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Ghazzaoui v. Anne Arundel County

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

June 6, 2018



          GEORGE J. HAZEL United States District Judge

         Pro se Plaintiff Ramez Ghazzaoui failed to obtain a favorable jury verdict in his action against Defendants Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Anne Arundel County Police Officer Dwayne Raiford and Corporal Doyle Holquist ("Defendants") following an altercation between Ghazzaoui and the officers in Ghazzaoui's home. Ghazzaoui has tiled three motions, all asking the Court to overturn the jury's verdict and grant him a new trial. See ECF Nos. 144. 145. 146. Defendants have filed a Response in Opposition to Ghazzaoui's motions, ECF No. 147. to which he has not replied. No hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Ghazzaoui's motions are denied.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         The altercation between Ghazzaoui and the officers underlying Ghazzaoui's motions herein occurred shortly before midnight on April 26. 2013. when the officers were dispatched to Ghazzaoui's residence and observed an open garage containing a vehicle with open doors. The officers then entered Ghazzaoui's residence, found Ghazzaoui asleep in his bed. and asked to see his driver's license to confirm that he was permitted to be in the residence. During this exchange. the parties got into a physical altercation that ultimately led to Ghazzaoui's injury and arrest.

         As a result of this interaction. Ghazzaoui was charged with obstructing and hindering a police officer in the performance of his lawful duties, resisting arrest, failing to obey a reasonable and lawful order of a law enforcement officer, and causing physical injury in the second degree to a law enforcement officer engaged in his official duties. Subsequent to his arrest, the District Court for Anne Arundel County ("District Court") acquitted Ghazzaoui on the charge of failing to obey a reasonable and lawful order and granted Ghazzaoui Probation Before Judgment on the remaining charges. Ghazzaoui appealed the District Court's ruling to the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, and the remaining charges were ultimately disposed of in his favor, either by jury verdict or dismissal.

         Following resolution of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF Nos. 10 and 58. as well as review by the Fourth Circuit. ECF No. 74, [2] Ghazzaoui's remaining claims were as follows: claims against Raiford for excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, assault, battery, and malicious prosecution and claims against Holquist for assault and battery. The Court held a motions hearing on November 20. 2017 and a three day jury trial on November 28-30. 2017. During the motions hearing, the Court adjudicated a number of pre-trial issues. Specifically, the Court ruled that the parties could not present testimony related to Ghazzaoui's prior criminal proceedings in the District Court. Although the District Court initially convicted Ghazzaoui on some of the charges brought against him. the convictions were overturned, in part, based on a finding that Raiford had perjured himself during those proceedings. The Court determined that a review of the procedural history at the District Court, along with Raiford's purported perjury, would likely confuse the jury without having any probative value and ruled that these issues were therefore irrelevant.[3] In addition, the Court ruled that testimony on any prior civil actions relating to Ghazzaoui's disputes with his former spouse was also irrelevant.[4]

         At trial. Defendants' attorney. Philip Culpepper. cross examined Ghazzaoui and. relevant to Ghazzaoui's motions herein, asked two notable questions[5] First. Culpepper asked "You don't let people get away with misconduct by suing them whenever someone does something that you don't like?" The Court sustained Ghazzaoui's immediate objection. During a conference at the bench, removed from the jury. Culpepper argued that he did not intend to discuss Ghazzaoui's prior civil actions against his former spouse but rather sought to establish that Ghazzaoui had a history of litigious behavior. However, the Court determined that such facts were irrelevant, and Culpepper ended that line of questioning.

         Second. Culpepper asked, "You testified that you were exonerated of all criminal charges, but the District Court actually found you guilty?" Ghazzaoui immediately objected and requested another conference at the bench, where he requested that the Court declare a mistrial. Culpepper opposed Ghazzaoui's objection and argued that Ghazzaoui had opened the door to this line of questioning when he previously stated that he had been acquitted of one charge by the District Court. However, the Court determined that Ghazzaoui's statement was technically correct and. consistent with the earlier motions hearing, stated that further discussion of the District Court proceedings was irrelevant. After sustaining Ghazzaoui's objection, the Court instructed the jury as follows: "I am going to sustain the objection of Mr. Ghazzaoui, you are to disregard the question that was asked regarding a supposed guilty finding by the District Court. You are to completely disregard that."

         Prior to the start of the trial day on November 30. 2017. Ghazzaoui again asked the Court to reconsider his request for a mistrial and requested that the Court permit him to explain to the jury that the District Court never found him guilty of any charges; rather, he received Probation Before Judgment and then appealed the finding to the Circuit Court, where he was ultimately exonerated. The Court denied Ghazzaoui's request and stated the following: "I instructed the jury to disregard the statement. I think it was a sufficient curative instruction, and I don't think going further into those weeds makes things better. I think it would only make things messier and more confusing." At the close of trial, the jury deliberated and found Defendants not liable on all claims. See ECF No. 139. Thereafter, the Court entered Judgment in favor of Defendants. See ECF No. 142.


         Though Ghazzaoui has tiled three separate motions for relief, each motion sets forth the same arguments, verbatim. Ghazzaoui argues that the jury's verdict was wrong, tainted by defense counsel's conduct during the trial, and that the Court improperly prohibited Ghazzaoui from entering evidence to rebut defense counsel's purported misconduct. See ECF Nos. 144 (Motion for Relief for Judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(3)): 145 (Motion for New Trial pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)); 146 (Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(c). Ghazzaoui does not set forth the legal standards underlying any of his three requested avenues of relief, but the Court finds that his arguments are most appropriately construed as a Motion for a New Trial pursuant to Rule 59(a).

         Rule 59(a) provides that a court may grant a new trial "for any reason which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). A new trial should only be granted 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 v. Poulos, 861 F.Supp.2d 587. 599 (D. Md. 2012) (citing Knussman v. Maryland, 272 F.3d 625. 639 (4th Cir. 2001)): see also King v. McMillan, 594 F.3d 301, 314 (4th Cir. 2010) (the decision to grant a motion for a new trial lies within the discretion of the district court).

         In contrast. Rule 59(e) provides that a court may alter or amend a final judgment to correct a clear error of law and prevent manifest injustice. See Gagliano v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 547 F.3d 230. 241 n.8 (4th Cir. 2008) (also noting that Rule 59(e) may be used to accommodate an intervening change in law or account for new evidence not available at trial). And Rule 60(b)(3) provides that a court may relieve a party from a final judgment for fraud. misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party.

         Here. Ghazzaoui essentially asks the Court to re-consider its evidentiary rulings made during trial, making Rule 59(e) an inappropriate procedural rule to utilize. See Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co.,148 F.3d 396. 403 (4th Cir. 1998) (quoting 11 Wright, et al.. Federal Practice and Procedure § 2810.1. at 127-28 (2d ed. 1995) ("[t]he Rule 59(e) motion may not be used to relitigate old matters")). Similarly, "Rule 60(b) does not authorize a motion merely for reconsideration of a legal issue." United Stales v. Williams, 674 F.2d 310. 312-13 (4th Cir. 1982). Furthermore, though Ghazzaoui alleges that Culpepper's actions were done "knowingly and maliciously." ECF No. 145 ΒΆ 10. the record shows that Culpepper's attempts to ask questions relating to Ghazzaoui's prior civil suits or criminal charges was not done in an effort to prejudice the jury or defy the Court's prior instructions; rather, the questions were asked in response to statements made during Ghazzaoui's direct ...

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