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Edwards v. Arnone

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 30, 2019

M.A. EDWARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER ARNONE et al., Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANT’S RENEWED MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW AND MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL AND REMITTITUR

          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         M. A. Edwards (“Edwards”) filed this Section 1983 civil action against former Connecticut Department of Corrections (“DOC”) Commissioner Leo Arnone and various prison officials (“Defendants”) at Northern Correctional Institution (“Northern”), asserting that the Defendants violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Specifically, Edwards alleged that the Defendants denied him any meaningful opportunity to exercise by requiring him to recreate in full restraints while he was in Phase 1 of the Administrative Segregation (“AS”) Program at Northern.

         The case proceeded to a jury trial against Warden Quiros (“Quiros”) and Deputy Warden Lauren Powers (“Powers”).[1] On December 19, 2018, after a three-day trial, the jury ruled in Edwards’ favor, finding that Quiros violated Edwards’ constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.[2] The jury awarded Edwards $500, 000 in compensatory damages and $250, 000 in punitive damages.

         Quiros now challenges that verdict and award, moving for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b), or, in the alternative, for a new trial under Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Mem. in Supp. Mot. for Judgment/Mot. for New Trial (“Def’s Mot.”) (Doc. No. 188-1). Quiros asserts five grounds in support of his motion: (1) Edwards failed to present evidence that Quiros violated his Eighth Amendment rights; (2) Quiros is protected by qualified immunity; (3) there was no evidence to support an award of punitive damages; (4) the jury instructions improperly shifted the burden of proof to the Defendants to prove that there were no other alternatives to recreating Edwards in full restraints; and (5) remittitur of compensatory and punitive damages is appropriate. For the reasons set forth below, Quiros’ motion for judgment as a matter of law is granted.

         II. Background

         Edwards has been incarcerated in Connecticut for the past twenty-two years after being convicted of murder. Trial Tr. at 375. He was transferred to Northern, a level 5 maximum security prison, on September 21, 2010 after assaulting a correctional officer at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution. Trial Tr. at 37, 82. When Edwards arrived at Northern, Quiros was the Warden and the facility’s highest ranking official. Trial Tr. at 39–40, 51.

         Northern housed inmates who were involved in the DOC’s AS program. See Trial Tr. at 231–32. The purpose of the AS program was to reacclimate inmates who were charged with violent infractions in other DOC facilities back to general population. Trial Tr. at 72–74. The AS program at Northern was conducted in three phases. Trial Tr. at 72–73. An inmate would begin in Phase I, the most restrictive phase, where his behavior would be closely monitored by DOC staff. Trial Tr. at 73, 202. Inmates in Phase I were in “full restraints” when outside of their cells, which Qurios described as “handcuffs behind the back, leg irons applied to the ankles, and a tether chain applied to the handcuff and the leg iron.” Trial Tr. 42, 203. Quiros testified that Phase I is a “cool-down period so that the offender can come to term[s] that he’s been assigned, classified to Northern; that in order to go back to general population, he’s going to have to participate in the programs.” Id. Inmates are kept in Phase I for approximately six months, until a progression hearing to determine if they can move to Phase II. Id.

         Phase II is somewhat less restrictive than Phase I. Trial Tr. at 203. During Phase II, inmates are in handcuffs for the first thirty days and are assigned to small groups of four to eight inmates for programming and recreation. Id. After Phase II, an inmate would progress to Phase III, the least restrictive phase. Id. In Phase III, inmates would eat meals in the day room and have more opportunities for out-of-cell recreation and programming. Trial Tr. at 203–04. Upon successful completion of Phase III, an inmate would be transferred out of Northern back to general population. Trial Tr. at 76.

         To accommodate the AS program, Northern was divided into three sections to house inmates from each phase. Trial Tr. at 207. Inmates in Phase I were housed in Unit One (“the 1s”), inmates in Phase II were housed in Unit 2 (“the 2s”), and inmates in Phase 3 were housed in Unit 3 (“the 3s”). See Trial Tr. at 207–10. Quiros testified that there were many differences between Units 1 and 3. Id. Unit 3 was typically quieter than Unit 1 and did not have as many doors between cells. Trial Tr. at 207. In addition, he testified that Unit 3 was much more open. Id. “The day room is open. The recreation area is open versus having the sections in the 1s. The overall unit is quieter. It’s more – mirrors more of a general population unit.” Id. Unlike the 3s, the 1s did not have open recreation. Id. Instead, inmates in Phase I were required to recreate in “secure cages” within Unit One where their restraints would be removed through trap doors after entering each cage. Trial Tr. at 258.

         From September 2010 to March 2011, Northern was described as an “extremely volatile” and “high stress” environment, due to an increase in inmate assaults on staff. Trial Tr. at 320. While Edwards was at Northern, the facility was at maximum capacity. See Trial Tr. at 93. Often there would be no available beds to house all Phase I inmates in Unit One. Id. Therefore, Northern implemented an “overflow” policy, where Phase One inmates on full restraint status would temporarily be held in Unit Three. Trial Tr. at 93. During the period when the overflow policy was in effect, Phase One inmates were required to recreate in full restraints, due to the lack of secure cages in Unit Three. Trial Tr. at 161, 258. Quiros testified that as the Warden at Northern, he had discretion at any time to modify the restraint status of any inmate. Trial Tr. at 50–51.

         Edwards arrived at Northern on September 21, 2010. See Trial Tr. at 37. He transferred to the Phase I overflow unit November 3, 2010 until March 24, 2010. Id. As a result, from September 21, 2010 to March 24, 2011, Edwards was kept in full restraints during recreation. Trial Tr. at 43. On March 5, 2011, Edwards sent an inmate request form concerning his restraint status to Quiros. See Pl’s Tr. Ex. 23. Quiros responded on March 8, 2011, denying his request. Id. On March 10, 2011, Edwards filed a formal grievance addressed to Quiros regarding his full restraint status during recreation. Pl’s Tr. Ex. 26. Edwards’ grievance stated:

I arrived at Northern on 9/21/2010. I am being forced to go to my one hour recreation fully restrained. I’m [hand] cuffed behind [my] back, my handcuffs tethered to my foot shackles. I cannot exercise like this. I would like facility to put traps on outside recreation -- rec doors so that I can be uncuffed when I go to the rec, just like I am cuffed in cell to go to rec. I have been going to rec like this for six months.

Trial Tr. at 110; Pl’s Tr. Ex. 26.

         On March 24, 2011, two weeks after filing his grievance, Edwards was transferred from Phase I to Phase II. Trial Tr. at 116. As a result, he was no longer on full restraint status during recreation in Unit Three. See Trial Tr. at 42, 257. Quiros denied Edwards’ grievance on April 11, 2011, stating “[t]he restraint policy that you referenced has been reviewed and approved and will remain in place.” Pl’s Tr. Ex. 26.

         On October 6, 2011, Edwards filed a pro se complaint in this court, asserting an Eighth Amendment claim for denial of his ability to recreate for six months because he was required to attend recreation in full restraints. See generally Compl. (Doc. No. 1). On January 9, 2014, United States District Judge Alfred V. Covello granted the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. See Doc. No. 82. Edwards appealed that ruling, (doc. no. 83) and the Second Circuit ruled in his favor, holding that “[u]nder existing clearly established case law, a reasonable juror may conclude that reasonable officers would agree that fully restraining inmates during out-of-cell exercise without an adequate safety justification is unconstitutional.” Doc. No. 87 at 6. The Defendants filed a supplemental motion for summary judgment, which Judge Covello denied on August 9, 2016. See Doc. No. 116. On December 21, 2016, Judge Covello granted Edwards’ renewed motion to appoint counsel. See Doc. No. 119. On October 20, 2017, the case was transferred to my docket. See Doc. No. 128. The case proceeded to trial on December 17, 2018. See Doc. No. 174.

         At the close of Edwards’ case, the remaining Defendants orally moved for judgment as a matter of law. See Doc. No. 176; Trial Tr. at 431–32. Quiros renewed his motion at the conclusion of evidence. See Doc. No. 179; Trial Tr. at 554. I took both motions under advisement and directed Quiros’ counsel to file an accompanying memorandum of law at a later date. See Trial Tr. at 554. I denied the Defendants’ oral motions on September 25, 2019 (doc. no. 208), in light of Quiro’s instant motion filed on January 16, 2019 (doc. no. 188).

         III. Standard of Review

          Rule 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. The standard under Rule 50 is the same as that for summary judgment: A court may not grant a Rule 50 motion 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) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, in deciding such a motion, “the court must give deference to all credibility determinations and reasonable inferences of the jury . . . and it may not itself weigh the credibility of the witnesses or consider the weight of the evidence.” Galdieri-Ambrosini v. Nat’l Realty & Dev. Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 289 (2d Cir. 1998) (citations omitted). In short, the court cannot “substitute its judgment for that of the jury.” LeBlanc-Sternberg v. Fletcher, 67 F.3d 412, 429 (2d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). Rather, judgment as a matter of law may only be granted if:

(1) there is such a complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the jury’s findings could only have been the result ...

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