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WILLIAMS v. CITY OF NEWBURGH

August 25, 1993

Williams, Plaintiff,
v.
The City of Newburgh, Newburgh Community Development Agency, and Barbara Jacobs, Defendants.


FREEH


The opinion of the court was delivered by: LOUIS J. FREEH

LOUIS J. FREEH, U.S.D.J.

 In this action, plaintiff Billy G. Williams ("Williams") sought relief from defendants the City of Newburgh, the Newburgh Community Development Agency ("NCDA") (collectively, the "Newburgh Defendants") and Barbara Jacobs ("Jacobs") for their conduct in connection with his renovation of certain real property in Newburgh. Williams claimed that (1) the Newburgh Defendants breached an agreement with him to provide referrals of Section 8 tenants; (2) Jacobs deprived him of his constitutional right to procedural due process, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) defendants tortiously interfered with Williams' lease agreements with the tenants in his building; and (4) Jacobs tortiously interfered with Williams' agreement with the Newburgh defendants. *fn1"

 A jury trial on all issues was conducted on June 7, 1993 and June 14 to June 18, 1993. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Williams in the amount of $ 9600, finding that defendants had tortiously interfered with Williams' lease agreements with the tenants in his building. Defendants now move pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) for judgment as a matter of law, claiming that the jury's verdict is against the weight of credible evidence. Williams cross-moves to set aside the verdict and presumably for a new trial on the grounds that no reasonable jury could have rejected his § 1983 claim and awarded such a small amount of damages. Fed. R. Civ. P. 59. For the reasons stated below, both motions are denied.

 BACKGROUND

 In late 1989, Williams, the owner of two properties in the City of Newburgh, became a participant in the City's Section 8 Rental Rehabilitation Program. That Program, which was sponsored by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, was implemented in Newburgh by defendant NCDA. Under the Program, landlords rehabilitating low-income housing were eligible for low-interest loans and other financial assistance.

 By April 1990, Williams completed renovations at his building at 3 South Johnson Street (the "Building"). *fn2" He rented one apartment in that building to Jacobs, although she was not eligible for Section 8 housing. Williams also rented a second apartment in the building to Jacobs' cousin, Rhonda Valentine ("Valentine").

 After residing in the Building for several months, Jacobs began to fall behind in her rent. Because she did not remedy that situation, Williams had Jacobs evicted from the Building in October 1991. Subsequently, Valentine's lease ran out, and she too moved out of the Building.

 Some time during or after her clash with Williams regarding her rental payments, Jacobs saw another of Williams' tenants, Mr. Melvin, driving a cab. Jacobs then reported to the NCDA that Melvin was earning additional income.

 Once Jacobs had moved out of the Building, Williams received no other Section 8 tenant referrals from NCDA. He did not rent the vacant apartments to any other tenants, and became unable to make the payments on his bank loan. As a result, the bank foreclosed on the Building in March 1992.

 DISCUSSION

 1. Defendants' Motion

 A motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, now designated a motion for judgment as a matter of law, Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b), as amended, must be denied "unless, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, '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 men could have reached.'" Samuels v. Air Transport Local 504, 992 F.2d 12, 14 (2d Cir. 1993) (quoting Simblest v. Maynard, 427 F.2d 1, 4 (2d Cir. 1970)). In determining such a motion, the trial court must grant the non-moving party "every reasonable inference the jury might have drawn in its favor," and cannot "'substitute its judgment for that of the jury.'" Id. at 16 (quoting Mattivi v. South African Marine Corp., "Huguenot", 618 F.2d 163, 168 (2d Cir. 1980)). Rather, the court may only set aside the jury's verdict if there is such a complete lack of evidence supporting that verdict that the jury's findings must have been "the result of sheer surmise and conjecture," or there is such "an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor of the movant that reasonable and fair minded [jurors] could not arrive at a verdict against him." Mattivi, 618 F.2d at 168.

 Given this stringent standard, the Court finds, based on the evidence at trial, that a reasonable jury could find defendants tortiously interfered with Williams' relationship with his tenants. Defendants did not dispute that Jacobs, an employee of NCDA, was a tenant in Williams' building who eventually had to be evicted for failure to pay rent. Defendants also did not dispute that at the time of or subsequent to her conflict with Williams, Jacobs saw Melvin driving a cab and reported to the agency that Melvin was earning addition, unreported income. Finally, defendants did not dispute that Melvin eventually had to break his lease with Williams because his rent subsidy had been reduced or eliminated. A reasonable jury assessing this series of events could, as it did, find that defendants tortiously interfered with Williams' contractual relationship with Melvin. *fn3" PPX Enterprises, Inc. v. Audio Fidelity Enterprises, Inc., 818 F.2d 266, 269 (2d Cir. 1987) (in order to state a claim for tortious interference with prospective business ...


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