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Jordan v. Iverson Mall Ltd. Partnership

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

May 25, 2018

BYRON JORDAN, et al., Plaintiffs,



         This case proceeded to trial on a claim of battery against Defendants Iverson Mall Limited Partnership ("IMLP") and Defendant Professional 50 States Protection of DC LLC ("Pro50") and a claim arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Prince George's County on a theory of bystander liability. The case stemmed, in relevant part, from allegations that while being placed under arrest by officers with the Prince George's County Police Department at Iverson Mall, Plaintiff Byron Jordan was punched in the face by a mall security officer employed by Pro50. On January 24, 2018. the jury returned a verdict finding no liability as to Prince George's County and its officers, but finding Defendants IMLP and Pro50 liable for battery and awarding compensatory and punitive damages against both. Several motions were raised before. during and after trial that are now pending, including Defendants' Motion for Sanctions. ECF No. 193: and IMLP and Pro50's Motion and Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law. ECF No. 234. Some of these issues were discussed during trial, but no further hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016).

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion for Sanctions (ECF Nos. 192, 193)

         On December 4. 2017, Defendants filed a Motion for Sanctions. ECF Nos. 192. 193.[1] Defendants argue that Plaintiffs failed to comply with the Court's March 17. 2017 Order establishing pretrial dates and deadlines, along with Local Rule 106.3. ECF No. 193 at 3-4. Specifically, they argue that "Plaintiffs had the responsibility to prepare the first draft of the pretrial order 14 days prior [to] the date on which the pretrial order must be filed." Plaintiffs "failed to do so." and default judgment in favor of Defendants is an appropriate remedy. Id. at 4-8. Plaintiffs did not respond to Defendants' motion in writing.

         A sanction of default judgment in favor of the defense or dismissal with prejudice is an "extreme sanction." the district court has a "narrow" "range of discretion" in applying such a sanction, and such a sanction should be used in "only the most flagrant case." Mitt. Fed. Sen: & Loan Ass'n v. Richards & Ass0CS., Inc.. 872 F.2d 88. 92 (4th Cir. 1989). The Court must determine "(1) whether the noncomplying party acted in bad faith; (2) the amount of prejudice his noncompliance caused his adversary, which necessarily includes an inquiry into the materiality of the evidence he failed to produce: (3) the need for deterrence of the particular sort of noncompliance: and (4) the effectiveness of less drastic sanctions." Id.

         The circumstances here do not warrant the dismissal of this case with prejudice, or the granting of default judgment in favor of the Defendants. Defendants claim that they "have sustained prejudice" because "[t]his case has been ongoing for over four years" and Plainitffs "'have repeatedly slowed this litigation process with claims that were ultimately abandoned or were dismissed outright for failure to state a claim." ECF No. 193 at 7. While Plaintiffs did miss certain pre-trial deadlines, these oversights occurred at or around the time Plaintiffs' counsel was seeking to have the trial postponed because of difficulties with her office space. Although any missed deadlines are frowned upon by the Court, there was no bad faith and the Court finds there was no prejudice caused by the delayed submissions. Thus. Defendants are not entitled to a sanction of dismissal or an order of default judgment and the Motion for Sanctions is denied.

         B. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (ECF No. 235)

         Ted era! Rule of Civil Procedure 5()(a) provides that "[i]f a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue, the court may ... grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party." "When the court defers ruling on such a motion. Rule 50(b) allows a party to renew it after the jury returns a verdict." Huskey v. Ethicon, inc., 848 F.3d 151, 156 (4th Cir.). cert, denied. 138 S.Ct. 107 (2017). "Judgment as a matter of law is proper when, without weighing the credibility of the evidence, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the proper judgment. The movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the nonmoving party failed to make a showing on an essential element of his case with respect to which he had the burden of proof." Singer v. Durtgan, 45 F.3d 823, 826-27 (4th Cir. 1995) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         At the close of Plaintiffs case-in-chief. Defendants made a Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law on two primary issues. See ECF No. 243 at 31. Defendants argued first that "there's been no evidence that the people [Mrs. Jordan] saw [punching Mr. Jordan] were actually employed by Pro50"' or Iverson Mall Limited Partnership. Id.[2] The Defendants also argued that Plaintiffs' medical experts had not testified to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, thereby making their opinion testimony inadmissible, and that, as a result, there was no evidence that any injuries suffered by Mr. Jordan were caused by the events of May 4. 2013. ECT No, 243 at 36, The Court took the Motion under advisement, and reserved ruling; however, the Court later noted that in deciding the Motion it would only consider evidence that had been introduced at the time the Motion was made at the conclusion of the Plaintiffs" case-in-chief. Id. at 125. The Defendants renewed their Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law at the close of Defendants" case-in-chief. Id. at 124. At that point, again, the Court took the Motion under advisement, and reserved ruling. Id. at 128.

         Following the close of trial and the jury's verdict, the Court welcomed additional written submissions from the parties on the pending Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law. On February 8. 2018. Plaintiffs submitted their briefing. ECF No. 233. and on February 20. 2018. Defendants submitted theirs. ECF No. 235. Plaintiffs subsequently responded on March 6, 2018. ECF No. 238. to which Defendants replied on March 16. 2018, ECF No. 246.[3] These submissions addressed whether IMLP is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs" battery claim, whether Pro50 is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs" battery claim, the award of punitive damages, and whether Plaintiffs' expert testimony was proper. The Court addresses these issues in turn.

         i. Judgment Against Iverson Mall Limited Partnership

         While Plaintiffs alleged that Pro50 and Prince George's County employees were the ones who caused harm to Mr. Jordan, they additionally seek liability from 1MLP. arguing that IMLP is vicariously liable under a theory of respondeat superior. See ECF No. 152 at 14 ("iverson Mall is liable for PRO5O"s battery because PRO50 was acting within the scope of its employment with Iverson Mall."). Under this theory, "an employer may be found liable for torts committed by its employee while acting in the scope of employment." Asphalt & Concrete Servs.. Inc. v. Perry, 108 A.3d 558. 580 (Md.App. 2015), aff'd 133 A.3d 1143 (Md. 2016). Respondeat superior "only applies when the relation (if master and servant, employer and employee or principal and agent is shown to exist between the wrongdoer and the person sought to be charged for the result of the wrong." Hoerr v. Hanline. 149 A, 2d 378, 381 (Md. 1959). In assessing whether an employer/employee relationship exists between two parties. Maryland courts consider: (I) the power to select and hire the employee. (2) the payment of wages. (3) the power to discharge. (4) the power to control the employee's conduct, and (5) whether the work is part of the regular business of the employer. Asphalt & Concrete Servs.. Inc. v. Perry. 108 A.3d 558. 580 (Md.App. 2015), aff'd 133 A.3d 1143 (Md. 2016).

         Defendants seek judgment as a matter of law in favor of IMLP. arguing that "Plaintiffs introduced no testimony or documents regarding IMLP, the type of organization that it is, the nature of its business, whether it owns any property, how it was connected to the events giving rise to this case, what, if any, relationship it has to the Iverson Mall building, or what, if any. relationship it has with Pro50." ECF No. 235-1 at 12. Plaintiffs argue that '"IMLP cannot argue post-trial that it is not a proper party to this suit, because it waived that argument very early in this litigation." ECF No. 233 at 3. See also ECF No. 238 at 3-5. Plaintiffs further argue that "the record powerfully shows that IMLP is synonymous with Iverson Mall." id. at 4. and goes on to reference "evidence presented at the damages portion of the trial that IMLP owned and operated Iverson Mall." Id. ...

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