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MULLER v. COSTELLO

March 9, 1998

KEITH E. MULLER, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH J. COSTELLO, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS SUPERINTENDENT OF MIDSTATE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; SUSAN A. CONNELL, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT OF MIDSTATE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; "JOHN DOE", INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS AN AGENT OF MIDSTATE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; SGT. JOSEPH WARD, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS AN AGENT OF MIDSTATE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY; MIDSTATE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, NEW YORK STATE, AND NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SCULLIN

 I. INTRODUCTION

 Presently before the Court are the parties' post-trial motions. Defendant *fn1" moves (1) for judgment as a matter of law, or, in the alternative, for a new trial; (2) to cap the jury's verdict at $ 300,000; (3) to vacate or reduce the verdict as excessive; and (4) to dismiss the entire action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff moves (1) for an injunction in the form of reinstatement; (2) for an injunction to allow Plaintiff a special opportunity to take the New York State correctional officer sergeant's examination; and (3) for back pay and lost benefits.

 Background

 On October 14, 1997, an eight person jury found the State of New York ("Defendant") liable for one count of intentional discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and one count of retaliation. See 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. The jury awarded Plaintiff a total of $ 420,300 in damages. On the verdict form, the jury specifically awarded $ 285,000 in compensatory damages and $ 135,300 in unspecified damages. After polling the jury, the Court determined that each juror intended the full amount of $ 420,300 as compensatory damages.

 II. DEFENDANT'S MOTIONS

 (a) Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

 Pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to introduce sufficient evidence to justify the jury's finding that he was disabled under the ADA. The Second Circuit has held that district courts must afford jury verdicts great deference and not substitute their own judgment for that of the jury. See Mattivi v. South African Marine Corp., 618 F.2d 163, 167 (2d Cir. 1980). In addition, district courts must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and only disturb the jury's findings if there is either a complete lack of evidence, or if the evidence is so overwhelmingly supportive of the movant that allowing the jury verdict to stand would be patently unfair. See id. at 167-68; Luciano v. Olsten Corp.,1 110 F.3d 210, 214 (2d Cir. 1997); Tanzini v. Marine Midland Bank, 978 F. Supp. 70 (N.D.N.Y. 1997). At the close of Plaintiff's case at trial, the Court orally denied a similar motion for the reasons stated on the record.

 Defendant contends that Plaintiff failed to prove he was "disabled" under the ADA and/or that his impairment substantially limited one or more of his major life functions, either breathing or working. Defendant also argues that Plaintiff was provided with a reasonable accommodation as a matter of law. Lastly, Defendant argues that there is insufficient evidence to support the jury's retaliation finding.

 Defendant argues that Plaintiff failed to provide sufficient evidence that he was disabled because his alleged disability did not substantially limit a major life activity in that he could not show that his disability substantially affected his ability to work in a broad range or class of jobs. Defendant's cites to Heilweil v. Mount Sinai Hosp., 32 F.3d 718 (2d Cir. 1994). However, the Court finds that there was ample evidence to support a finding that Plaintiff's disability affected his ability to perform any job that might come in contact with smoke or other asthma inducing chemicals. Based upon the evidence submitted at trial, the Court finds the jury's verdict is well supported by the record.

 (b) Defendant's Motion for a New Trial

 Alternatively, pursuant to Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendant moves for a new trial. A new trial is appropriate when the Court becomes convinced that the jury reached a seriously erroneous result or if permitting the jury verdict to stand would result in a miscarriage of justice. See Katara v. D.E. Jones Commodities, Inc., 835 F.2d 966, 970 (2d Cir. 1987); Tanzini v. Marine Midland Bank, 978 F. Supp. 70 (N.D.N.Y. 1997). While the Court need not necessarily weigh the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, disagreement with the verdict alone is insufficient to justify ordering a new trial. See Mallis v. Bankers Trust Co., 717 F.2d 683, 688-89 (2d Cir. 1983).

 In support of its motion for a new trial, Defendant uses the same arguments advanced in support of its motion for judgment as a matter of law. While the standard is less rigorous than the Rule 50 standard, Defendant's motion is denied for the same reasons as articulated above.

 (c) Defendant's Motion to Cap Damages at $ 300,000

 As initially enacted, Title VII and other anti-discrimination statutes did not provide for compensatory damages. However, in 1991, Congress amended 42 U.S.C. § 1981a which now authorizes the recovery of compensatory damages by victims of intentional discrimination in employment. The ADA awards compensatory damages through this same statutory mechanism. As stated, the jury returned a verdict awarding Plaintiff $ 420,300 in compensatory ...


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