d 525, 530 (7th Cir. 2004).

III. Analysis

A. Reason for Plaintiffs' ...


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