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Smith v. Skardinski

United States District Court, Second Circuit

June 3, 2013

SHAUNDEL SMITH and FRANK SMITH, Plaintiffs,
v.
DETECTIVE THOMAS SKARDINSKI, DETECTIVE SEAN LYNCH, DETECTIVE GEORGE HACK, SERGEANT EDWARD TAGLIALATELA, DETECTIVE STEVEN KILBURN, DETECTIVE EDWARD MACBLANE, DETECTIVE PATRICK DECASTRO, TIMOTHY GALANAUGH, Defendants.

ANTOINETTE L. WILLIAMS, ESQ., OFFICE OF ANTOINETTE L. WILLIAMS, P.C., Pelham, NY, Counsel for Plaintiffs.

AIMEE M. PAQUETTE, ESQ., JAMES P. McGINTY, ESQ., OFFICE OF CORPORATION COUNSEL FOR CITY OF SYRACUSE, Syracuse, NY, Counsel for Defendants.

ORDER

THÉRÈSE WILEY DANCKS, Magistrate Judge.

This civil rights action has been assigned to me on consent of the parties, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.1. (Dkt. No. 41.) Currently pending before this Court are the following motions: (1) Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure with respect to all of the causes of action, as well as the defense of qualified immunity; (2) Plaintiffs' motion for judgment as a matter of law on all causes of action and finding that the defense of qualified immunity does not apply; and (3) both parties' request for a mistrial. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part; Plaintiffs' motion is denied; and the requests for a mistrial are denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs' causes of action involve claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, unreasonable search and seizure, and excessive force arising out of events that occurred from November 12, 2008, to November 14, 2008. (Dkt. No. 11.) Defendants assert various affirmative defenses including probable cause, justification, privilege, and qualified immunity. (Dkt. No. 16 ¶¶ 16-19.) A trial was held on November 26, 2012, through December 4, 2012, but the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict and a mistrial was declared. (Text Minute Entry Dec. 4, 2012.) A new trial was held on March 25, 2013, through March 28, 2013, and the testimony has been transcribed. (Dkt. Nos. 128-131.) Just prior to the new trial, the parties stipulated to a discontinuance as to Defendant Lieutenant Conley. (Dkt. No. 113.) The pending motions were made at the close of proof per the Court's directive, and the Court reserved decision on the motions. (Dkt. No. 130 at 168; Dkt. No. 131 at 84.)[1] Thereafter, while these motions were pending, the jury reached a unanimous verdict finding no liability on any of the claims asserted by Plaintiff Shaundel Smith. (Dkt. No. 116.) The jury also rendered a unanimous verdict finding no liability on the causes of action asserted by Plaintiff Frank Smith for false arrest, false imprisonment, and unreasonable search and seizure. Id. The jury found liability against all Defendants except Edward MacBlane ("MacBlane") for Plaintiff Frank Smith's cause of action for excessive force, awarded him $1, 000 in actual damages, and awarded punitive damages. Id. at 44-46. The hearing on punitive damages was not immediately held and has not yet been held. (Dkt. No. 131 at 85-88.)

The parties participated with the Court in a telephone conference on March 29, 2013, to address the outstanding issues of the pending post-proof motions and the scheduling of a hearing on punitive damages. (Text Minute Entry Mar. 29, 2013.) The parties also discussed further briefing on the issue of qualified immunity. Id. Those briefs have been received and considered in this order. (Dkt. Nos. 121 and 122.) A second phone conference was held on April 17, 2013, in which it was directed that the parties submit further briefing to the Court on the post-proof motions before the hearing on punitive damages would be held. (Text Minute Entry Apr. 17, 2013.) Those briefs have also been received and considered in this order. (Dkt. Nos. 126 and 127.) The parties alternatively requested a mistrial. Id.

II. LEGAL STANDARD GOVERNING RULE 50 MOTIONS FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW

Generally, motions for judgment as a matter of law in a jury trial are analyzed pursuant to Rule 50(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that:

(1) If a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue, the court may:
(A) resolve the issue against the party; and
(B) grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1). See also Highland Capital Mgmt. LP v. Schneider, 607 F.3d 322, 326 (2d Cir. 2010) (judgment as a matter of law proper where a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)). "In ruling on a motion for a directed verdict or for judgment n.o.v., the district court is required to deny the motion unless, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the evidence is such that, without weighing the credibility of the witnesses or otherwise considering the weight of the evidence, there can be but one conclusion as to the verdict that reasonable men could have reached.'" Sir Speedy, Inc. v. L & P Graphics, Inc., 957 F.2d 1033, 1038-39 (2d Cir. 1992) (quoting Simblest v. Maynard, 427 F.2d 1, 4 (2d Cir. 1970)). In other words, judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(a) is appropriate when "drawing all reasonable inferences ...


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