that the bank would not prosecute her if she confessed. He threatened to tell her family that she took the money, to search her home in front of her children and to tell her husband's employer about the investigation. Whalen, an experienced police officer, was present in the room while the interview was going on and did nothing to prevent Connelly from conducting the interview in this manner. Furthermore, a number of times during the course of the interview, Connelly threatened plaintiff and then turned to Whalen for confirmation that he could carry out his threats. Whalen indicated that he could. See Tr. 77-91.
The jury, in response to a question on the special verdict form, found that defendant Whalen's conduct was sufficiently wanton, reckless or callous that punitive damages should be awarded. Under these circumstances, we cannot say that the evidence permitted a conclusion only in defendant Whalen's favor on this issue. Hence, defendant is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law that punitive damages are unwarranted in this case.
Whalen also argues that he is entitled to a new trial of all of the issues in this case because the punitive damage award is so excessive that it reveals that the jury's verdict on all issues, including liability and compensatory damages, is tainted by passion and prejudice. We do not find this argument persuasive. We see no indication in the record that the jury's verdict on liability or compensatory damages was based on passion rather than reason. Whalen himself does not challenge the jury's compensatory damage award. In fact, he has not identified anything specific, other than the size of the punitive damage award, that supports his argument in favor of a new trial on all issues. Therefore, defendant's motion for a new trial on all issues is denied.
Defendant also seeks a new trial solely on the issue of punitive damages, or, in the alternative, a remittitur of the punitive damage award, because he contends that the amount awarded by the jury is excessive. The purpose of punitive damage awards is to punish the defendant and to deter the defendant and others from engaging in similar conduct in the future. See Smith, 461 U.S. at 54. The decision to award punitive damages is a discretionary moral judgment made by the jury. See id., at 52. Nevertheless, the amount of punitive damages should not be greater than the amount reasonably necessary to fulfill the purposes of punishment and deterrence or the punitive damage award becomes, in part, a windfall to the individual litigant. See Aldrich v. Thomson McKinnon Securities, Inc., 756 F.2d 243, 249 (2d Cir. 1985).
We believe that the jury's award of $ 200,000 in punitive damages against Whalen is so great as to shock the judicial conscience and to constitute a denial of justice and a windfall for plaintiff. This amount is well in excess of the figure reasonably necessary to punish the defendant and to deter the defendant and others from similar conduct. Therefore, we will order a new trial on the issue of punitive damages unless plaintiff agrees to accept a remittitur.
As plaintiff points out, the Second Circuit has previously upheld a number of substantial punitive damages awards in police misconduct cases. See, e.g., Ismail, 899 F.2d at 187 ($ 150,000); Hughes v. Patrolmen's Benevolent Ass'n, 850 F.2d 876, 879, 883 (2d Cir.) ($ 175,000 against each of two defendants), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 967, 102 L. Ed. 2d 532, 109 S. Ct. 495 (1988); O'Neill v. Krzeminski, 839 F.2d 9, 13-14 (2d Cir. 1988) ($ 125,000 and $ 60,000, respectively, against two defendants); see also King, 993 F.2d at 299 (remitting punitive damage award against one defendant from $ 175,000 to $ 100,000 and against another from $ 75,000 to $ 50,000). These cases, however, involved either physical abuse of the plaintiff by the defendant or defendants or a lengthy campaign, motivated by personal animus, by the defendants to destroy the plaintiff's career. The evidence against Whalen is simply not of this order. He never touched plaintiff, and she attributed the verbal abuse that she suffered to Connelly. Certainly, Whalen could have and should have tried to put a stop to Connelly's behavior, but his failure to do so is not comparable to the situation in, for example, Ismail. In that case, a police officer who was about to write a parking ticket on the plaintiff's car had an argument with the plaintiff, Ismail. As Ismail was walking away from him, the officer hit Ismail on the back of the head, causing Ismail to lose consciousness. When Ismail came to, the officer had handcuffed him and pressed a gun against his head. The officer threatened to kill Ismail if he moved. The officer used enough force that Ismail suffered a cracked rib, head injuries and two displaced vertebrae. See Ismail, 899 F.2d at 185. The Second Circuit upheld the jury's award of $ 150,000 in punitive damages against the officer. See id., at 187. Here, the punitive damage award against Whalen was $ 200,000.
While we certainly consider Whalen's conduct in this case to be a serious breach of plaintiff's Fifth Amendment rights, this punitive damage award far surpasses the amount necessary to punish Whalen for permitting Connelly to coerce a confession out of plaintiff or to deter Whalen or others from engaging in similar conduct in the future. We believe that an award of $ 40,000 in punitive damages would adequately serve the goals of punishment and deterrence. This figure represents the maximum amount of punitive damages that we would uphold as not excessive.
Therefore, we will grant defendant Whalen's motion for a new trial on the issue of punitive damages unless plaintiff consents to remit the punitive damage award against Whalen to $ 40,000.
Pursuant to the terms of the settlement reached between plaintiff and defendant Fleet Bank, plaintiff will receive approximately $ 52,000 in punitive damages from defendant Fleet Bank.
Although we were not called upon to decide this issue, we believe that this figure reflects the amount of damages reasonably necessary to serve the goals of punishment and deterrence in the case of defendant Fleet Bank. We therefore note without surprise that the ratio between $ 40,000 and $ 52,000 (40,000/52,000 = .77) is comparable to the ratio of the punitive damage awards that the jury assessed against the defendants (200,000/275,000 = .73).
C. Attorney's Fees
Under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, this court may, in its discretion, award reasonable attorney's fees to a prevailing party in a § 1983 case. A prevailing plaintiff, which Niemann certainly is, "should ordinarily recover an attorney's fee unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40, 103 S. Ct. 1933 (1983) (internal quotation omitted). Plaintiff has submitted an affidavit detailing the basis of her application for an award of $ 43,275.00 in attorney's fees and $ 2,651.74 in expenses. This figure represents plaintiff's calculation of the lodestar amount. Plaintiff has not sought an upward adjustment of the fee. We have reviewed plaintiff's application and find it to be reasonable. Defendant Whalen does not oppose an award of fees and costs, nor does he challenge the amount that plaintiff has requested. Plaintiff will receive $ 22,963.37, or one-half of the requested amount, from the settlement funds that will be paid over by Fleet Bank. Therefore, we grant plaintiff's application for an award of attorney's fees and expenses against defendant Whalen in the amount of $ 22,963.37.
For the reasons set forth above, we deny defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law. We will grant defendant's motion for a new trial, solely on the issue of punitive damages, unless plaintiff consents, within 30 days of the date of this opinion, to remit the award of punitive damages against Whalen to $ 40,000. Plaintiff's application for attorney's fees and expenses is granted. If plaintiff elects to accept the remittitur, she may submit a proposed judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict and this decision for the court's signature.
Date: White Plains, New York
May 24, 1996
William C. Conner
Senior United States District Court Judge