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Humphrey v. Crea

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 6, 2019



          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Darnell Humphrey sued four police officers-Renato Crea, Anthony Tanganelli, Michael Silva, and Juan Rivera-alleging that they violated his rights under federal and state law. Doc. #13. The lawsuit stemmed from an encounter that Humphrey had with the police officer defendants after he left a bar late one night in Waterbury, Connecticut. Humphrey alleged claims for false arrest, excessive force, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and malicious prosecution.

         The case proceeded to trial in September 2018, and the jury returned a verdict concluding that Humphrey had proven his claims against Crea for the use of excessive force and for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Doc. #72. The jury awarded compensatory damages of $38, 000 against Crea as well as $30, 000 of punitive damages against Crea in connection with the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury otherwise concluded that Humphrey had not proven any of the remaining claims against Crea or any of the claims against the three other police officer defendants. The parties have filed post-trial motions, and I will consider each motion in turn.

         Humphrey's motion to alter judgment or for new trial on damages

         Humphrey moves to alter the judgment or to order a new trial on damages. Doc. #77. According to Humphrey, the jury's compensatory damages award was flawed because the jury overlooked evidence of $121, 158.05 in medical-related bills that Humphrey introduced into evidence. I note at the outset that Humphrey's motion is complicated by his failure to order trial transcripts and to cite to relevant portions of the record to support his characterizations of what the evidence shows. See Carlton v. C.O. Pearson, 384 F.Supp.3d 382 (W.D.N.Y. 2019) (“Generally speaking, specific reliance upon the trial transcript is necessary to demonstrate one's entitlement to relief on a Rule 59 motion based upon determinations made at trial.”).

         Rule 59(a)(1)(A) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for the grant of a new trial after a jury verdict “for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court.” The Court may not disturb the jury's verdict under Rule 59 unless it is convinced that the jury reached a seriously erroneous result or that its verdict was otherwise a miscarriage of justice. See Ali v. Kipp, 891 F.3d 59, 64 (2d Cir. 2018). When confronted with competing interpretations of the evidence and the jury's findings, the Court must examine the record to determine whether it is possible to harmonize the jury's verdict with a reasonable view of the trial evidence. Id. at 65-66. The Court gives a high degree of deference to the jury's evaluation of witness credibility; jury verdicts should only rarely be overturned. See ING Glob. v. United Parcel Serv. Oasis Supply Corp., 757 F.3d 92, 97-98 (2d Cir. 2014).[1]

         As to the jury's decision not to award Humphrey his medical expenses, I am not convinced that the jury reached a seriously erroneous result or that its verdict was otherwise a miscarriage of justice. I reach this conclusion in part because the trial evidence left it uncertain whether Crea was responsible for the specific physical injuries to Humphrey that are the basis for his claimed medical expenses. Although Humphrey testified that Crea taunted him and then tried to bring him to the ground, Humphrey said he was struck by more than one officer and did not identify Crea as the person who inflicted the most serious blow that he received: the impact of a hard object to his eye that resulted in his hospitalization and extensive medical bills. For his part, Crea testified that he struck Humphrey in the head in self-defense, but the jury could reasonably have doubted whether it was Crea-rather than one of the other defendants-who inflicted the specific injuries to Humphrey that prompted the call for an ambulance, his subsequent hospitalization, and follow-up medical treatment.

         Even if there were no doubt that it was Crea alone who inflicted the blow(s) that resulted in the claimed medical expenses, the jury's verdict against Crea for the use of excessive force may have been based solely on Crea's acknowledgment that he initially tackled Humphrey to the ground rather than on any subsequent blows by Crea to Humphrey's body. The jury may have concluded that any subsequent blows were not excessive in light of evidence of Humphrey's inebriation and resistance (or Crea's reasonable perception of such resistance).

         The fact that the jury did not return a liability verdict against any of the three other defendants does not undermine this conclusion. If the jury was uncertain which of any of the defendants inflicted a particular blow, then the jury naturally could have concluded that Humphrey failed to carry his burden of proof as to any particular defendant.

         All in all, it is possible to reasonably harmonize the trial evidence with the jury's damages verdict that excluded an award for medical expenses, and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to grant a new trial. See Ali, 891 F.3d at 65 (affirming district court's denial of Rule 59 motion for new damages trial in case involving excessive force claim against police; “[t]he jury heard two different accounts of what transpired when Sergeant Kipp placed Ali in the cell, ” and “[t]he jury was free to conclude that the truth lay somewhere between these two versions of the relevant events, ” such that the jury could have concluded there was excessive force when the defendant initially brought the plaintiff into the cell but not excessive force as plaintiff claimed thereafter).

         The jury's verdict findings are consistent with the view that the jury elected to award damages solely for actions other than those leading to Humphrey's medical expenses. The jury was instructed that any compensatory damages award may include economic damages and non-economic damages. Doc. #71 at 22. As to economic damages, the jury was instructed without objection that “[i]ncluded within your damages calculation if you decide to award damages should be compensation for any economic damages (such as loss of wages or any other out-of-pocket expenses) suffered by Mr. Humphrey if these damages were proximately caused by the unlawful conduct of any of the defendants.” Ibid. Notwithstanding the introduction into evidence of Humphrey's many medical bills, the jury decided not to award Humphrey any economic damages. Doc. #72 at 5.[2]

         As to non-economic damages, the jury was instructed that it may “award compensation for any non-economic injuries of emotional distress and suffering, humiliation, personal indignity, fear, anxiety, and anguish solely to the extent that such harm was the result of unlawful conduct.” Doc. #71 at 22. The jury chose to award $38, 000 to Humphrey in non-economic damages against Crea. Doc. #72 at 5.

         Moreover, the jury was not asked to allocate its award of compensatory damages to any particular cause of action, and so there is no way to know how much of its award of $38, 000 in non-economic damages was specific to the claim for excessive force as distinct from the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. By contrast, as to the jury's further award of $30, 000 in punitive damages against Crea, the jury specifically assessed this award as to the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress only, rather than to the claim for the use of excessive force. Doc. #72 at 6. Taken together, the jury's findings are consistent with a possibility that the jury based its damages verdict solely on Crea's taunting of Humphrey and tackling him to the ground rather than Crea's infliction of particular blows that caused medical expenses.

         Humphrey argues in the alternative that the Court should simply enter an amended judgment to include $121, 158.05 in medical costs. But the federal courts do not have “additur” authority to revise a jury's verdict to increase an award of damages. See Dimick v. Schiedt, 293 U.S. 474, 482 (1935); Elyse v. Bridgeside Inc., 367 Fed.Appx. 266, 267 (2d Cir. 2010) (collecting cases). Although Humphrey argues that there is an exception to this rule that allows a court to “simply adjust[] the jury award to account for a discrete item that manifestly should have been part of the damage calculations and as to whose amount there is no dispute, ” Liriano v. Hobart Corp., 170 F.3d 264, 272 (2d Cir. 1999), for the reasons I have just described the evidence is not “manifestly” clear that Humphrey's medical bills should have been part of the jury's verdict. See also Hugo Boss Fashions, Inc. v. Fed. Ins. Co., 252 F.3d 608, 624 n.17 (2d Cir. 2001) (“Additur is an appropriate remedy only ...

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