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Jones v. Allen

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 23, 2017

GARY ALLEN et al, Defendants.


          Paula Xinis United States District Judge.

         Pending are Defendants' motion for a new trial or remittitur (ECF No. 137) and Plaintiffs motion for attorneys' fees (ECF No. 133). The issues are fully briefed and the Court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 because no hearing is necessary. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion is DENIED and Plaintiffs Motion is GRANTED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Darren Kevin Jones ("Plaintiff or "'Jones") filed his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action and related Maryland state law claims against Prince George's County police officers Joseph Bunce, Gregory Powell, and Gary Allen, claiming that on April 5, 2014, he was unjustifiably shot by Officers Allen and Powell. ECF No. 1. On September 15, 2016, the Court granted summary judgment in the Defendants' favor, dismissing Plaintiffs claims of malicious prosecution and all claims against Defendant Bunce. ECF Nos. 53, 54. The Court denied Defendants" motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs claims of excessive force, battery and wanton negligence. See ECF Nos. 53, 54. Trial commenced on October 25, 2016. During trial, Plaintiff dismissed all remaining Maryland state law claims, leaving only the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim of excessive force for the jury's deliberation.

         According to the evidence presented at trial, on April 5, 2014, Plaintiff accompanied Carlos Barksdale ("Barksdale") to a residence located at 8610 Temple Hills Drive in Clinton, Maryland for the purpose of retrieving an all-terrain vehicle which Plaintiff intended to borrow. The residence was that of Andrea Battle (•'Battle"), the Barksdale's estranged girlfriend and the mother of Barksdale's child. Barksdale drove to Battle's home in a black Honda with Plaintiff in the front passenger seat. When Battle noticed that Barksdale was on her property, she telephoned the police.

         Defendants Allen and Powell responded to this service call for a purported burglary at the residence. After parking across the street from the residence, Defendants walked towards the house and saw Plaintiff moving towards the Honda that Barksdale had parked in the driveway. Allen and Powell commanded Plaintiff to stop. Plaintiff did not heed the Officers' commands and instead jumped into the front passenger seat as Barksdale drove out of the driveway and down the street.

         Defendants testified that Barksdale drove the vehicle toward the officers at least initially, and that Officer Allen had been clipped by the car as it drove away. The undisputed physical evidence revealed that the Officers fired on the vehicle, and at least some of the bullets entered the car as it was moving away from Defendants. Plaintiff was shot four times, with one bullet entering through his back, and others hitting his hand and the side of his leg.

         Defendants returned to their police vehicle and chased Barksdale's car, but eventually lost sight of it. Barksdale dropped off Plaintiff at a nearby bank parking lot where Plaintiffs friends were waiting for him. Barksdale then drove away and was not apprehended by law enforcement at that time. Plaintiff testified that as he exited the vehicle at the bank, he had serious trouble breathing, was unable to walk, and believed that he was dying. Plaintiffs friends drove him to the hospital where he was treated and placed in police custody.

         At the hospital, Plaintiff was immediately stabilized, then had to undergo exploratory surgery to his abdomen as well as reconstructive surgery to his hand. Doctors Christine Trankiem and Derek Masden both testified at length regarding the nature and extent of Plaintiff s injuries, the period of recovery, and the physical damage that Plaintiff endured. In addition, the jury observed Plaintiffs permanent scars to his hand, abdomen, flank and leg.

         Plaintiff also testified to his pain and suffering as a result of the incident and during his recovery, which included battling insomnia, nightmares, and depression. Plaintiffs girlfriend testified to caring for Plaintiff following his physical injuries and corroborated Plaintiffs mental anguish stemming from the shooting.

         The jury returned a verdict finding both Defendants liable for using excessive force against Plaintiff in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Jury Verdict, ECF No. 129. The jury awarded $601, 234.18 in compensatory damages and no punitive damages. Id. Judgment was entered on November 16, 2016 against Defendants Allen and Powell, jointly and severally, in the amount of $601, 234.18 pursuant to Federal Rule of Procedure 54(b). ECF No. 132.

         Defendants now move the Court for a new trial and, alternatively, for remittitur of the jury award pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff moves for attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The Court will address the motions in turn.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Defendant's Motion for a New Trial

         Following a jury trial, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) allows the court to grant a new trial on all or some issues "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). "Because every litigant is entitled to one fair trial, not two, the decision of whether to grant or deny a motion for a new trial lies within the discretion of the district court." Wallace v. Poulos, 861 F.Supp.2d 587, 599 (D. Md. 2012) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). See also King v. McMillan, 594 F.3d 301, 314 (4th Cir. 2010). The court must exercise its discretion to grant a new trial only if the verdict "(1) is against the clear weight of the evidence, (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." Wallace, 861 F.Supp.2d at 599 (citing Knussman v. Maryland, 272 F.3d 625, 639 (4th Cir. 2001)). Such a motion should be granted only when it "is reasonably clear that prejudicial error has crept into the record or that substantial justice has not been done." Pathways Psychosocial v. Town o/Leonardtown, Md., 223 F.Supp.2d 699, 706 (D. Md. 2002).

         1. The Jury Instruction on Seizure

         Defendants first challenge the Court's jury instruction on seizure. At the outset, the Court notes that Defendants did not object to the instruction they now challenge. See Oct. 28, 2016 Charging Conference Tr.. ECF No. 152 at 28-32; Oct. 31, 2016 Charging Conference Tr., ECF No. 153 at 4-10. Preservation of an objection requires the party to state "distinctly the matter objected to and the grounds for the objection" on the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 51(c). Accord Maltison v. Dallas Carrier Corp., 947 F.2d 95, 112 (4th Cir. 1991) ("[T]o preserve an objection to the instructions to the jury, a party is required to point out specifically the nature of the objection."). While "a formal exception to a ruling or order is unnecessary... [and] a party need only state the action that it wants the court to take or objects to, along with the grounds for the request or objection." Fed.R.Civ.P. 46, the party still must make the district court "fully aware" of the party's position. City of Richmond, Va. v. Madison Mgmt. Grp., Inc., 918 F.2d 438, 453 (4th Cir. 1990). Failure to object to issues relating to jury instructions results in a waiver of those objections for the purposes of a motion for new trial and appeal. Id. at 453-54; cf. Belk, Inc. v. Meyer Corp., U.S., 679 F.3d 146, 154 n.6 (4th Cir. 2012), as amended (M&y 9, 2012) (finding appellant "waived its challenge to any jury instructions ... by failing to preserve the issue for appellate review by neglecting to make timely and sufficient objections to the court's charge below.").

         Defendants now claim that the jury instruction on seizure was erroneous. Notably, throughout the trial, Plaintiff argued that the issue of seizure was a question of law for the Court to decide rather than the jury, see e.g., Oct. 31, 2016 Charging Conference Tr., ECF No. 153 at 10. Consistent with the Court's views, Defendants contend that whether Plaintiff was seized, thus triggering his Fourth Amendment rights, was a question of fact for jury determination. See e.g., Trial Tr., ECF No. 150 at 79-80; ECF No. 152 at 24-27. The Court accordingly granted ...

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