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Ormerod v. County of Niagara

August 18, 2010

RICHARD B. ORMEROD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF NIAGARA, NIAGARA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, NIAGARA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPUTY CORY DIEZ, AND NIAGARA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPUTY LISA GERLACH , DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Presently before this Court is Plaintiff Richard B. Ormerod's post-trial motion, challenging a jury's verdict that he failed to prove that Defendants violated his Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force to effectuate his arrest. Plaintiff first seeks judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP"), alleging that there is no factual foundation for the verdict. Alternatively, Plaintiff seeks a new trial pursuant to Rules 50 and 59, arguing that the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence and that he was unfairly prejudiced by trial errors. For the reasons below, Plaintiff's motion is denied.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff sued Niagara County, the Niagara County Sheriff's Department, and Niagara County Sheriff's Deputies Cory Diez and Lisa Gerlach for violating his civil rights on June 23, 2006, when Diez and Gerlach allegedly used excessive force against him. Trial began on April 6, 2009, and ended on April 9, 2009, with the jury returning a verdict in Defendants' favor. Plaintiff filed the instant motions on April 23, 2009, within 28 days of the entry of judgment, as required by Rules 50(b) and 59(b).

III. DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS

A. Post-trial Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

A post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law is governed by Rule 50, which provides in relevant part:

(b) Renewing the Motion After Trial; Alternative Motion for a New Trial. If the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion. No later than 28 days after the entry of judgment--or if the motion addresses a jury issue not decided by a verdict, no later than 28 days after the jury was discharged--the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and may include an alternative or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59 . . . .

Additionally, "[a] motion under Rule 50(b) is not allowed unless the movant sought similar relief on similar grounds under Rule 50(a)before the case was submitted to the jury." Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. , 128 S.Ct. 2605, 2617 n.5 (2008). A court may nonetheless grant a new trial if failing to do so would constitute manifest injustice. Sojak v. Hudson Waterways Corp., 590 F.2d 53, 54-55 (2d Cir. 1978); Oliveras v. Am. Export Isbrandtsen Lines, Inc., 431 F.2d 814, 817 (2d Cir. 1970).

Here, Plaintiff seeks judgment as a matter of law on the basis that there was no substantive factual foundation for the verdict. Plaintiff did not, however, move for judgment as a matter of law on this or any basis at trial before the case was submitted to the jury. Nonetheless, even if he had, the evidence at trial was more than sufficient to sustain the jury's verdict in Defendants' favor.

To some degree, the parties' respective witnesses testified to different accounts of Plaintiff's arrest. But this does not mean that the jury's verdict lacked factual foundation. The evidence and testimony Defendants' offered clearly supported the jury's verdict. It is the jury's function to credit and resolve competing accounts and judge the credibility of witnesses. See Heller, 891 F.2d at 436 (noting that "the jury was entitled to disregard [one witness's] testimony and believe other witnesses . . . [c]redibility issues of that nature are for the jury not the court to resolve.") The fact that they did so in Defendants' favor in this case does not entitle Plaintiff to judgment as a matter of law. See Pan Am. World Airways v. Port Auth., 995 F.2d 5, 8 (2d Cir. 1993) (holding that where the evidence "raises a question such that reasonable men might reach different conclusions, judgment as a matter of law is improper.") Plaintiff's motion is therefore denied.

B. Motion for a New Trial

A Motion for a New Trial is governed by Rule 59, which provides, ...


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