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Capps v. Drake

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 29, 2016

ISSAC CAPPS, Plaintiff,
v.
KEVIN DRAKE, JARED FREEMAN, SHAWN ISSACS, JAMES TROGOLO, KEVIN ROYE, and BRICE SHAFFER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Renewed Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law pursuant to Rule 50(b) and Motions to Alter or Amend the Judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e).[1] In this case, Plaintiff Isaac Capps sued Defendants asserting that his constitutional rights were violated and seeking damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claimed that, during a traffic stop on April 17, 2012, Defendants Drake, Roye, Shaffer, and Trogolo used excessive force while arresting him by using a taser and that all Defendants failed to intervene to stop the excessive force, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

         Plaintiff's claims proceeded to trial on January 25, 2016. At the close of Plaintiff's evidence, Defendants orally moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). Defendant Trogolo then filed a written Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (Doc. 160), which all Defendants joined. At the close of all evidence, Defendants renewed their Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (Doc. 165). On February 1, 2016, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff on the claim of excessive force against Defendants Trogolo and Roye and against all Defendants on the claim of failure to intervene. The jury found in favor of Defendants Drake and Shaffer on the claim of excessive force. Capps was awarded compensatory damages of $22, 000 against all defendants. The jury awarded punitive damages of $5, 000 against Defendant Trogolo, $5, 000 against Defendant Roye, and $23 each against Defendants Drake, Freeman, Isaacs, and Shaffer.

         On February 26, 2016, Defendant Trogolo filed a Rule 50(b) Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and Rule 59(e) Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment (Doc. 192). Defendants Royce and Shaffer similarly filed a Rule 50(b) Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and Rule 59(e) Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment (Doc. 194) on March 3, 2016. Defendants Drake, Freeman, and Issacs also renewed their Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law on March 3, 2016, and moved under Rule 59(e) to alter or amend the judgment (Doc. 195). Although Defendants filed separate motions, each motion asserts the same bases for relief. Defendants claim that their motions should be granted because (1) the evidence at trial was insufficient to show as a matter of law that Defendants' use of force was excessive; (2) no excessive force was used, and no defendant had a realistic opportunity to intervene; (3) each defendant was entitled to qualified immunity; and (4) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's award of punitive damages against Defendants because there was no evidence to show they acted recklessly or with a callous indifference to Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. Plaintiff responded to Defendants' motions on April 15, 2016 (Docs. 212, 213, 214).

         Discussion

         I. Legal Standard

         A motion for judgment as a matter of law made during trial that is denied by the Court must be renewed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) to preserve issues or grounds for appellate review. Unitherm Food Sys., Inc. v. Swift-Eckrich, Inc., 546 U.S. 394, 401 (2006). Similarly, a motion to alter or amend judgment under Rule 59(e) is designed to permit the Court to reconsider matters decided by the judgment and must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e).

         A renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law should only be granted where, in viewing the evidence in light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party. Murray v. Chicago Transit Auth., 252 F.3d 880, 886 (7th Cir. 2001); Payne v. Milwaukee Cnty., 146 F.3d 430, 432 (7th Cir. 1998); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a). Evidence is strictly construed “in favor of the party who prevailed before the jury, ” and the Court may examine “the evidence only to determine whether the jury's verdict could reasonably be based on that evidence.” Passananti v. Cook Cnty., 689 F.3d 655, 659 (7th Cir. 2012). The Court does not make credibility findings or weigh the evidence, and it must disregard evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury was not required to believe. Id. The Court must “leave the judgment undisturbed unless the moving party can show that ‘no rational jury could have brought in a verdict against [it].'” Hossack v. Floor Covering Associates of Joliet, Inc., 492 F.3d 853, 859 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Woodward v. Corr. Med. Servs. of Illinois, Inc., 368 F.3d 917, 926 (7th Cir. 2004)). When a case turns on credibility, judgment as a matter of law is not proper unless the objective evidence shows that it would be unreasonable to believe a critical witness from one side. Payne, 146 F.3d at 433. In ruling on the renewed motion, the Court may allow judgment on the verdict, order a new trial, or direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).

         II. Defendants' Renewed Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Defendants' renewed motions argue that the Court should grant Defendants' Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or, alternatively, alter or amend the judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) by issuing judgment in favor of Defendants because excessive force was not used, therefore there was no need to intervene. Defendants also claim that they are protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity, and that there was insufficient evidence to support an award of punitive damages against Defendants.

         A. Excessive Force

         Excessive-force claims in the context of an arrest are reviewed under the Fourth Amendment's objective-reasonableness standard. Cyrus v. Town of Mukwonago, 624 F.3d 856, 861 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989); Abdullahi v. City of Madison, 423 F.3d 763, 768 (7th Cir.2005)). “This inquiry requires an examination of the ‘totality of the circumstances to determine whether the intrusion on the citizen's Fourth Amendment interests was justified by the countervailing government[al] interests at stake.'” Id. (quoting Jacobs v. City of Chicago, 215 F.3d 758, 773 (7th Cir. 2000)).

         The nature and extent of the force that may reasonably be used to effectuate an arrest depends on the specific circumstances of the arrest, including “the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.” Id. at 861-62 (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 396). Because law-enforcement officers must make critical, split-second decisions in difficult and potentially explosive situations, the reasonableness of the officer's actions must be evaluated “from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Id. Particularly relevant to this case, “[w]hen the evidence includes a videotape of the relevant events, the Court should not adopt the nonmoving party's version of the events when that version is blatantly contradicted by the videotape.” Williams v. Brooks, 809 F.3d 936, 941 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 379-81 (2007)).

         In this case, the videotape evidence of the incident is subject to different interpretations. As Defendants were arresting Plaintiff for DUI, he was told to put his arms behind his back. Plaintiff claims he did not hear the instructions. Defendants claim the video shows Plaintiff stiffening his body and outstretched arms as Defendants Freeman and Shaffer attempted to pull Plaintiff's arms behind his back. Plaintiff claims he actually was being tased at that moment by Defendant Shaffer, which caused his body to stiffen. Defendants claim Plaintiff tried to grab Defendant Trogolo's taser. Plaintiff testified he involuntarily reacted as a result of being tased (Doc. 211, p. 50). Unfortunately for Defendants, the video does not blatantly contradict Plaintiff's version of the events. Based on the ...


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