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Bentz v. Miner

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

November 6, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court on the Rule 59 Motion and Rule 50 Motion filed by Plaintiff David Robert Bentz (Doc. 136). Bentz filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of his constitutional rights, on December 12, 2013 (Doc. 1). Specifically, Bentz claimed Defendant Berner spit in his face and that Defendants destroyed his clothing, bedding, and legal materials, and denied him replacement clothing, bedding, and legal materials, all in retaliation for Bentz filing lawsuits and making other complaints. Bentz also asserted that Defendant Miner used excessive force when he shoved Bentz into a steel door frame, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and that Defendants did nothing to stop the attack or otherwise intervene.

         The case was tried to a jury in March 2017. After a two-day trial, the jury found in favor of Defendants and against Bentz (Doc. 174). Judgment was entered on March 22, 2017 (Doc. 178). On April 14, 2017, Bentz filed the instant motion pursuant to Rules 50 and 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         I. Rule 59 Motion for New Trial

         Rule 59 allows the Court to grant a new trial on all or some of the issues, for any reason for which a new trial has been granted in federal court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). The motion must be filed within 28 days of the entry of judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(b). “In ruling on a motion for new trial under Rule 59(a), the Court must determine whether the jury verdict was against the weight of the evidence or if the trial was unfair to the moving party.” Purtell v. Mason, No. 04 C 7005, 2006 WL 2037254, at *3 (N.D. Ill. July 18, 2006) (citing Kapelanski v. Johnson, 390 F.3d 525, 530 (7th Cir. 2004)). Federal courts will not “set aside a jury verdict if a reasonable basis exists in the record to support the verdict . . . .” Kapelanski, 390 F.3d at 530. In this case, Bentz seeks a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 for several reasons, each of which the Court discusses in turn.

         A. Default Judgment

         Bentz first claims he is entitled to relief because each Defendant testified they never read the complaint in this case and had no idea what they were being sued for until a couple of weeks before trial. Bentz argues that the answers filed by defense counsel, therefore, must have been fabricated. Because the answers were “false documents, ” Bentz contends, Defendants never truly answered the complaint and, thus, are in default. Bentz seeks default judgment as a result.

         In response, Defendants note that they filed answers through counsel on March II, 2014, April 16, 2014, May 5, 2014, and July 7, 2014-three years prior to trial (Docs. 39, 44, 51, 56). That Defendants did not remember, while on the stand, their involvement in the case three years ago, does not void their properly filed answers to the complaint. Furthermore, Defendants argue that Bentz's motion pursuant to Rule 59 is not a proper motion for default judgment, and to the extent he seeks default judgment, the requirements under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have not been met. Rather, Rule 55 requires either a failure to appear or otherwise defend, in addition to a hearing with written notice. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55. Because Defendants have appeared and litigated this case to its conclusion, default judgment would be improper.

         The Court finds that Bentz's motion for default judgment, while also procedurally improper, wholly lacks merit. This is not an instance where the Defendants refused to participate in the litigation or to “otherwise defend” the lawsuit. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a). Defendants answered discovery, filed motions for summary judgment, and defended the case through a jury trial. See Cannon v. Washington, 321 F. App'x 501, 503 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing 10A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2682 (3d ed. 2008) (explaining that motions challenging sufficiency of pleadings are sufficient to “otherwise defend” against a lawsuit); Rashidi v. Albright, 818 F.Supp. 1354, 1356 (D. Nev. 1993) (concluding that filing a motion for summary judgment constitutes defense against a lawsuit for purposes of Rule 55)).

         Because Defendants have not defaulted, there is no basis to enter default judgment. Furthermore, even if they had, the entry of default judgment after a trial on the merits would be improper because “[u]sing a default judgment to strip the winner of its rights, in response to non-prejudicial neglect, cannot be appropriate. It would be a pointless windfall.” Id. (quoting Mommaerts v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., 472 F.3d 967, 968-69 (7th Cir. 2007)). Bentz is not entitled to relief on this ground.

         B. Discovery Issues

         Bentz next argues he should receive a new trial because Defendants failed to disclose certain items in discovery, including written policies of the Illinois Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) or Menard and the names of inmates who had call passes in East House on the date of the assault. Defendants, in response, argue that Bentz never raised these issues at trial and, therefore, they are forfeited. Further, Bentz does not cite to any specific discovery requests or motions to compel, and he provides no citations to case law or rules of civil procedure that would prohibit Defendants from testifying as to Menard's policies without providing written copies of those policies.

         Under Rule 26(e), “[a] party who has made a disclosure under Rule 26(a) . . . must supplement or correct its disclosure or response . . . in a timely manner if the party learns that in some material respect the disclosure or response is incomplete or incorrect, and if the additional or corrective information has not otherwise been made known to the other parties . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(e). Additionally, under Rule 26(g), every discovery response must be signed by an attorney of record, thereby certifying-to the best of the attorney's “knowledge, information, and belief formed after reasonable inquiry”-that the response is rule-compliant. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(g). Attorney misconduct in the discovery phase, including violations of Rule 26, can warrant a new trial. See Harrington v. City of Chicago, No. 13 C 8277, 2016 WL 6680515, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 14, 2016) (citing Brandt v. Vulcan, Inc., 30 F.3d 752, 758 (7th Cir. 1994)). A new trial is “dramatic relief, ” however, and is not warranted unless the movant demonstrates (1) attorney misconduct occurred and (2) prejudice resulted that necessitates a new trial. Id.

         Here, Bentz has failed to show evidence of attorney misconduct or prejudice that would necessitate a new trial. Evidence of Menard's written policies on transfers, clothing, shakedowns, and property confiscation, which Defendants testified to but apparently did not produce, would not “tip the scales” in this case. Defendants testified to the policies, and although Bentz argues they each gave conflicting testimony regarding certain policies ...

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