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Allam v. Meyers

United States District Court, S.D. New York

November 19, 2012

Miryam ALLAM a/k/a Miryam Meyers, Plaintiff,
Jason MEYERS, Defendant.

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Robert Joseph Tolchin, Daniel Stephen Shimko, The Berkman Law Office, LLC, Brooklyn, NY, Norman Steiner, Attorney at Law, New York, NY, for Plaintiff.

Steven Altman, Altman & Company P.C., New York, NY, for Defendant.


MARVIN E. ASPEN, District Judge.

Presently before us is Defendant Jason Meyers' renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, motion for a new trial. Meyers asks that we dismiss the jury verdict entered against him at the conclusion of trial on April 19, 2012. Failing that, Meyers seeks a new trial, or at least reduction of the $500,000 in total damages awarded to Plaintiff Miryam Allam, his ex-wife. As discussed below, the motion is granted in part, and denied in part.


Although we assume familiarity with the underlying facts of this case, we briefly recount the details pertinent to the pending motion. Allam, a French citizen, and Meyers, an American, met at an event in Geneva, Switzerland in December 2007 and began a long-distance romantic relationship. (Trial Tr. at 43-45.) Allam briefly visited Meyers in New York in early 2008, and they met again in Switzerland that summer. ( Id. at 46-50.) They spent additional time together in Prague and in Switzerland. ( Id. at 50.) Between November 2008 and April 2009, Allam visited and stayed with Meyers in New York several times. ( Id. at 53, 96, 99-100.) In April 2009, Allam returned to Europe for approximately one week, during which she tied up her affairs and prepared to move to New York more permanently to be with Meyers. ( Id. at 103-05.) Meyers and Allam got engaged in early July 2009.

According to Allam, Meyers became jealous, controlling, and violent throughout their courtship and brief marriage. Among other things, he forbade Allam from continuing English language classes and socializing with a female friend. ( Id. at 103, 106-07.) Allam testified that this volatile behavior continued even when they learned she was pregnant in the summer of 2009.[1] She testified that Meyers struck and hurt her on at least seven different occasions after their engagement and prior to the events of October 16-17, 2009. ( Id. at 109, 113-15, 117, 119-20, 187-88.) In July 2009, for example, Meyers pushed her, then pulled her hair and shoved her into his parked car. ( Id. at 109-10.) As a result, she went to the hospital at some point later for extreme neck pain and began seeing a chiropractor. ( Id. ) On another occasion, he grabbed and shook her, pulled her hair, and threatened to kill her. ( Id. at 114-15.) Allam also testified to verbal abuse by Meyers, including one incident where, after he demeaned her, she attempted suicide by taking an entire bottle of Tylenol. ( Id. at 117, 120-22.)

Despite the above, Allam and Meyers married at City Hall on October 2, 2009.

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( Id. at 123, 125.) On October 16, 2009, they went out for dinner and then to a lounge. ( Id. at 127-29.) Later that evening, Meyers became angry and accused Allam of speaking to another man. ( Id. at 129.) He shook her, grabbed her arm, and pulled her outside. He then hit her and left. ( Id. ) After crying and waiting for some time, Allam took a cab back to the house, where Meyers denied her entrance. ( Id. at 131-33.) Allam then decided to climb in a bathroom window she knew to be broken. ( Id. at 133-34.) According to Allam, Meyers attacked her as she made her way through the open, broken window. ( Id. at 132-39.) Meyers smashed the glass with a hammer, which rained upon her, and yanked her through the broken window. She fell down to the floor, where Meyers began shaking, kicking, and punching her. ( Id. at 137.) He hit her stomach and head, and made derogatory comments. He then put her in the shower and ran cold water before leaving the room. ( Id. at 138.) Allam testified that she thought Meyers was going to kill her during the beating. ( Id. ) Both parties called 911 on the morning of October 17, 2009 to report this incident. Allam was taken to the hospital with cuts to her face and legs, and Meyers was arrested. ( Id. at 144.) Allam was served with divorce papers the next business day, and the parties' marriage was later annulled. ( Id. at 148-49.) As of the civil trial conducted in April 2012, the criminal proceedings against Meyers remained pending.

Meyers testified very briefly at trial [2] and denied ever hitting, restraining, or otherwise abusing Allam. ( Id. at 228-29.) Nonetheless, the jury found in Allam's favor on all three claims tried: assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (" IIED" ). The jury awarded Allam $200,000 for pain and suffering, as well as $300,000 in punitive damages. The verdict sheet, as agreed upon by the parties, did not call for the jury to allocate any damage awards among the three claims. ( Id. at 234; see Dkt. No. 52 (Judgment and Jury Verdict).)


I. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50, we may direct judgment as a matter of law (" JMOL" ) or order a new trial " if a jury returns a verdict for which there is not a legally sufficient basis." This Is Me, Inc. v. Taylor, 157 F.3d 139, 142 (2d Cir.1998); Tepperwien v. Entergy Nuclear Ops., Inc., No. 07 C 433, 2010 WL 8938797, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 16, 2010); Fioto v. Manhattan Woods Golf Enters., LLC, 270 F.Supp.2d 401, 403 (S.D.N.Y.2003). In evaluating a motion under Rule 50(b), we are " required to consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the [non-moving party] ... and to give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that the jury might have drawn in [her] favor from the evidence." United States v. Landau, 155 F.3d 93, 100 (2d Cir.1998) (quoting Smith v. Lightning Bolt Prods., Inc., 861 F.2d 363, 367 (2d Cir.1988)); Gatti v. Cmty. Action Agency of Greene Cty., Inc., 263 F.Supp.2d 496, 503 (N.D.N.Y.2003). We may not " assess the weight of conflicting evidence, pass on the credibility of the witnesses, or substitute [our] judgment for that of the jury." Gatti, 263 F.Supp.2d at 503 (internal quotation omitted); Tepperwien, 2010 WL 8938797, at *1. Indeed, we must not disturb a jury's

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verdict unless " (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 [people] could not arrive" at the verdict reached. Gatti, 263 F.Supp.2d at 503 (internal quotation omitted); Tepperwien, 2010 WL 8938797, at *1; see Bucalo v. Shelter Island Union Free Sch. Dist., 691 F.3d 119, 127-28 (2d Cir.2012).

The moving party bears the burden of proving that either JMOL or a new trial is warranted. Cross v. New York City Transit Auth., 417 F.3d 241, 248 (2d Cir.2005) (noting that the moving party's burden on a Rule 50 motion " is particularly heavy after the jury has deliberated in the case and actually returned its verdict" ); Giles v. Rhodes, 171 F.Supp.2d 220, 225 (S.D.N.Y.2001) (explaining that the movant bears the burden on a motion for a new trial); see Mendez v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 746 F.Supp.2d 575, 594, 604 (S.D.N.Y.2010).

A. Assault and Battery Claims

While Meyers attacks the jury's verdict on the IIED claim on multiple grounds in his motion for JMOL, he does not explicitly ask us to upend the jury's finding of liability for assault and battery.[3] (Mem. at 3-5; Reply at 1, 3.) Rather, his arguments focus on the jury's damages awards. (Mem. at 2-4; Reply at 4-9.) Meyers' request for a reduction in the amount of damages " come[s] under the umbrella of Rule 59." Hill v. Airborne Freight Corp., 212 F.Supp.2d 59, 64-65 (E.D.N.Y.2002); see also In re Fosamax Prods. Liability Litig., 742 F.Supp.2d 460, 484-85 (S.D.N.Y.2010) (describing our role when evaluating a request for new trial or remittitur under Rule 59). Accordingly, we will address the request for remittitur later, when considering Meyers' alternative motion for a new trial.

B. Challenges to the Verdict on the IIED Claim

As to the IIED claim, however, Meyers offers three reasons why the jury's verdict should be tossed under Rule 50(b). He contends that the inter-spousal immunity doctrine precluded Allam from any recovery on her IIED claim. [4] (Mem. at 8-9.) Meyers argues that Allam failed to show sufficiently serious permanent injury or severe psychological damage, as legally required to succeed on a IIED claim.[5] (Mem.

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at 5-7.) Meyers also contends that the verdict cannot stand because Allam did not support her IIED claim with medical evidence. ( Id. at 7-8.) We find merit in this last argument.

As Meyers correctly argues, governing New York law [6] requires plaintiffs to " present medical evidence of severe emotional distress" to substantiate their IIED claims. Roche v. Claverack Coop. Ins. Co., 59 A.D.3d 914, 919, 874 N.Y.S.2d 592 (N.Y.App.Div.2009); Cusimano v. United Health Servs. Hosps., Inc., 91 A.D.3d 1149, 1152, 937 N.Y.S.2d 413 (N.Y.App.Div.2012); Walentas v. Johnes, 257 A.D.2d 352, 353, 683 N.Y.S.2d 56 (N.Y.App.Div.1999); Christenson v. Gutman, 249 A.D.2d 805, 808-09, 671 N.Y.S.2d 835 (N.Y.App.Div.1998); see also Biberaj v. Pritchard Indus., Inc., 859 F.Supp.2d 549, 565 (S.D.N.Y.2012). Objective medical evidence is relevant to the fourth element of an IIED cause of action concerning the severity of the emotional distress and is necessary to prove that the plaintiff's claimed distress is not speculative. Roche, 59 A.D.3d at 919, 874 N.Y.S.2d 592; Walentas, 257 A.D.2d at 353, 683 N.Y.S.2d 56; Christenson, 249 A.D.2d at 809, 671 N.Y.S.2d 835; see also Bujnicki v. Am. Paving & Excavating, Inc., No. 99 C 646, 2004 WL 1071674, at *14-15 (W.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 2004). Although the parties previously disputed whether Allam needed to provide a ...

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