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Bowers v. Dart

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 30, 2019

Marque Bowers, Plaintiff,
Thomas Dart, Sheriff of Cook County, and Cook County, Illinois, Defendants.

          Patrick W. Morrissey Thomas G. Morrissey, Ltd. an attorney for plaintiff


          Shah Judge

         Plaintiff Marque Bowers, by counsel, moves the Court for relief under Rules 50(b) and 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Grounds for this motion are as follows:

         1. Plaintiff Marque Bowers alleges defendant Dart violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by assigning him to various living units at the jail that did not comply with federal accessibility standards from January 6, 2013 to August 21, 2014.

         2. After a four day trial, a jury returned a verdict for defendant on October 3, 2019. ECF No. 219, Jury Verdict. The Court reserved ruling on plaintiff's motion for a directed verdict pursuant to Rule 50(a). ECF No. 217, Minute entry.

         3. For the reasons below stated, the Court should grant plaintiff's motion pursuant to Rule 50(b) or Rule 59 and reset this case for a jury to determine damages, if any, to award Bowers. In the alternative, the plaintiff requests a new trial on liability and damages.

         I. Legal standard

         4. On a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50, “the question is not whether the jury believed the right people, but only whether it was presented with a legally sufficient amount of evidence from which it could reasonably derive its verdict.” Massey v. Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Ill., 226 F.3d 922, 924 (7th Cir. 2000). A court must determine whether the evidence presented at trial, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party is sufficient to support the verdict. Id. A “mere scintilla” of evidence is not sufficient to sustain a verdict, id., but judges are not to substitute their view of the contested evidence in place of the jury's determination. Kapelanski v. Johnson, 390 F.3d 525, 530 (7th Cir. 2004). In other words, the test is whether “no rational juror could have found for the prevailing party.” Turner v. Miller, 301 F.3d 599, 602 (7th Cir. 2002).

         5. Under Rule 59, a new trial may be granted after a jury trial “for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). “A new trial is appropriate if the jury's verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence or if the trial was in some way unfair to the moving party.” Venson v. Altamirano, 749 F.3d 641, 656 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Willis v. Lepine, 687 F.3d 826, 836 (7th Cir. 2012)).

         II. Qualified individual with a disability

         6. To prevail on his ADA claim, Bowers must prove by a preponderance of the evidence he is a qualified individual with a disability. See ECF No. 216, Jury Instructions at 19. The Court reviewed this standard when considering plaintiff's motion for summary judgment:

Under the ADA, an individual has a “disability” if he can show one of the following: (1) he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his major life activities, (2) he has a record of such an impairment, or (3) he is regarded as having such impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 12102; see also 28 C.F.R. § 35.101 (“The primary object[ive] . . . should be whether entities covered under the ADA have complied with their obligations and whether discrimination has occurred, not whether the individual meets the definition of ‘disability.' The question of whether an individual meets the definition of ‘disability' […] should not demand extensive analy-sis.”).

Bowers v. Dart, 2017 WL 4339799, at *4 (N.D.Ill. 2017).

         7. Bowers testified that he has been unable to walk following an attack at the jail on December 31, 2012. ECF No. 222, V3 Bowers at 111:6-112:17, 113:25-117:17 (explaining functional capacity following injury).

         8. Dr. Andrew DeFuniak, a primary care provider, treated Bowers approximately 25 times from January 2013 to August 2014. ECF No. 222, V3 DeFuniak 19:12-15, 80:1-11. Dr. DeFuniak said lower extremity muscle power is necessary to walk, ECF No. 222, V3 DeFuniak at 86:15-21, and that a person with Bower's lower extremity strength would not be able to walk. ECF No. 222, V3 DeFuniak at 95:19-23. Based on Bowers's lower extremity strength, Dr. DeFuniak prescribed a wheelchair for Bowers to ambulate. ECF No. 222, V3 DeFuniak at 95:24-96:4. And in response to a question whether he considered Bowers to be disabled, Dr. DeFuniak said “I considered him to have, you know, some condition that, you know, required a wheelchair, yes. That's what he told me, yes.” ECF No. 222, V3 DeFuniak at 70:12-15. Because of this assessment, Dr. DeFuniak entered an “alert” for Bowers to be permitted to use a wheelchair at all times to ambulate. ECF No. 222, V3 DeFuniak at 77:1-12.

         9. Daniel Moreci, a Sheriff's employee, was the first assistant to the executive director at the jail from 2013 and 2014 and testified the Sheriff relies on doctors to determine whether an inmate needs a wheelchair. ECF No. 221, V1 Moreci at 4:8-18, 12:22-24. Moreci stated an inmate with a wheelchair alert would be regarded by the Sheriff as needing a wheelchair. ECF No. 221, V1 Moreci at 36:23-37:1. And while Bowers was detained at the jail with a wheelchair alert, Moreci agreed, based on his knowledge, the Sheriff's staff regarded Bowers as disabled. ECF No. 221, V1 Moreci at 12:25-13:3. Matthew Burke, another high ranking Sheriff employee, stated the Sheriff relies on the medical staff to determine whether an inmate is disabled and that from January 2013 until August 2014, the Sheriff treated Bowers as a wheelchair dependent inmate. ECF No. 221, V1 Burke at 39:24-40:5, 57:11-59:12.

         10. Dr. DeFuniak unequivocally said Bowers's legs were too weak to walk. Based on Dr. DeFuniak's testimony, no reasonable finder of fact could determine Bowers did not have a substantial limitation walking. See 42 U.S.C. § 12102(2)(A). This is so because some “types of impairments, as a factual matter, virtually always [will] be found to impose a substantial limitation on a major life activity.” 28 C.F.R. § 35.108(d)(2)(ii). This includes “mobility limitations requiring the use of a wheelchair.” Id. § 35.108(d)(2)(iii)(D).

         11. And there can be no question that defendant regarded Bowers as disabled. The Sheriff relied exclusively on the medical staff to identify disabled in- mates and to enter appropriate “alerts” to provide notice about certain impairments. Indeed, both Moreci and Burke stated that Bowers was regarded a dependent on a wheelchair to move ...

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