The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARTHUR D. SPATT
The plaintiff Joseph Naccarato (the "plaintiff" or"Naccarato") commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, on or about April 30, 1993. Naccarato claimed that his rights under the Fourth Amendment were violated when he was arrested by the defendant William Oliver (the "defendant" or "Oliver"), who, at the time, was an off duty New York State Trooper. The arrest followed an altercation between the plaintiff and the defendant at the Alley Bar in Oneonta, New York on February 9, 1992.
At the time of the incidents giving rise to this law suit, the plaintiff, who is 6'4" tall and then weighed approximately 215 pounds, was working as a bouncer at the Alley Bar. The defendant police officer, who was not on duty at the time, was a patron who had just entered the bar. The defendant Oliver is 5'11" tall and weighed approximately 175 pounds at the time of the occurrence.
This case was tried before the Court and a jury on January 9, 1995 through January 17, 1995. On January 13, 1995, the jury rendered its verdict in chief and found that (1) Oliver did not have probable cause to arrest the Naccarato, (2) Oliver did have probable cause to commence or continue criminal prosecution of Naccarato and (3) Oliver did not use excessive force during the arrest. On the false arrest cause of action the plaintiff was awarded $ 5,000.00 in compensatory damages and $ 10,000.00 for legal fees. On January 17, 1995, in the second phase of the trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff $ 4,000.00 in punitive damages.
Following the verdict, the defendant moved the Court, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b), for an order entering judgment in his favor as a matter of law on the ground that the doctrine of qualified immunity shields him from liability. On February 10, 1995, the Court rendered an oral decision granting the defendant's motion. In order to clarify the Court's oral decision, and because of the legal significance of the issues it addresses, the Court will now render a written opinion.
Motion for judgment as a matter of law
A motion for a judgment as a matter of law, formerly known as a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, is governed by Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which states that:
if during a trial by jury a party has been fully heard with respect to an issue and there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to have found for that party with respect to that issue, the court may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against that party on any claim . . . that cannot under the controlling law be maintained without a favorable finding on that issue.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1). Subsection (b) of Rule 50 states:
whenever a motion for judgment as a matter of law made at the close of all the evidence is denied or for any reason is not granted, the court is deemed to have submitted the action to the jury subject to a later determination of the legal questions raised by the motion. . . . If a verdict was returned, the court may, in disposing of the renewed motion, allow the judgment to stand or may reopen the judgment and either order a new trial or direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b). At the close of the presentation of evidence in this case, the defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law on the ground that he was entitled to qualified immunity with regard to the plaintiff's Section 1983 claims. Decision was reserved at that time. The defendant then renewed that motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) following the partial verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
In ruling on a motion for judgment as a matter of law the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, in this case the plaintiff. Bradway v. Gonzales, 26 F.3d 313, 317 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing Piesco v. Koch, 12 F.3d 332, 343 (2d Cir. 1993)). It is appropriate to grant such a motion only if the Court concludes, upon assessing credibility and inferences against the moving party, that a reasonable juror would have been compelled to accept the view of the moving party. Id. "The trial court 'cannot assess the weight of the conflicting evidence, pass on the credibility of the witnesses, or substitute its judgment for that of the jury.'" Weldy v. Piedmont Airlines, Inc., 985 F.2d 57, 60 (2d Cir. 1993) (quoting Mattivi v. South African Marine Corp., Huguenot, 618 F.2d 163, 167 (2d Cir. 1980)).
It is based upon these legal principles that the Court examines the defendant's motion for a judgment as a matter of law.
The law of qualified immunity
The Second Circuit recently discussed the subject of qualified immunity in a Section 1983 case in Weaver v. Brenner, 40 F.3d 527 (2d Cir. 1994). Judge ...