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HOGAN v. FRANCO

September 18, 1995

JOHN T. HOGAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
JAMES FRANCO, Police Officer; JOHN GRIFFITH, Police Officer; FRANCIS HORGAN, Police Officer; JOHN DOE, Police Officer; BENNY ROTUNDO, Chief of Police; and CITY OF UTICA, NEW YORK; Defendants.


DAVID N. HURD, United States Magistrate Judge


The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID N. HURD

United States Magistrate Judge

 MEMORANDUM, DECISION & ORDER

 I. INTRODUCTION.

 The above titled action was tried in Utica, New York, between June 5, and June 9, 1995. The jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff John T. Hogan ("Hogan" or "plaintiff") on federal claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) against police officer James Franco ("Franco") for excessive use of force in handcuffing plaintiff; (2) against Police Officer John Griffith ("Griffith") for deliberate indifference to plaintiff's serious medical needs; *fn1" against Police Officer Francis Horgan ("Horgan") for use of excessive force in beating plaintiff with a baton, use of excessive force in driving a police van with plaintiff in the back, and being deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs; (4) against Chief of Police Benny Rotundo ("Chief Rotundo") for failure to properly train, supervise and discipline police officers in his charge; and (5) against the City of Utica for failure to properly train, supervise and discipline its police officers. The jury verdict also included an award for supplemental state law claims (28 U.S.C. § 1367): (1) against Horgan for negligently driving a police van with plaintiff in the back, and assault on plaintiff; and (2) against Franco for assault on plaintiff. The jury awarded plaintiff a total of $ 200,000 in compensatory damages for all claims. The jury did not make an award of punitive damages against any individual defendant.

 A. Motions.

 Defendants presently move this court for judgment as a matter of law, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b); or in the alternative, a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59; or in the alternative, remittitur as to the damages awarded plaintiff. Defendants move the court on the following grounds:

 
1. The evidence was insufficient to sustain the finding that defendants Horgan or Franco used excessive force;
 
2. The evidence was insufficient to sustain the finding of a municipal policy or practice of failing to properly train, supervise, or discipline its police officers;
 
3. The award of compensatory damages was excessive and unsupported by the evidence.

 No direct motion has been brought with respect to the jury's verdict on the federal claims of deliberate indifference against Horgan, the state law verdicts of assault against both Horgan and Franco, or of negligence against Horgan. However, these claims will be discussed and are similar if not identical to the elements of excessive force and supervisory or municipal liability issues. *fn2" Oral argument was heard by both parties on July 13, 1995.

 B. Trial.

 Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff as the court must in a motion for judgment as a matter of law, McGuigan v. CAE Link Corp., 851 F. Supp. 511, 513 (N.D.N.Y. 1994) (citing Samuels v. Air Transport Local 504, 992 F.2d 12, 14 (2d Cir. 1993)), the following are the trial facts.

 Plaintiff was arrested on the night of July 4, 1992, after resisting the confiscation of alcohol at a public fireworks display. He was thrown against a fence and handcuffed by Franco in a manner which allowed the handcuffs to tighten with movement. He was then escorted to a police van for transportation to the police station. He was placed in the back of the van which was driven by Horgan. After the van stopped and acquired another arrestee, Guy Sterling ("Sterling"), Horgan drove the van to the station. The ride knocked plaintiff about, injuring his lower back because: (1) Horgan drove in a wild and reckless manner; (2) the handcuffs held plaintiff's arms behind his back and prevented him from steadying or otherwise protecting himself; and (3) the van contained neither restraints to keep plaintiff from smashing into the hard metal walls and wooden benches, nor padding to soften the blows as plaintiff was tossed about. While being hurtled around the van, plaintiff cursed Horgan, as well as requesting him to stop.

 After they arrived at the police station, Horgan, in response to the verbal attack from plaintiff during the ride to the station, beat plaintiff with a baton before placing him, injured and in need of medical assistance, in a holding cell. Horgan ignored plaintiff's request for medical aid. When other detainees in the holding cell requested medical attention for plaintiff, they became targets for hot coffee, cold water, soda, and insults thrown by other officers who should have responded with assistance. Plaintiff was also struck with a baton by an unidentified officer while he was in the holding cell.

 The next day, July 5, 1992, after a change of shifts at the police station, plaintiff, still in a stupor from his injuries, was taken to the emergency room at a nearby hospital where his injuries were treated and he was released. Photographs were taken at the hospital of a laceration on his leg and severe bruises on his chest caused by Horgan's baton. (See Dr. William Parker Trial Test. Tr. at 13-14 (hereinafter Dr. Parker Tr.) (crisscross bruise on plaintiff's chest was caused by a "long, thin, hard object" that could have been a police baton).) Plaintiff has returned to the emergency room and visited physicians for injuries to his wrist (a tingling and permanent loss of sensation caused by the extreme pressure the handcuffs placed on sensitive nerves) and lower back (a chronic pain which may be permanent). Plaintiff suffered emotional distress due to fear of the police, and experienced trouble sleeping after his arrest.

 When plaintiff returned to the police station to lodge a complaint on July 6, 1992, he was interviewed by Deputy Chief Michael Taurisano ("Deputy Chief Taurisano"). Deputy Chief Taurisano interviewed plaintiff about the events that led to his injuries, and also had photographs taken of the chest bruises. Captain Pasquale Benzo ("Benzo") was assigned to investigate the incident. The records show that Benzo did interview Horgan concerning the incident. However, the interview apparently consisted of little more than asking Horgan if he had beaten the plaintiff, and accepting his reply and report that he had not. The investigation was brief, and Benzo never interviewed the plaintiff.

 1. Evidence of defendants' use of excessive force and of damages suffered by the plaintiff:

 a. Plaintiff: (i) testified that Franco handcuffed him extremely tightly; (ii) testified that he was battered against the metal and/or wood interior of the police van due to the wild and reckless driving of Horgan; (iii) testified that Horgan beat him repeatedly with a police baton; and (iv) testified to the nature and extent of his injuries.

 b. William Parker, M.D. ("Dr. Parker"), who treated plaintiff in the emergency room, testified that the injuries to plaintiff's wrist, chest and leg, suffered before he was brought to the emergency room from the police station, were serious, and likely caused by an assault.

 c. Leroy H. Cooley, M.D. ("Dr. Cooley"), the physician that treated plaintiff's wrist injury and examined his back, testified that, in his opinion, the injury to plaintiff's wrist was permanent and had been caused by being handcuffed too tightly; and that the injury to plaintiff's back might be permanent, and could have been caused by being thrown around the back of a van and/or being beaten with a baton.

 d. Sterling, who was brought into the police station with plaintiff, testified that plaintiff was hit once with a baton while in the holding cell. He could not identify the officer.

 e. Robert M. Roberts and Edward F. Roberts ("the Roberts"), who were placed in the holding cell with plaintiff, testified that plaintiff (i) was injured and in a stupor when they arrived at the holding cell; and (ii) was denied medical treatment despite their requests to officers that he receive such treatment.

 f. Photo evidence showed plaintiff's injuries, after leaving the police department, while at the hospital, including serious bruises on the chest and a cut on the leg.

 g. Photo evidence showed plaintiff's injuries, including serious bruises on the chest, at the time he entered the police station the following day to file a complaint against Horgan.

 h. Franco's testimony revealed that he did not remember whether or not he had handcuffed plaintiff properly.

 2. Evidence of supervisory or municipal liability:

 a. Chief Rotundo testified that: (i) the police department gives no formal training in use of the police van; (ii) detainees are normally transported in the van while handcuffed; (iii) he delegated the authority to purchase the van with no padding or restraints, aware that it would be used to transport handcuffed detainees; (iv) the police department has no formal procedures for handling complaints of police brutality; (v) the police department does not index such complaints; (vi) informal investigations of complaints are conducted by fellow officers; (vii) to his knowledge, Benzo did not interview plaintiff; and (viii) he did not believe it necessary for Benzo to interview the plaintiff.

 b. Horgan testified that he was not formally trained in the use of the van in which he transported plaintiff to the police department.

 c. The Roberts, who were placed in the police department holding cell with plaintiff, testified that in response to their requests that plaintiff be given medical attention due to his obvious injury and semi-consciousness, officers threw coffee, soda and water on them and told them to be quiet.

 d. Dr. Parker testified that he regularly receives emergency room patients complaining of physical abuse by the Utica Police.

 e. Plaintiff testified that his requests for medical assistance were ignored.

 II. DISCUSSION

 A. Rule 50(b) - Judgment as a Matter of Law.

 This court can only grant judgment as a matter of law on a claim if that claim "cannot under controlling law be maintained." Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1). Judgment as a matter of law is to be granted "only when, viewing the evidence most favorably to the [nonmoving party], there can be but one conclusion as to the verdict that reasonable men could have reached." Weldy v. Piedmont Airlines, Inc., 985 F.2d 57, 59-60 (2d Cir. 1993) (citations and quotations omitted); Slade v. Whitco Corp., 810 F. Supp. 396, 398 (N.D.N.Y. 1993), reaff'd in part, 811 F. Supp. 71 (N.D.N.Y. 1993). "The nonmovant must be given the benefit of all reasonable inferences." Weldy, 985 F.2d at 60. The defendants ...


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