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Stubbs v. Dudley

decided: June 13, 1988.

JOHN STUBBS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
C.O. ROBERT DUDLEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE, AND ROBERT E. MCCLAY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE ARTHUR KILL CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; C.O. CLEMMONS (PHONIC), INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; C.O. LEWIS, (PHONIC), INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; ROBERT A. HOKE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT OF PROGRAMS OF THE ARTHUR KILL CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; C.O. DOMENICO 'RUFINO', INDIVIDUALLY AND AS EMPLOYEE OF THE NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS; AND C.O. 'JOHN' RAZNER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN EMPLOYEE OF THE NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, DEFENDANTS



Appeal from a judgment of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York (John L. Caden, Magistrate) in favor of defendant, entered notwithstanding a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff for violating plaintiff's constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Reversed and remanded.

Kaufman, Oakes, and Newman, Circuit Judges.

Author: Newman

JON O. NEWMAN, Circuit Judge:

This appeal concerns the sufficiency of evidence to support a jury verdict in favor of a prisoner claiming that a corrections officer violated his constitutional rights by deliberately failing to protect him from injury by other prisoners. John Stubbs appeals from a judgment of the District Court for the Eastern District of New York (John L. Caden, Magistrate) entered in favor of defendant-appellee John Dudley notwithstanding a jury verdict finding Dudley liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982) for violating Stubbs' constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The jury had awarded Stubbs $26,000 in compensatory damages for injuries sustained in a beating by his fellow inmates at the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility. Magistrate Caden granted defendant's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (n.o.v.) on the ground that the evidence did not support a finding that Dudley was deliberately indifferent to Stubbs' safety. We reverse and remand.

Background

Viewed in the light most favorable to Stubbs, the evidence establishes that the following events occurred on February 4, 1977, at the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island, New York, where Stubbs was an inmate. After dinner, Stubbs left his cell to make a telephone call when he was confronted in the "C" Corridor by approximately twenty to thirty inmates, apparently Muslims who were angry at Stubbs for unclear reasons. Some of the men were armed, at least one with a knife. Stubbs was not armed. Hostile words were exchanged, and at least one of the men attempted to strike Stubbs. In fear of being harmed, Stubbs ran down the "C" Corridor with the group of men in pursuit. Stubbs passed through a set of double doors and turned a corner, entering the "Main" Corridor. As he turned the corner, Stubbs saw two corrections officers standing next to a locked door, midway down the corridor, which led to the administration area. One of the corrections officers was defendant Dudley. Stubbs ran toward the defendant yelling, "Help! Open the door, open the door!" Dudley and the other officer opened the door, but immediately went through it and closed and locked it behind them, leaving Stubbs to fend for himself in the main corridor.

Stubbs stood for a moment trying to open the locked door. Through the plexiglass of the door he could see Dudley observing his desperate predicament. As his assailants neared him, Stubbs turned and ran farther down the hallway to the "B" Block telephone room, where two other corrections officers were stationed. These officers, Lewis and Clements, hid behind a plastic partition. Stubbs, now cornered, was quickly overpowered by the group of inmates. He was severely beaten and possibly stabbed, and required hospitalization as a result of his injuries.

The section 1983 claim was tried by agreement before Magistrate Caden and a jury. Before the jury trial, all of Stubbs' state law claims were dismissed, as were the federal claims against all defendants other than appellee Dudley and Lewis, the corrections officer in the telephone room. Statute of limitations and qualified immunity defenses raised by Dudley were rejected both by Judge Henry Bramwell, to whom the case was originally assigned, and upon renewal by Magistrate Caden.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant Lewis and against defendant-appellee Dudley. Compensatory damages of $26,000, but no punitive damages, were awarded to Stubbs. By Memorandum and Order dated September 3, 1987, Magistrate Caden granted Dudley's motion for judgment n.o.v., see Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b).

Discussion

At the outset, we reject appellant's procedural challenges to the judgment n.o.v. ruling. Dudley's motion for a directed verdict at the close of plaintiff's case was renewed at the close of all the evidence and challenged the sufficiency of the evidence with adequate precision to preserve the issue under Rule 50(b). Though the motion primarily emphasized a qualified immunity defense, it fully apprised appellant of Dudley's basic contention that the evidence was insufficient to support the deliberate indifference claim. See Best Brands Beverage, Inc. v Falstaff Brewing Corp., No. 87-7279, slip op. at 5919-20 (2d Cir. Nov. 9, 1987). Appellant's additional claims of procedural irregularities are without merit.

The standard for granting a motion for judgment n.o.v. is appropriately strict. A verdict may be directed under Rule 50 only if, "without weighing the credibility of the witnesses or otherwise considering the weight of the evidence, there can be but one conclusion as to the verdict that reasonable [persons] could have reached." Simblest v. May n a r d, 427 F.2d 1, 4(2d Cir. 1970). See also Sirota v. Solitron Devices, Inc., 673 F.2d 566, 573 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 838, 74 L. Ed. 2d 80, 103 S. Ct. 86 (1982); 9 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2524 (1971). Alternative versions of this standard have recently been summarized:

[E]ither there must be "such a complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the jury's finding could only have been the result o[f] sheer surmise and conjecture" or the evidence must be so overwhelming that reasonable and fair-minded persons could only have reached the opposite result. Newmont Mines Ltd. v. Hanover Insurance Co., 784 F.2d 127, 132 (2d Cir. 1986) (quoting Mallis v. Bankers Trust Co., 717 F.2d 683, 688-89 (2d Cir. 1983)).

Baskin v. Hawley, 807 F.2d 1120, 1129 (2d Cir. 1986). We conclude that in the present case ...


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