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Bentz v. Lindenberg

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

July 19, 2019

DAVID ROBERT BENTZ, Plaintiff,
v.
DONALD LINDENBERG, and VIRGIL SMITH, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion for New Trial filed by Plaintiff David Robert Bentz under Rule 59(a)[1] of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Doc. 208). For the following reasons, the motion is denied.

         Background

         Bentz, an inmate at Menard Correctional Center, filed this lawsuit in 2015 alleging Defendants Donald Lindenberg and Virgil Smith used excessive force against him in violation of the Eighth Amendment during an incident on August 29, 2014 (Doc. 1). Bentz further claimed that, following the incident, Defendants were deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need by denying him access to medical treatment. Bentz also raised Illinois state law assault and battery claims.

         The case was tried to jury in November 2018, and the jury found in favor of Defendants. The Court entered judgment on the jury's verdict on November 29, 2018 (Doc. 198). Bentz now argues he is entitled to a new trial due to alleged discovery violations and alleged perjured testimony. He also asks the Court to sanction Defendants for their conduct. Defendants filed a timely response, and Bentz filed a motion for extension of time to reply. The Court grants that motion and considers Bentz's reply brief as timely filed.

         Legal Standard

         Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 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). “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)).

         In deciding whether a new trial is appropriate on fairness grounds, the Court must be guided by the principle that “civil litigants are entitled to a fair trial, not a perfect one, ” and “a new trial will not be ordered unless there was an error that caused some prejudice to the substantial rights of the parties.” Lemons v. Skidmore, 985 F.2d 354, 357 (7th Cir. 1993).

         Discussion

         Bentz asserts two reasons for which he believes is entitled to a new trial. First, Bentz claims he requested certain discovery but was denied access to the information. Second, Bentz argues that Defendants lied on the stand regarding the presence of cameras in the North Two healthcare unit and flag. He asserts this perjured testimony both entitles him to a new trial and requires sanctions to be imposed on Defendants.

         A. Alleged Discovery Violations

         Bentz first contends that he requested the identities of inmates present in the North Two healthcare unit during the alleged incident, as well as the inmate sign-in log for that day. Bentz points to testimony from Defendant Smith that inmates are required to sign in and out of healthcare, which indicates Defendants had knowledge of the identity of potential witnesses but “knowingly and intentionally withheld their identities” from him. In addition to the names of these potential witnesses, Bentz claims he should have received video footage of the incident, if it exists, as it would prove or disprove his allegations. He claims he filed a motion to compel Defendants to produce this information, but the motion was denied. Bentz further contends that Defendants Smith and Lindenberg testified at trial that there are cameras all over the North Two healthcare unit, as well as on the North Two cell house flag. Thus, Bentz argues, he should have received video footage of the incident.

         In response, Defendants first argue that Bentz cannot use Rule 59 to address alleged discovery violations that he failed to pursue until after trial and for which he cannot demonstrate prejudice. Defendants note that Bentz did not file any motions to compel, thus, his argument regarding discovery is forfeited. Even if he had filed such a motion and it was denied, Rule 59 would preclude the Court from giving Bentz an opportunity to litigate previously rejected arguments. Furthermore, while the failure to disclose information can, in limited circumstances, constitute grounds for a new trial, Bentz has failed to demonstrate both that misconduct occurred and that it prejudiced him. Finally, Defendants argue, Bentz has no evidence to support his claim that Smith and Lindenberg had names of inmates who were present on August 29, 2014. With regard to Bentz's assertion that he is entitled to a new trial based on his claim of newly discovered evidence, Defendants contend that they repeatedly tried to obtain any video footage of the incident and was informed that no video existed.

         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). “A motion for a new trial is not the ...


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