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MATTHEWS v. ARMITAGE

January 25, 1999

DEBORAH MATTHEWS, FOR FREDERICK MATTHEWS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DAVID B. ARMITAGE, SERGEANT; DANIEL SENKOWSKI, SUPERINTENDENT; AND WILLIAM COSTELLO, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Homer, United States Magistrate Judge.

  MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER*fn1

On August 19, 1998, a jury returned a verdict in the above captioned case awarding nominal damages of one dollar against defendants Daniel Senkowski ("Senkowski") and William Costello ("Costello"). Presently pending are motions by the defendants pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) and 60(a) to amend the judgment and pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 50(b) for judgment as a matter of law. Docket No. 65. For the reasons which follow, both motions are granted.

I. Background

Clinton Correctional Facility ("Clinton") is a maximum security prison located in Dannemora, Clinton County and operated by the New York Department of Correctional Services ("DOCS"). N.Y.Comp.Codes R. & Regs., tit. 7 ("NYCCRR"), § 100.15 (1998).*fn2 Clinton houses approximately 2,800 inmates. On August 20, 1991, these inmates included Frederick Matthews ("Matthews") and Aaron Breaziel ("Breaziel"). On that date Breaziel was being held in the involuntary protective custody ("IPC") area of Cell Block E after he had been attacked by another inmate with a razor while in the general population.*fn3 Matthews was placed in the IPC unit on August 20 after he too was attacked by an inmate with a razor in general population. Both Breaziel and Matthews were placed in involuntary rather than voluntary protective custody after each refused to cooperate in identifying his assailant.

II. Motion to Amend the Judgment

The judgment entered by the Clerk of the Court erroneously indicated that Armitage had been held liable along with Senkowski and Costello. Docket No. 64. Plaintiff does not oppose Armitage's motion to correct the judgment. Pl.'s Mem. of Law (Docket No. 71), p. 1. The motion to correct the judgment is granted.

III. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

A. Legal Standard

Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b), the district court may direct the entry of a judgment as a matter of law following a jury verdict that is not supported by legally sufficient evidence. This Is Me, Inc. v. Taylor, 157 F.3d 139, 142 (2d Cir. 1998). Judgment as a matter of law should be entered when "(1) there is such a complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the jury's findings could only have been the result of sheer surmise and conjecture, or (2) 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 [it]." Cruz v. Local Union No. 3 of the Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, 34 F.3d 1148, 1154 (2d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted); Mendoza v. City of Rome, N.Y, 872 F. Supp. 1110, 1114-15 (N.D.N.Y. 1994) (Hurd, M.J.).

The movant's burden on a postverdict Rule 50 motion is a high one. Concerned Area Residents for the Env't v. Southview Farms 34 F.3d 114, 117 (2d Cir. 1994). In considering the motion, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, giving the non-movant the benefit of all reasonable inferences the jury may have drawn from the evidence. Jones v. Spentonbush-Red Star Co., 155 F.3d 587, 591 (2d Cir. 1998). A court may not re-weigh the evidence or assess the credibility of witnesses. Id.*fn4

B. Eighth Amendment Claim

The Eighth Amendment places a burden on prison officials to "take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of . . . inmates." Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27, 104 S.Ct. 3194, 82 L.Ed.2d 393 (1984). That burden includes an obligation to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994); Hendricks v. Coughlin, 942 F.2d 109, 113 (2d Cir. 1991). Not every injury suffered by one inmate at the hands of another imposes constitutional liability, however. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970. A prisoner asserting an Eighth Amendment claim must establish both that the deprivation alleged is sufficiently serious and that the defendant acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298, 111 S.Ct. 2321, 115 L.Ed.2d 271 (1991).

In the context of a failure to protect claim, the deprivation is sufficiently serious if the inmate is incarcerated under conditions imposing a substantial risk of serious harm. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970.*fn5 The state of mind requirement in this context is one of deliberate indifference to the inmate's health and safety. Wilson, 501 U.S. at 302-03, 111 S.Ct. 2321. Under the Farmer formulation of deliberate indifference, prison officials are liable for a failure to protect inmates only when they "know[] of and disregard[] an excessive risk to inmate health and safety; the official must both be aware of facts ...


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