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Patterson v. Baker

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

September 3, 2019




         This matter is now before the Court on Plaintiff Shawn Patterson's (“Plaintiff”) combined Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and a New Trial (ECF No. 267). For the reasons set forth below, the motions are DENIED and the jury verdict STANDS.


         Plaintiff claimed that Baker, Fredrickson, and Martinez assaulted him by slamming his head and continuously punching him on his back and sides on February 7, 2012, and that Fredrickson assaulted him again on February 9, 2012. (ECF No. 11 at 13, 14). On May 13, 2019, a two-day jury trial was held in this case regarding Plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for violations of the Eighth Amendment. At the time of trial, Plaintiff was an inmate in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections housed at Pontiac Correctional Center. Defendants Matt Baker (“Baker”) and Raul Martinez (“Martinez”) were correctional officers from Hill Correctional Center, while Defendant Todd Fredrickson (“Fredrickson”) (collectively “Defendants”) was a sergeant. During trial, Plaintiff also moved for Judgment as a Matter of Law prior to the case being submitted to the jury, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a), which the Court denied. On May 14, 2019, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants. (ECF No. 260).


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 provides judgment as a matter of law where “a reasonable jury [lacks] a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the [prevailing] party[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). In weighing a Rule 50 motion, “the question is simply whether the evidence as a whole, when combined with all reasonable inferences permissibly drawn from that evidence, is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of the plaintiff.” Hall v. Forest River, Inc., 536 F.3d 615, 619 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Hossack v. Floor Covering Assoc. of Joliet, Inc., 492 F.3d 853, 859 (7th Cir. 2007)). A jury's determination may be overturned only if “no rational jury could have found for plaintiff, ” and there must also be more than “a mere scintilla of supporting evidence.” Walker v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Wisconsin Sys., 410 F.3d 387, 393 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting Millbrook v. IBP, Inc., 280 F.3d 1169, 1173 (7th Cir. 2002)). The court must “not make credibility determinations or reweigh the evidence, ” and “must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe.” Tart v. Illinois Power Co., 366 F.3d 461, 472 (7th Cir. 2004).

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), “[a] court may only order a new trial if the jury's ‘verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence, ... or if for other reasons the trial was not fair to the moving party.'” Marcus & Millichap Inv. Servs. v. Sekulovski, 639 F.3d 301, 313 (7th Cir. 2011). “In ruling on a motion for a new trial, the judge may consider the credibility of witnesses, the weight of the evidence, and anything else which justice requires.” Bob Willow Motors, Inc. v. Gen. Motors Corp., 872 F.2d 788, 798 (7th Cir. 1989) (internal citation omitted).


         I. Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Plaintiff contends that no reasonable juror would have believed Defendants' “made-for- trial” testimony, because their discovery responses indicated they did not recall the incident with Plaintiff, and it was not until after Defendants' counsel provided them with documents in preparation for trial that they recalled the incident. (ECF No. 267 at 2). According to Plaintiff, Defendants were served with interrogatories in 2014, where they all responded by stating they did not recall the alleged events of February 7, 2012. (ECF No. 257; Pl.'s Ex. 5). In late 2017 and early 2018, Plaintiff served a second set of interrogatories upon Defendants where they similarly responded that they did not recall having any physical contact with Plaintiff on February 7, 2012, or February 9, 2012. Id; Pl.'s Exs. 1, 3. Defendants claim that counsel has a right to provide his clients with records in preparation for trial and that these documents were used to refresh the recollection of Defendants at trial.

         During trial, Defendants recalled what occurred and testified as much. (ECF No. 264 at 47 - 52). Specifically, Martinez testified to the following set of events. While performing a count in Plaintiff's wing on February 7, 2012, he saw Plaintiff's cell door window covered with paper. Id. at 48. Plaintiff was also naked at the time and acting animated. Id. at 48, 51. Martinez testified that he gave Plaintiff three direct orders to remove the paper so he could complete his count, but Plaintiff refused. Id. Thereafter, Martinez called Frederickson, his supervisor, to handle the situation. Id. at 49. Frederickson allegedly also gave direct orders for Plaintiff to remove the paper from the window, which he refused to do. Id. Baker was also present at this time and stood at the cell door with Martinez. Id. at 51. Fredrickson restrained Plaintiff because Plaintiff refused to remove the paper. Id. Defendants then took a sheet or blanket to cover Plaintiff and walked him over to the segregation holding cell. Id. at 52.

         A review of the transcript from trial reveals that Defendants were shown documents to refresh their memories. (ECF No. 264 at 46 - 47). For example, when Martinez was testifying, he was shown a disciplinary report, and after reading it out loud, he recalled the incident. Id. at 47 - 49. When Plaintiff objected to the testimony as hearsay, the Court overruled it. Id. at 49 - 50.

         The Federal Rules of Evidence allow for a witness to use a writing in order to refresh his memory for the purpose of testifying. Fed.R.Evid. 612. As the record confirms, Defendants' counsel properly used documents to refresh the recollection of Defendants at trial. Moreover, the Joint Proposed Final Pretrial Order included all the documents that could be shown at trial. (ECF No. 249). Defense counsel can provide witnesses with documents during trial preparation, especially if it will help them recall an event when called to testify. See Fed. R. Evid. 612. These documents were also exchanged during discovery. (ECF No. 276 at 7). Accordingly, the Court finds that documents were not improperly used to refresh Defendants' recollection during trial, and Defendants not providing similar responses to discovery requests had no bearing on the testimony.

         Moreover, Plaintiff is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law as the record demonstrates a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to have found for Defendants. Although Plaintiff presented evidence that Defendants used excessive force though testimony and some of the contents of the injury report drafted by Nurse Brenda Aldridge (“Aldridge”), it was up to the jury to determine credibility to resolve contradictory evidence. In this matter, the jury construed Defendants' evidence to be more credible, and it is not the province of the Court to substitute its view of the contested evidence for the jury's where the jury's findings were reasonable. “[T]he jury is the body best equipped to judge the facts, weigh the evidence, determine credibility, and use its common sense to arrive at a reasoned decision.” Massey v. Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Illinois, 226 F.3d 922, 925 (7th Cir. 2000). ÔÇťOverturning a jury verdict is not something [the courts] do ...

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