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GILL v. CITY OF NEW YORK

June 30, 2004.

JAMES GILL, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, ET AL., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KEVIN FOX, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Following the conclusion of the jury trial of the above-captioned action, the plaintiff made a motion, pursuant to Rules 58 and 49 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that judgment be entered in his favor in the sum of $50,000, reflecting the awards for compensatory and punitive damages made by the jury. Alternatively, the plaintiff requested that a new trial be held, in the interest of justice, pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

  The defendants filed a cross-motion, post-trial, pursuant to Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, through which they renewed their motion for judgment as a matter of law, that was made at that point in the trial when all the evidence had been presented to the jury. Alternatively, the defendants have requested that, pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court amend the judgment entered in this case by striking the responses the jurors made to questions posed to them in a verdict form that was used to report the results of their deliberations to the Court and the parties when the verdict was announced in open court. Papers in opposition to the plaintiff's motion and the defendants' cross-motion were seasonably submitted to the Court, and have been considered. The parties' respective post-trial motions are addressed below.

  II. BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff James Gill ("Gill"), a former New York City police officer brought this action alleging that the defendants discriminated against him, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12102, et seq., and state and municipal anti-discrimination laws, when they failed to grant his application for an accidental disability retirement pension. Gill maintained that he was entitled to such a pension because he experienced a seizure on July 17, 1996, several hours after completing a tour of duty in an unair-conditioned police vehicle and, as a result of the onset of the seizure, fell and injured his shoulder, neck and head. Gill later experienced several other seizure episodes while on and off duty.

  Gill claimed that his application for an accidental disability retirement pension was denied by the defendants because he has a history of alcoholism. At the trial, Gill explained to the jurors that, on each of the four occasions when he met with a three-physician panel that comprised a medical board of the Police Pension Fund, Article II, he was questioned repeatedly about his use of alcohol. The Medical Board of the Police Pension Fund, Article II ("Medical Board"), was charged, inter alia, with the responsibility for recommending to the Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund, Article II, whether Gill's application for an accidental disability retirement pension should be approved.*fn1 In Gill's case, the Medical Board recommended that his application for accidental disability retirement be disapproved, and the Board of Trustees of the Police Pension Fund, Article II, adopted that recommendation.

  Two physicians testified at the trial, Dr. Justin A. Willer, a neurologist engaged by the plaintiff to give opinion testimony, and Dr. Harold Bennake, an internist who served on each of the four three-physician Medical Board panels that evaluated Gill in connection with his accidental disability retirement application. Dr. Willer testified that Gill became dehydrated while in the unair-conditioned police vehicle on July 17, 1996. That experience caused Gill to vomit, lose consciousness and experience a grand mal seizure. Dr. Willer explained to the jury through his testimony that, in order to exclude a cause of a symptom, a physician would take a medical history from a patient. He stated that, if a person presented to a physician with a seizure history, a physician would inquire about the person's history for drug or alcohol abuse.

  The Medical Board was aware that Gill had a seizure history when it evaluated his accidental disability retirement application. Dr. Bennake testified that Gill was asked about his medical history when he met with the Medical Board. Dr. Bennake told the jury that Gill's history of alcoholism was considered by the Medical Board as it reviewed his accidental disability retirement application because alcohol use could cause a seizure. However, the Medical Board ruled out alcoholism as a cause for Gill's seizures and recommended that he receive an ordinary disability retirement because it determined that his seizures were not the product of a work-based accident, but were of unknown origin.

  After the plaintiff had presented his case-in-chief to the jury, the defendants moved, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a), that the Court enter judgment as a matter of law in favor of the defendants. Oral argument on that motion was entertained by the Court. Thereafter, the motion was granted with respect to the individually named defendants and denied as to all other defendants. The defendants then advised the Court that they rested. The defendants who remained as parties to the litigation then renewed their Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a) motion and the Court reserved decision on that application.

  In due course, the jury was instructed on the applicable law and was asked to deliberate. Among other things, the jury was instructed as follows concerning the plaintiff's burden of proof respecting the establishment of a prima facie case of disability discrimination under the ADA:
The Fourth element under the ADA is that a defendant discriminated against a plaintiff because of the plaintiff's disability.
To satisfy this element, a plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant took an adverse employment action against the plaintiff intentionally because of the plaintiff's disability or that the disability played a motivating role in the decision to take the adverse action.
An act is intentional if it is done knowingly, that is, if it is done voluntarily and deliberately and not because of mistake, accident, negligence or other innocent reason. A motivating role is one that played a substantial role, that made a difference to a defendant's decision to take an adverse employment action, although other factors may have played a role in the decision.
If a plaintiff cannot prove that a defendant intentionally discriminated against him or her because of the plaintiff's disability, the plaintiff may still fulfill the burden of proving this element of an ADA claim if the plaintiff can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the adverse employment action occurred under circumstances indicating that it is more likely than not that the adverse action was a product of discrimination by a defendant.
In this case, plaintiff claims that the Medical Board and Pension Board of the Police Pension Fund, Article II, discriminated against him when they denied his application for accidental disability retirement. The plaintiff contends that these defendants knew he had a history of alcoholism and denied him accidental disability retirement because of that disability. Learning that a person has a history of alcoholism is not illegal, but that knowledge — that a person has a history of alcoholism — may not be a motivating factor in deciding to deny a person an employment benefit for which that person is otherwise qualified and entitled.
The defendants deny that they discriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of his history of alcoholism. According to the defendants, the denial of plaintiff's application for accidental disability retirement was based solely on plaintiff's failure to meet the relevant legal requirements.
If you find that the plaintiff has established by a preponderance of the evidence that the Medical Board and Pension Board of the Police Pension Fund, Article II, intentionally discriminated against him because of his history of alcoholism when they denied him an accidental disability retirement pension, or that plaintiff's history of alcoholism played a motivating role in the decision to deny him that retirement pension, or that the decision occurred under circumstances indicating that it is more likely than not that the denial of such a retirement pension was a product of discrimination by these defendants, then you must find that plaintiff has established a prima facie case of disability discrimination.
However, if you find that these defendants did not intentionally discriminate against the plaintiff because of his history of alcoholism when they denied him an accidental disability pension, or that his history of alcoholism did not play a motivating role in the decision to deny him that retirement pension, or that the decision did not occur under circumstances indicating that it is more likely than not that the denial of such a retirement pension was a product of discrimination, then you must find that plaintiff has not established a prima facie case of disability discrimination.
  To aid the jury in reporting its verdict to the Court and the parties, a verdict form was provided for the jury. It consisted of five questions, the first of which asked the jurors to report, by indicating yes or no, whether the defendants who remained parties to the action after the defendants' Rule 50(a) motion was partially granted had violated "the plaintiff's right to be free from unlawful discrimination by disapproving his application for accidental disability retirement because they were motivated by an animosity toward the plaintiff based on his history of alcoholism." To that question, the jury responded "no." This should have been the end of the jury's work. However, the jury continued to answer the remaining questions on the verdict form which pertained to: (a) the plaintiff's claim that he suffered emotional damages as a result of unlawful discriminatory conduct he ascribed to the defendants; and (b) the amount of compensatory and punitive damages, if any, that should be awarded to the plaintiff. However, notwithstanding the fact that the jury answered the first question negatively and, thereby, determined that the remaining defendants in the action did not violate the plaintiff's right to be free from unlawful discrimination, the jury answered "yes" to the question "[d]id the plaintiff suffer emotional pain, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life and mental anguish as a result of the discriminatory acts of the defendants?" and awarded Gill $5,000 in compensatory damages and $45,000 in punitive damages. A judgment reflecting the jury's verdict was entered on October 20, 2003.

  III. DISCUSSION

  Plaintiff's Motion

  As noted above, in his post-trial motion, the plaintiff has requested that judgment be entered on the docket for the sum of $50,000, reflecting the awards for compensatory and punitive damages made by the jury. However, the Court finds that the relief sought by Gill is a moot matter. "The hallmark of a moot case or controversy is that the relief sought can no longer be given or is no longer needed." Martin-Trigona v. Shiff, 702 F.2d 380, 386 (2d Cir. 1983). The relief sought by Gill through this branch of his motion: entry of a judgment in his favor consistent with the determination on damages reached by the jury, was accomplished when judgment was entered by the Clerk of Court on October 20, 2003. Consequently, that relief is no longer needed. ...


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