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REID v. RAFFERTY

United States District Court, S.D. New York


August 18, 2005.

NADJARI D. REID, Plaintiff,
v.
DETECTIVE BRIAN RAFFERTY, SHIELD # 2145, Defendant.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD CASEY, District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

On June 22, 2005, a jury rendered a verdict in favor of Detective Rafferty ("Defendant") at the conclusion of the trial in this malicious-prosecution action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Nadjari D. Reid ("Plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, has submitted a motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides in relevant part that "[a] new trial may be granted to all or any of the parties and on all or part of the issues . . . in an action in which there has been a trial by jury, for any of the reasons for which new trials have heretofore been granted in actions at law in the courts of the United States." Fed.R.Civ.P. 59. Plaintiff bases his motion for a new trial on two main grounds. First, Plaintiff contends that the jury verdict in Defendant's favor is against the weight of the evidence. Second, Plaintiff asserts that his trial "counsel" was ineffective. The Court does not believe that the jury in this case reached a seriously erroneous result or that allowing the verdict to stand would work a miscarriage of justice. See Smith v. Lightning Bolt Prods., Inc., 861 F.2d 363, 370 (2d Cir. 1988) (holding that a district court "should not grant a new trial unless it is convinced that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result or that the verdict is a miscarriage of justice"). Plaintiff's motion for a new trial is therefore DENIED.

First, the jury's verdict was not against the clear weight of the evidence. The evidence against Plaintiff in the underlying criminal proceeding against him was presented to a grand jury, which returned an indictment against Plaintiff for murder in the second degree. This created a presumption, as a matter of law, that there was probable cause to believe that Plaintiff was guilty of that charge and to prosecute him accordingly. See Robinson v. Cattaraugus County, 147 F.3d 153, 163 (2d Cir. 1998). The jury in this matter specifically found that Plaintiff had failed to overcome this presumption by establishing, by a preponderance of the credible evidence, that the indictment against him was obtained by fraud, perjury, the suppression of evidence, or other police misconduct undertaken in bad faith. See id. (noting that, to counter the presumption of probable cause created by an indictment, "the plaintiff must establish that defendant did not make a full and complete statement of fact to either the Grand Jury or the District Attorney, that defendant misrepresented or falsified evidence or else kept back evidence that would have affected the result of the investigation"). Because the lack of probable cause for the criminal proceeding was a necessary element to Plaintiff's claim of malicious prosecution under § 1983, see Mejia v. City of New York, 119 F. Supp. 2d 232, 253 (E.D.N.Y. 2000), the jury found in favor of Defendant. This result was in accord with the lack of evidence presented by Plaintiff at trial to rebut the presumption in Defendant's favor — the only evidence that Plaintiff presented concerning any impropriety with the indictment against him was his own testimony to that effect. The Second Circuit has cautioned that "the jury is empowered and capable of evaluating a witness's credibility, and this evaluation should rarely be disturbed." Dunlap-McCuller v. Riese Org., 980 F.2d 153, 158 (2d Cir. 1992); see also Ricciuti v. New York City Transit Auth., 70 F. Supp. 2d 300, 305 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) ("A court considering a Rule 59 motion for a new trial must bear in mind . . . that the court should only grant such a motion when the jury's verdict is egregious. Accordingly, a court should rarely disturb a jury's evaluation of a witness's credibility."). Plaintiff's motion for a new trial on the ground that the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence is therefore denied.

  Second, Plaintiff, who has appeared pro se throughout this litigation, up to and including the trial and this post-trial motion, cannot successfully argue that his "counsel" was ineffective. Plaintiff argues that his misunderstanding of law and procedure caused him — in his capacity as his own counsel — to fail to raise certain issues at trial and subpoena witnesses for trial. The primary flaw with this argument is that a plaintiff's ineffective-assistance allegations simply cannot support the grant of a new § 1983 trial under Rule 59. Hemphill v. Schott, No. 93 Civ. 8778 (RJW), 1999 WL 587801, at *2 n. 4 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 5, 1999). Because the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel does not extend to civil cases, "there is no constitutional or statutory right to effective assistance of counsel in a civil case." Watson v. Moss, 619 F.2d 775, 776 (8th Cir. 1980); see also United States v. Coven, 662 F.2d 162, 176 (2d Cir. 1981). Beyond this fundamental flaw, Plaintiff's argument simply lacks merit. Plaintiff was provided ample guidance on how to subpoena witnesses for trial. Well before trial in this matter began, the Court had a manual sent to Plaintiff that was designed to help pro se litigants like himself prepare for trial. At trial, Plaintiff admitted to having been in possession of the manual "for some time" before trial. (See Tr. June 20, 2005 at 108.) Plaintiff was aware that the manual contained "a section in that book that explains all about issuing subpoenas" (see id. at 108-09), and the manual explicitly sets out the procedures for subpoenaing witnesses and even provides a sample subpoena form for pro se litigants to use, see Deanna H. Arden & I. Alexei Martinez, Trial Ready: A Manual for Pro Se Litigants Appearing in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York 47-54 (S.D.N.Y. District Executive's Office 1997). Because Plaintiff simply failed to avail himself of the manual's guidance before trial, he has no basis to argue that his misunderstanding of the procedures for subpoenaing witnesses warrants a new trial. Plaintiff's motion for a new trial on the ground of "ineffective assistance of counsel" is therefore denied.

  Because the jury in this case did not reach a seriously erroneous result and because allowing the jury's verdict to stand does not result in a miscarriage of justice, Plaintiff's motion for a new trial is DENIED.

  So Ordered.

20050818

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