United States District Court, D. Connecticut
FABIAN EDWARDS, KENVILLE EDWARDS, KEITH MITTO, and ELIZABETH EDWARDS, Plaintiffs,
MATTHEW CORNELL, CHRISTOPHER MAY, ERIC BAUMGARTEN, and THE CITY OF HARTFORD Defendants.
RULING AND ORDER
WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL United States Magistrate Judge
civil rights action, plaintiffs Fabian Edwards, Kenville
Edwards, Keith Mitto, and Elizabeth Edwards bring claims
against the City of Hartford and Harford police officers
Matthew Cornell, Christopher May, and Eric Baumgarten. The
plaintiffs assert various federal and state claims stemming
from an interaction they had with the officers at their home
on June 14, 2012. The matter proceeded to a jury trial
against Officer Cornell, Officer May, and Officer Baumgarten
in December 2016. After the close of the plaintiffs'
case, the officers made a Rule 50 Motion for Judgment as a
Matter of Law on all counts. The Court denied the motion. The
jury found in favor Officer Baumgarten on claims brought by
Keith Mitto and Elizabeth Edwards. The jury also found in
favor of Officer Cornell on claims brought by Kenville
Edwards and in favor of Officer May on claims brought by
Fabian Edwards. The jury failed to reach a verdict on the
excessive force claim brought by Fabian Edwards against
Officer Cornell and on the excessive force claim brought by
Kenville Edwards against Officer May. Officers Cornell and
May now move for judgment as a matter of law on the excessive
force claims, the only claims remaining in this case. For the
reasons that follow, the Motion for Judgment as a Matter of
Law is denied.
50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for the
entry of judgment as a matter of law if a jury returns a
verdict for which there is no legally sufficient evidentiary
basis. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50. “A district
court may not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law
unless the evidence is such that, 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.” This Is Me, Inc. v. Taylor, 157 F.3d
139, 142 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal quotations marks omitted).
The standard under Rule 50(b) is not one of strength or
weakness of the evidence; rather, “the evidence must be
such that a reasonable juror would have been
compelled to accept the view of the moving
party.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted)
(emphasis added). In short, judgment as a matter of law may
not be granted unless
(1) there is such a complete absence of evidence supporting
the verdict that the jury's findings could only have been
the result of sheer surmise and conjecture, or
(2) there is such an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor
of the movant that reasonable and fair minded [persons] could
not arrive at a verdict against [it].
Galdieri-Ambrosini v. Nat'l Realty & Dev.
Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 289 (2d Cir. 1998). In determining
whether judgment as a matter of law is appropriate,
“the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor
of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility
determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v.
Sanderson Plumbing Prod., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150
Fourth Amendment prohibits the use of excessive force by a
police officer in effecting an arrest. The determination of
whether an officer's use of force is reasonable
“requires a careful balancing of the nature and quality
of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment
interests against the countervailing governmental interests
at stake.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396
(1989). The law is clear that some degree of force is
permitted in effectuating a lawful arrest; thus, “not
every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in
the peace of a judge's chambers, violates the Fourth
Amendment.” Id. (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). The question is whether the
officer's use of force was objectively reasonable.
Id. at 397. The reasonableness test “requires
careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each
particular case, including the severity of the crime at
issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the
safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively
resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by
flight.” Id. at 396. The reasonableness
inquiry asks whether the officers' actions are
objectively reasonable “in light of the facts and
circumstances confronting them, without regard to their
underlying intent or motivation.” Id. at 397.
“In sum, the ‘standard' to be applied in
determining whether ‘the amount of force' used
exceeded the amount that was ‘necessary' in the
particular circumstances is ‘reasonableness at the
moment.'” Rogoz v. City of Hartford, 796
F.3d 236, 247 (2d Cir. 2015) (citing Graham, 490
U.S. at 396-97).
defendants claim that no reasonable jury could find that
Officer Cornell used excessive force against Fabian Edwards.
The Court disagrees. This is a case about credibility. At
trial, the plaintiffs and the defendants gave conflicting
accounts as to what happened on June 14, 2012. The accounts
diverge from the very beginning: Fabian asserts that an
officer pushed him into a local store before the events that
took place at the Edwards's home. The officers deny any
such push. The parties present differing accounts of use of a
Taser: Fabian testified as to having the Taser used on him
several times; the officers maintain that the Taser never
came into contact with Fabian's body. In evaluating the
evidence, a reasonable jury could find that at some point
during the incident Officer Cornell's use of force was
the defendants claim that no reasonable jury could find that
Officer May used excessive force against Kenville Edwards.
Again, the Court disagrees. Here, too, the factual accounts
differ greatly. The testimony adduced at trial provides
competing accounts of the level of force Officer May used, of
the response of Kenville, and of the roles of the other
officers. A reasonable jury could find support for
Kenville's claim that Officer May's use of force was
unreasonable in light of his level of resistance.
instances, it is a matter of whom the jury believes. The
Court, in this case, cannot take that decision away from it.
excessive force cases, the jury need not “dissect a
police encounter into its separate components… or view
each specific act taken by police officers in
isolation.” Rickettes v. Turton, No.
12-CV-6427(SMG), 2015 WL 3868070, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. June 23,
2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The
jury must “pay careful attention to the facts and
circumstances of the incident and determine whether, in light
of the totality of the circumstances, the officers acted
reasonably.” (Id.) (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted). Here, a reasonable jury could find
that certain actions of the officers were unreasonable.
cases such as this, where the parties present conflicting
accounts of how much force was used and in what manner,
resolution of the conflicting versions of events are for a
jury, and are not to be resolved on a motion for judgment as
a matter of law. Robison v. Via, 821 F.2d 913, 924
(2d Cir. 1987) (citing generally Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) 1963
advisory committee note; Agosto v. INS, 436 U.S.
748, 756 (1978); Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System,
Inc.,368 U.S. 464, 472-73 (1962); Centronics