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Altman v. Helgesen

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 6, 2014

CHAZ ALTMAN and GINA GAFFKE, Plaintiffs,
v.
P.O. KIRK HELGESEN, individually, and the VILLAGE OF GURNEE, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MANISH S. SHAH, District Judge.

A jury trial was held in this case from July 28 through July 30, 2014. The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant Kirk Helgesen and against plaintiffs Chaz Altman and Gina Gaffke.[1] Plaintiffs now move for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Dkt. 196. For the following reasons, plaintiffs' motion is denied.

I. Legal Standard

Under Rule 59, the court may grant a new trial after a jury trial "for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). A new trial should be granted "only 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 [the court's] conscience." Davis v. Wisconsin Department of Corrections, 445 F.3d 971, 979 (7th Cir. 2006). A jury's verdict is "contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence only if no rational jury' could have rendered the verdict." Moore v. Tuleja, 546 F.3d 423, 427 (7th Cir. 2008). When a motion for a new trial is predicated on a purported error of law, the moving party must show that the error was substantial enough to deny that party a fair trial. See Wilson v. Groaning, 25 F.3d 581, 584 (7th Cir. 1994); Perry v. Larson, 794 F.2d 279, 285 (7th Cir. 1986).

II. Background

On August 22, 2010, defendant Officer Kirk Helgesen shot plaintiff Chaz Altman three times while responding to a call at Altman's home. Altman survived the shooting but suffered serious injuries, including the loss of a leg. Altman sued Helgesen, alleging the officer used excessive force without justification in violation of 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. Plaintiff Gina Gaffke, Altman's wife, sued Helgesen for loss of consortium. A jury trial was held from July 28 through July 30, 2014, and the jury found in favor of the defendant.

III. Analysis

Plaintiffs identify four categories of error requiring a new trial. They argue that (1) I erred in admitting portions of the deposition testimony of Officer Ben Munji, (2) Helgesen's testimony presented a factual scenario against the manifest weight of the evidence, (3) I erred in bifurcating liability and damages, and (4) several rulings on the parties' motions in limine deprived plaintiffs of a fair trial.

A. Testimony of Officer Ben Munji

Officer Ben Munji witnessed the events leading up to and including Altman's shooting. At the time of the trial, Munji lived more than 100 miles away, so his testimony was given by deposition. Defendants designated the following portions of Munji's deposition transcript, which I admitted over plaintiffs' objection:

Q. At any point in time during this incident, were you on the verge of shooting Mr. Altman?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. At what point in time?
A. When he approached Officer Helgesen. The only reason that I didn't is that I actually had a cross fire with Officer Bertaud and Pugliesi.
Q. And why were you going to shoot?
A. Because he was a direct threat to Officer ...

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