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Okezie v. Officer Nicholas Leonard

United States District Court, District of Maryland

December 15, 2014

BOLARINWA OKEZIE Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER NICHOLAS LEONARD, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Charles B. Day United States Magistrate Judge

Before this Court is Plaintiff’s Motion for New Trial (“Plaintiff’s Motion”) (Docket Item No. 145). The Court has reviewed Plaintiff’s Motion and the opposition and reply thereto. No hearing is deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the following reasons, the Court hereby GRANTS Plaintiff’s Motion.

I. Legal Standard for Obtaining a New Trial

Plaintiff seeks a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule 59, which states in pertinent part that “the court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues – and to any party . . . (A) after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). Fourth Circuit law has articulated clearly that there are occasions where the court is required to do so. The law of the Fourth Circuit recently reaffirmed the requirement that district courts must set aside the verdict and grant a new trial if “(1) the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, or (2) is based upon evidence which is false, or (3) will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict.” Minter v Wells Fargo Bank, N.A ., 762 F.3d 339, 346 (4th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted). In this highly contested case, the Court does not find that the “verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, ” nor that it is “based upon evidence which is false.” The only issue that could require a new trial is the question of a “miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict.”

II. The Pretrial Stipulation

The salient issue raised by Plaintiff’s Motion is framed around a pretrial stipulation between the parties. Defendants stipulated that “Plaintiff suffered a head injury as a consequence of her arrest.” ECF No. 105, Pretrial Order, Stipulation 25, July 11, 2014. At the trial, Plaintiff presented evidence that she sustained a facial fracture and a head injury. While at times conceding that Plaintiff may have shown signs of physical injury, the defense strongly denied that Plaintiff was “injured” in any meaningful way due to the alleged wrongful conduct of Defendants.

While it could be argued that a facial fracture and a head injury on these facts are one in the same, in viewing the stipulation in the light most favorable to the defense, the Court will not consider Plaintiff’s claimed facial fracture as being synonymous with a head injury.[1] Similarly, the Court will not consider a head injury to include a “brain injury” in this case, even though a strong argument could be made. Here, the Court will only consider argument or affirmative evidence offered by the defense suggesting that Plaintiff did not suffer “any injury” or “any head injury” as a consequence of her arrest, to be a clear violation of the stipulation.

As shaped above, the stipulation is stripped of any suggestion of ambiguity or lack of clarity. The stipulation does not require any additional qualifications, such as “the manner or mechanism of injury” or even characterizations regarding fault, misconduct, or liability at the hand of Defendants. The stipulation, in its essence, removes from discussion the question of “if” Plaintiff suffered a head injury, and left many questions for trial, such as: “who” is responsible for Plaintiff’s head injury; “what” caused her head injury; “when” during the arrest was her head injured; “where” was her head injured; “how” was her head injured; and possibly “why” was her head injured? With that said, the defense correctly argues that the stipulation is not an admission of liability.

III. The Closing Argument

The trial record reveals that defense counsel made a number of statements in his closing argument that are relevant to Plaintiff’s Motion, as set forth below:

a) “This case is very simple. It’s about whether Ms. Okezie became injured.” ECF No. 145-3, Trial Tr.13:13-14, Aug. 18, 2014 (emphasis added).
b) “I will prove to you she was not injured on April 19th, 2011 at the hands of Officer Lucy Muse or Nicholas Leonard.” ECF No. 145-3, Trial Tr. 14:1-3, Aug. 18, 2014 (emphasis added).
c) “Ms. Okezie never did that because she knew then that she had no head injury . . . .” ECF No. 145-3, Trial Tr. 23:12-13, Aug. 18, 2014, (emphasis added).
d) “They did not because Ms. Okezie had been injured before April 19th, 2011.” ECF No. 145-3, Trial Tr. 24:3-4, ...

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