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Ditterline v. Ray

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 29, 2018

DELANA D. DITTERLINE, TERRY L. DITTERLINE, BRYAN A. DITTERLINE, and BRANDON A. DITTERLINE, Plaintiffs,
v.
KITISHA N. RAY, DUSTIN TURSKA, and LYLE WOMACK, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Following a jury trial, defendant Dustin Turska filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and a motion for a new trial. (Docs. 90, 91.) For the following reasons, the Court DENIES both motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a Fourth Amendment excessive force case arising from a brawl between a family-the Ditterlines-and law enforcement officers. The parties forcibly disputed the material facts, and the Court outlined those facts in its order granting in part and denying in part the defendants' motion for summary judgment. (See generally Doc. 54.) Basically, two of the Ditterlines-Terry and Bryan-quarreled with an officer-Dustin Turska-in a parking lot, and then they allegedly tried to run Turska over with their truck on the way out. Several officers followed Terry and Bryan back to the Ditterline family home, where more parties emerged and skirmished in the yard. The officers then arrested several of the Ditterlines, and the Ditterlines later brought this suit alleging that the officers used excessive force during the arrests. (Id.; see also Compl., Doc. 6.)

         The case proceeded to a jury trial. Each Ditterline alleged one or two excessive force claims, but the jury found for the defendants on every claim except one: Terry Ditterline's claim against Officer Dustin Turska. (Doc. 73, pp. 3-4.) The jury awarded Terry Ditterline $500.00 in compensatory damages and $2, 000.00 in punitive damages for that claim. (Id.) Later, Turska filed two post-trial motions: one renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) and another one for a new trial. (Docs. 90, 91.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Judgment as a Matter of Law

         The Court may direct entry of 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)(1).

         When ruling on 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 nonmovant 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 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)(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 or the trial was unfair to the moving party. Venson v. Alamirano, 749 F.3d 641, 657 (7th Cir. 2014); Kapelanski v. Johnson, 390 F.3d 525, 530 (7th Cir. 2004). A verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence only if, viewing the evidence in favor of the non-moving party, no rational jury could have rendered the verdict. EEOC v. AutoZone, Inc., 809 F.3d 916, 919 (7th Cir. 2016).

         To win a new trial based on an erroneous jury instruction, the movant “must show that: 1) the instructions did not adequately state Seventh Circuit law[, ] and 2) it was prejudiced by the error because the jury was likely confused or misled.” Susan Wakeen Doll Co., Inc. v. Ashton Drake Galleries, 272 F.3d 441, 452 (7th Cir. 2001). This analysis “is guided by common sense.” Guzman v. City of Chicago, 689 F.3d 740, 745 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing Lewis v. City of Chi. Police Dep't, 590 F.3d 427, 433 (7th Cir. 2009)). The Court must ensure that the “correct message [was conveyed] to the jury reasonably well” when viewed in the light of the other instructions, the evidence, and the arguments in the case. Id. (quoting Gile v. United Airlines, Inc., 213 F.3d 365, 375 (7th Cir. 2000).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Turska's Motion for ...


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