United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL
A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
August 16, 2016 through August 18, 2016, this Court held a
jury trial regarding a First Amendment retaliation claim and
an Eighth Amendment excessive force claim brought by
Plaintiff, Ira Alston, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On August
18, 2016, the jury entered its verdict against Mr. Alston and
in favor of the Defendants, Michael Pafumi and Melvin Saylor,
finding that Defendants did not violate Mr. Alston's
First Amendment or Eighth Amendment rights. Jury Verdict, ECF
No. 377. On August 24, 2016, the Court entered a final
judgment in favor of Defendants, consistent with the
jury's verdict. Judgment, ECF No. 378. Mr. Alston now
moves for a new trial or, in the alternative, an altered
judgment in this matter. For the reasons set forth below, Mr.
Alston's motion is DENIED.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
for a new trial and/or an altered judgment are governed by
Fed.R.Civ.P. 59. “The decision whether to grant a new
trial under Rule 59 is committed to the sound discretion of
the trial court.” Claudio v. Mattituck-Cutchogue
Union Free Sch. Dist., 955 F.Supp.2d 118, 142 (E.D.N.Y.
2013) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
“As a general matter, a motion for a new trial should
be granted when, in the opinion of the district court, the
jury has reached a seriously erroneous result or the verdict
is a miscarriage of justice.” DLC Management
Corp. v. Town of Hyde Park, 163 F.3d 124, 133-34 (2d
Cir.1998) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
“A new trial may be granted, therefore, when the
jury's verdict is against the weight of the
evidence… Moreover, a trial judge is free to weigh the
evidence himself, and need not view it in the light most
favorable to the verdict winner.” Id.
Nevertheless, courts are generally instructed to defer to the
jury's credibility evaluations when considering a Rule 59
motion. See Ricciuti v. N.Y. City Transit Auth., 70
F.Supp.2d 300, 306 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) (“Where it appears
that the district court failed to give the jury's
credibility evaluations sufficient deference, an order
granting a new trial will be reversed”).
Alston has specified ten separate grounds for a new trial
and/or an altered judgment. He argues that the Court erred in
the following ways: (1) granting the motion to withdraw filed
by attorney Melissa Federico; (2) denying Mr. Alston's
motion to re-appoint pro bono counsel; (3) denying Mr.
Alston's request to subpoena Commissioner Scott Semple to
testify at trial; (4) denying permission for Jermaine Jones
to testify as a witness in Mr. Alston's case-in-chief;
(5) admitting portions of Mr. Alston's medical records;
(6) admitting testimony about Mr. Alston's disciplinary
history; (7) prohibiting certain lines of inquiry regarding
Correction Officer (“CO.”) Bowerman's
testimony; (8) prohibiting Mr. Alston from accessing the
Defendants' job performance and disciplinary records; (9)
prohibiting cross-examination regarding Defendants' job
performance and disciplinary records; and (10) admitting
excerpts of Mr. Alston's original and amended complaints
into evidence. The Court concludes that none of these rulings
resulted in a seriously erroneous result or a miscarriage of
justice as required for a new trial or an altered judgment
under Rule 59.
Withdrawal of Appointed Counsel and Denial of New
Alston claims that a new trial is justified because the Court
granted the motion to withdraw filed by his appointed
attorney, Melissa Federico, and denied Mr. Alston's
motion to appoint a new attorney in her place. Mem. in Supp.
at 4-6, ECF No. 382. Attorney Federico was appointed to
represent Mr. Alston in November 2012 along with Attorney
Hugh F. Murray, III. Federico Not. of Appearance, ECF No.
160. When Attorney Murray moved to a new law firm and filed a
motion to withdraw in December 2015, Attorney Federico
continued representing Mr. Alston as pro bono
counsel. Murray Mot. to Withdraw, ECF No. 221.
Federico filed a motion to withdraw in January 2016,
referencing “safety concerns” about her continued
representation and explaining that Mr. Alston's
“failure to follow instructions and grievance
threats” had resulted in a breakdown in the
attorney-client relationship. Federico Mot. to Withdraw, ECF
No. 229. The Court initially denied Attorney Federico's
motion for failure to comply with the notice provisions of
the Local Civil Rules of the United States District Court for
the District of Connecticut (“Local Rules”), and
Attorney Federico subsequently filed a renewed motion that
complied with the Local Rules. Federico Renewed Mot. to
Withdraw, ECF No. 238. The Court granted Attorney
Federico's renewed motion and denied Mr. Alston's
subsequent motions for appointment of counsel. 2/5/2016
Order, ECF No. 239; 2/16/2016 Order, ECF No. 249.
is no requirement that an indigent litigant be appointed
pro bono counsel in civil matters, unlike most
criminal cases.” Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d
787, 789 (2d Cir. 1994). Furthermore, “[t]he Second
Circuit has repeatedly cautioned the district courts against
the routine appointment of counsel.” Alston v.
Bellerose, No. 3:12-cv-00147 (CSH), 2015 WL 4487973, at
*15 (D. Conn. July 23, 2015). The decision to appoint counsel
is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court, 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e), and permitting the withdrawal of
appointed counsel without appointing new counsel has been
found to be appropriate where, as here, the represented
party's own behavior results in the need for withdrawal.
See Whiting v. Lacara, 187 F.3d 317, 322 (2d Cir.
1999) (“We believe that appellee's desire both to
dictate legal strategies to his counsel and to sue counsel if
those strategies are not followed places [appointed counsel]
in so impossible a situation that he must be permitted to
withdraw”); Barnes v. Alves, 10 F.Supp.3d 382
(W.D.N.Y), reconsideration denied, 10 F.Supp.3d 391
(W.D.N.Y. 2014) (denying motion for appointment of counsel
where pro bono counsel had previously been appointed for
prisoner, counsel had aided prisoner in clarifying his claims
but prisoner's allegedly threatening behavior had led to
withdrawal of that counsel, and prisoner had demonstrated
that he was capable of pursuing his claims without counsel).
Court's decisions to grant Attorney Federico's
withdrawal as counsel and deny Mr. Alston's subsequent
motions for appointment of counsel did not constitute an
abuse of discretion and did not result in a
“miscarriage of justice” as required for a new
trial or an amended judgment under Rule 59. Accordingly, a
new trial or an amended judgment is not justified on these
Denial of Potential Testimony by Scott Semple and Jermaine
Alston argues that the Court erred in denying his request to
subpoena Commissioner Scott Semple as an “expert
witness” in his case. Mr. Alston also argues that the
Court erred in denying his request to have former inmate
Jermaine Jones testify at trial. In light of district
judges' “wide latitude in determining whether
evidence is admissible at trial, ” Caruolo v.
John Crane, Inc., 226 F.3d 46, 54 (2d
Cir.2000), the exclusion of these two witnesses does not
provide a basis for a new trial or amended judgment.
Alston's request to subpoena Commissioner Semple as a
witness was properly denied. In its pre-trial order on August
11, 2016, the Court explained that the testimony of
Commissioner Semple was “unnecessary in light of the
narrow issues presented in this case.” 8/11/2016 Order,
ECF No. 333. According to Mr. Alston, Commissioner Semple
would have testified about general Department of Corrections
(“DOC”) guidelines governing in-cell restraint