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Manganiello v. Agostini

January 21, 2009

ANTHONY MANGANIELLO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DET. LUIS AGOSTINI, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A NEW YORK CITY POLICE DETECTIVE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harold Baer, Jr., District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

The reader's familiarity with the underlying facts of this case is assumed.*fn1 On June 24, 2008, a jury found Agostini and another defendant, Shawn Abate ("Abate"), to be liable for malicious prosecution. Question 3 on the verdict sheet asked the jury: "State the total amount of compensatory damages you award to the Plaintiff." The jury responded by stating that the total compensatory damages were $1,426,261.00. Question 4 on the verdict sheet then asked the jury to "state the amount of compensatory damages for which each Defendant whom [the jury found to be liable] is liable." The jury responded that Abate was liable for $142,626.10, which amounts to ten percent of the total compensatory damages, and that Agostini was liable for $1,283,634.90, which amounts to ninety percent of the total compensatory damages. These two amounts add up to the total compensatory damages found by the jury.

On August 6, 2008, this Court granted qualified immunity to Abate, and thus Abate is not liable for any portion of the damages award. The Court asked the parties to argue as to whether Agostini should be held joint and severally liable and be required to pay the total amount of compensatory damages found by the jury, or only the portion that the jury allotted to him.

I. DISCUSSION

A. Jury Verdict Form

The first issue to be addressed is whether the verdict form in this case was submitted to the jury in plain error. The verdict form may have been ambiguous as to whether the Court viewed the defendants as jointly and severally liable, since the form asked jury to apportion damages among them. Although the Second Circuit has advised that this type of question should be "avoided in cases where the defendants, if found liable, are jointly and severally liable," the form here is not plain error. See Aldrich v. Thomson McKinnon Securities, Inc., 756 F.2d 243, 248 (2d Cir. 1985) (discerning the intent of the jury as to whether compensatory damages were to be awarded jointly and severally, despite incongruous verdict form); Rodick v. City of Schenectady, 1 F.3d 1341, 1348 (2d Cir. 1993) (internal citation omitted) (finding reversible error on the ground that errors as to the theory of respondeat superior in the verdict form created too much confusion for the jury but not solely on the ground that the form was ambiguous as to joint and several liability).

However, to the extent that the Circuit recommends that, where defendants are jointly and severally liable, the jury should be asked only the total amount of compensatory damages, see Aldrich v. Thomson McKinnon Securities, Inc., 756 F.2d 243, 248 (2d Cir. 1985), this Court should have omitted the question that asked the jury to apportion damages. However, it should be noted that at trial no party raised the issue or objected to questions 3 or 4 on the verdict sheet. Indeed the parties, as I recall, approved both questions.

The verdict form did not constituteplain error and reversal or a new trial on this issue is not appropriate.

B. Joint and Several Liability

Because Abate has been granted qualified immunity, a finding that Defendants are jointly and severally liable would mean that Agostini is accountable for the entire amount of compensatory damages. Conversely, a finding that each Defendant is liable for only his individual assessment would mean that Agostini is responsible for only ninety percent of the total amount of compensatory damages and Manganiello would not recover the full amount of damages that the jury found he suffered.

Malicious prosecution is an intentional tort. Rodick, 1 F.3d at 1348. Intentional tortfeasors are held jointly and severally liable for assessed compensatory damages, provided they have caused a single injury to the plaintiff. Id. If the tortfeasors are jointly and severally liable, one tortfeasor is not relieved from liability simply because the other tortfeasor also committed liability-causing actions, nor are the damages against either tortfeasor diminished to his or her proportion of fault. Edmonds v. Campganie Generale Transatlantique, 443 U.S. 256, 271 (1979); see also Weeks v. L.R. Chaboudy, 984 F.2d 185, 189 (6th Cir. 1993) (internal quotation marks and citation marks omitted). This principal of liability is not altered even when one tortfeasor is immune from liability. Weeks, 984 F.2d at 189; Restatement (Second) of Torts § 880.

However, joint and several liability will only apply where there is a single, indivisible injury. Watts v. Laurent, 774 F.2d 168, 179 (7th Cir. 1985) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 875). Thus, where the injury is divisible and separate causation is attributable to each tortfeasor, joint and several liability will not apply. Weeks, 984 F.2d at 189.

Plaintiff argues Agostini is responsible for the entire award of compensatory damages because the harm caused by the Defendants is an indivisible injury. Specifically, Plaintiff avers that the damages are indivisible because the jury awarded a single compensatory award and then distributed the award with regard to a proportion of fault for each defendant. Indeed, it is clear that the jury found Agostini to be ninety percent at fault and Abate to be ten percent at fault and apportioned damages based on these proportions.

Similarly, in Aldrich the jury awarded the plaintiff one aggregate amount and then allocated the amount between the two defendants according to an easily discernable proportion of fault-in that case, 50-50. See 756 F.2d at 245. The Court held that the amounts showed that the jury intended to award the plaintiff the total amount of compensatory damages against the two defendants jointly and severally, and that the only reason the jury entered separate amounts for each defendant was that the verdict form asked it to do so. Id. at 248. Likewise, here it appears that the intent of the jurors was to award the Plaintiff an aggregate amount of $1,426,261, ...


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