United States District Court, S.D. Illinois
REONA J. DALY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Dwaine Coleman filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 alleging his constitutional rights were violated
while he was in the custody of the Illinois Department of
Corrections (“IDOC”), incarcerated at Vienna
Correctional Center (“Menard”). Plaintiff
proceeded to trial on a claim of excessive force against
Defendants James Vinson and Jared Blessing, and a claim of
retaliation against David Mitchell. On October 3, 2018, the
jury rendered its verdict in favor of Dwaine Coleman and
against James Vinson on his claim of excessive force. The
jury also rendered its verdict in favor of Defendants
Blessing and Mitchell. The jury awarded Plaintiff $1.00 in
compensatory damages and assessed punitive damages against
Defendant Vinson in the amount of $35, 000.
before the Court is Defendant Vinson’s Motion for
Reduction or Remittitur (Doc. 85), Plaintiff’s Motion
for Award of Attorneys’ Fees and Costs (Doc. 86), and
Plaintiff’s Bill of Costs (Doc. 88). The Court sets
forth its rulings as follows.
Motion for Reduction or Remittitur (Doc.
asks that the Court reduce or remit Plaintiff’s award
of punitive damages. Defendant brings his motion pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e).
considering whether a punitive damages award exceeds
constitutional limits, courts are directed to consider: (1)
the reprehensibility of the action in question; (2) the ratio
between the compensatory and punitive damages; and (3) the
difference between the damages award and the civil penalties
authorized or imposed in comparable cases. BMW of North
America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 575 (1996).
the most important indicium of the reasonableness of a
punitive damages award is the degree of reprehensibility of
the defendant’s conduct.” Id. The
Supreme Court has identified five factors for courts to
consider in assessing the degree of reprehensibility of a
defendant’s conduct: whether (1) the harm caused was
physical as opposed to economic; (2) the tortious conduct
evinced an indifference to or a reckless disregard of the
health or safety of others; (3) the target of the conduct had
financial vulnerability; (4) the conduct involved repeated
actions or was an isolated incident; and (5) the harm was the
result of intentional malice, trickery, or deceit, or mere
accident. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Campbell,
538 U.S. 408, 419 (2003).
apparent that these factors weigh in favor of Plaintiff.
First, the harm incurred was clearly physical and inflicted
with indifference or a reckless disregard to
Plaintiff’s health and safety. Further, according to
Plaintiff’s trial testimony, Vinson’s conduct was
inflicted with intentional malice as he slammed
Plaintiff’s head against a doorjamb, cut into
Plaintiff’s wrists with handcuffs, and grabbed and
clenched his jaw without provocation (Doc. 83 at 19-21).
While the incident at issue may have been isolated, Vinson
took aggressive action toward Plaintiff three times.
next consideration is the relationship between the
compensatory and punitive damages awarded. In
Campbell, the Supreme Court declined to impose a
bright-line ratio which a punitive damages award cannot
exceed; however, the Court indicated that “few awards
exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and
compensatory damages … will satisfy due
process.” State Farm Mut. Auto Ins., 538 U.S.
at 425. In any event, the Seventh Circuit has found that
“capping the ratio of compensatory and punitive damages
makes sense only when the compensatory damages are
large.” Lust v. Sealy, Inc., 383 F.3d 580, 591
(7th Cir. 2004). Indeed, in Cooper v. Casey, the
Seventh Circuit recognized that “[t]he smaller the
compensatory damages, the higher the ratio of punitive to
compensatory damages has to be in order to fulfill the
objectives of awarding punitive damages.” 97 F.3d 914,
919-20 (upholding a punitive damages award of $60, 000 per
plaintiff where each plaintiff was awarded $5, 000 in
compensatory damages). In Cooper, the Court
The compensatory damages were low here in part because of the
inherent difficulties of fixing a dollar equivalent for
subjective injuries, such as fright and pain. An award of
punitive damages proportioned to the low compensatory damages
that were awarded would have a very meager deterrent effect,
would fail to signal to the prison authorities that savage
treatment of prisoners will not be tolerated, and would not
be commensurate with the moral gravity of the
Id. at 920. The Court further noted that “the
highest award of punitive damages against any one of the
seven defendants was only $22, 500. The sky is not the limit,
but $22, 500 is not the sky.” Id.
instance, the jury awarded Plaintiff punitive damages in the
amount of $35, 000. Although the jury only awarded Plaintiff
nominal compensatory damages, the Court cannot find that the
punitive damages awarded exceeds constitutional bounds.
Indeed, as noted in Cooper, the injuries here were
difficult to assign a dollar value. Moreover, to subject
Plaintiff to a single ratio for punitive damages or to say
that the $35, 000 award is too high a ratio in this case
would not serve the purpose of punitive damages.
with regard to the comparability of the punitive damages
award here with other cases, the Court finds it is not so far
out of line with other cases wherein plaintiffs were awarded
low or only nominal damages to require a reduction. See
Wilson-El v. Mutayoba, Case No. 12-cv-203-NJR-DGW, 2015
WL 2201564 (S.D. Ill., May 8, 2015) (jury awarded $1.00 in
compensatory damages and $10, 100 in punitive damages);
Gevas v. Harrington, Case No. 10-cv-493-SCW, 2014 WL
4627689 (S.D. Ill., Sept. 16, 2014) (upholding $10, 000 in
punitive damages on a nominal compensatory award); see
also Hardy v. City of Milwaukee, 88 F.Supp.3d 852, (E.D.
Wis., Feb. 27, 2015) (wherein district court reduced punitive
damages award of $500, 000 to $54, 000 when jury awarded $6,
000 in compensatory damages); Kunz v. DeFelice, 538
F.3d 667, 679-80 (7th Cir. 2008) (upholding punitive damages
award of $90, 000 with a compensatory damages award of $10,
above-mentioned reasons, the Court finds that the
jury’s award of punitive damages in the amount of $35,
000 is within the reasonable range of awards that could have
been assessed in this case and it is therefore within