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Anderson v. Aparicio

United States District Court, E.D. New York

June 12, 2014

VINCENT APARICIO and MARIA McAULEY, in their individual and official capacities, Defendants

For Perrim Anderson, Plaintiff: Frederick K. Brewington, LEAD ATTORNEY, Cory H. Morris, Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington, Hempstead, NY.

For County of Suffolk, Suffolk County Sheriff's Office, Suffolk County Correctional Facility, Vincent Aparicio, individual and official capacity, Maria McAuley, individual and official capacity, Defendants: Arlene S. Zwilling, LEAD ATTORNEY, Suffolk County Attorney, Hauppauge, NY.

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Gary R. Brown, United States Magistrate Judge.

Following the second jury trial in this excessive force case, in which a jury

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awarded plaintiff Perrim Anderson (" Anderson" ) compensatory damages of $20,000 and punitive damages of $75,000 against defendant Vincent Aparicio (" Aparicio" ), and returned a verdict in favor of defendant Maria McAuley (" McAuley" ), both Anderson and Aparicio have filed post-trial motions seeking judgment as a matter of law or a new trial pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (" Rules" ) 50 and 59. Despite the urging of the parties, this Court will not disturb the jury's liability determinations, as to do so would require the Court to impermissibly substitute its view of the credibility of witnesses and evidence for that of the jury, which acted reasonably and well within its province. As to the amount of the punitive damages assessed, I find that the jury's determination was reasonable and should similarly remain undisturbed. Plaintiff also seeks relief because the Court did not instruct the jury that any award would be indemnified by Suffolk County, but because the only evidence concerning defendants' financial condition was introduced by plaintiff, the issue of indemnification was properly excluded from the case. As such, the motions are DENIED for the reasons set forth herein.


Procedural History

Plaintiff commenced this action on May 6, 2009, by the filing of a complaint. See Compl., Docket Entry (" DE" ) [1]. On February 11, 2011, plaintiff filed an amended complaint. See Am. Compl., DE [15].

Jury selection was held on March 4, 2013, and the trial commenced on March 11, 2013, before the Honorable Joanna Seybert. See 3/4/2013 Minute Entry, DE [54]; 3/11/2013 Minute Entry, DE [63]. After deliberations, the jury returned a verdict on March 25, 2013. First Verdict Sheet, Ct. Ex. 5, DE [82]. In that verdict, the jury found that plaintiff proved that Aparicio had (1) deprived plaintiff of a constitutional right, and (2) committed a battery upon plaintiff. Id. The jury awarded compensatory damages of $65,000 and no punitive damages. Id.

However, two problems emerged. First, although the jury had awarded compensatory damages, it had answered " no" to an inquiry about whether Aparicio caused plaintiff's injuries. Id. Second, plaintiff's counsel raised " a potential inconsistency in that the jury could have based its award of damages against Defendant Aparicio upon either the Section 1983 claim or the battery claim." Order for New Trial 3, Apr. 11, 2013, DE [89]. The Court instructed the jury to continue deliberations to clarify its verdict, and following continued deliberations, the jury returned a second verdict. See Second Verdict Sheet, Ct. Ex. 8. The second verdict resolved the causation issue, as the jury now answered that interrogatory affirmatively. Id. The jury changed its answer as to whether plaintiff had proved a battery, but still found a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violation, and again awarded $65,000 in compensatory damages and no punitive damages. Id.

Plaintiff withdrew its objection concerning the potential inconsistency in the jury's findings, and urged the Court to accept the second verdict. Pl.'s Letter Acceptance of Verdict, Apr. 1, 2013, DE [85]. Defendants argued that the Court should either (1) accept the first verdict, or (2) declare a mistrial. Defs.' Letter Regarding Acceptance, Apr. 4, 2013, DE [86]. Judge Seybert determined that " the Court simply cannot harmonize how the jury could find excessive force in violation of the Constitution, but not a state law battery" ; found substantial evidence of jury confusion; and rejected the jury's verdict. Order for New Trial 8-9. Judge Seybert concluded: " Inconsistencies

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and jury confusion, therefore, necessitate a new trial in this matter." Id.

On April 17, 2013, the parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned for all purposes. Consent to Jurisdiction by U.S. Magistrate Judge, DE [92]. On November 4, 2013, a new jury was selected, and the second trial commenced on November 6, 2013. 11/4/2013 Minute Entry, DE [110]; 11/6/2013 Minute Entry, DE [111]. On November 14, 2013, the jury reached a verdict, finding defendant Aparicio liable for both excessive force and battery. The jury awarded plaintiff $20,000 in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages. Jury Verdict, DE [122]. The parties subsequently filed cross-motions for judgment as a matter of law on December 2, 2013. Defs.' Notice of Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law, DE [123]; Pl.'s Notice of Mot. for J. as a Matter of Law, DE [124]. This opinion follows.

Facts Adduced at Trial

Both parties move for relief based upon the contention that the jury's verdict is " against the weight of the evidence." Yet, remarkably, on these motions, neither party ordered nor cited any portion of the trial transcript. As such, in support of their motions, counsel rely upon factual summaries, which constitute their recollection and characterization of the testimony, drawing only scattered and fragmented support from several exhibits.

As can be imagined, in advocating for their clients, counsel present the Court with conflicting accounts of the testimony which are entirely unsupported by the record. For example, plaintiff's counsel states that, during his incarceration, " [a]t no time did Plaintiff display a threatening manner or suggest he would not comply with the deputy's requests." Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Supp. 8, Dec. 2, 2013, DE [124-1]. By contrast, defense counsel represents that " during the processing of incoming inmates," Anderson became " disruptive," became " more verbally aggressive and agitated," and " pulled out of the deputy's grasp, squared off and clenched his fist." Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. 12, Dec. 2, 2013, DE [123-1]. Regarding damages, plaintiff represents that " Mr. Anderson's diagnosis included . . . nasal fracture," while defendants insist that " [n]o medical evidence was presented that Anderson had any fracture of his facial bones." Compare Pl's Mem. of Law in Supp. 10 with Defs.' Mem. of Law in Supp. 13.

The stipulated facts are as follows:

1. Defendants Walker, Aparico, and McAuley are all employees of Suffolk County, Suffolk County Sheriff's Department, and/or Suffolk County Correctional Facility.
2. On May 28, 2008, Plaintiff was arrested on an outstanding warrant, Docket No. 2006NA011759, and transported to Suffolk County Third Precinct for processing. Plaintiff was detained overnight at the Third Precinct.
3. On May 29, 2009, Plaintiff was transported from the Third Precinct to Suffolk County District Court, located at 400 Carleton Avenue, Central Islip, New York, for an appearance on the outstanding warrant.

Proposed Pretrial Order 4-5, June 27, 2012, DE [33]. The parties also generally agree that during Anderson's detention, he was removed from a cell, " brought to the ground" by Aparicio, McAuley, and other deputy sheriffs, and handcuffed to an " eye-bolt" which is used to secure and isolate unruly prisoners. See, e.g., Defs.' Exhibit C at 4, DE [125-3].

Plaintiff testified that Aparicio and other deputies punched him in the face and on the back of the head repeatedly and slammed him onto the ground, causing injuries, Tr. 11/7/2013 at 55:1-61:25, June 10,

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2014, DE [132-2], virtually all of which defendants Aparicio and McAuley denied, Tr. 11/6/2013 at 168:1-169:14, June 10, 2014, DE [132-1]; Tr. 11/12/2013 at 66:13-68:21, June 10, 2014, DE [131-2]. Plaintiff produced photographs taken later that day documenting significant facial injuries, as well as a raft of medical documents recording at least some of the additional injuries he described. See, e.g., Pl.'s Trial Exs. 2-8, 11-13, 33, 35. Plaintiff also testified, repeatedly, that Aparicio held him while McAuley delivered a kick to his lower back or tailbone; again McAuley denied having done so. Tr. 11/12/2013 at 67:1-68:21; compare Pl.'s Trial Ex. 9 with Defs.' Exhibit C at 1-4.

Evidence of Earnings and Instructions related to Indemnification

One particularly contentious issue during the trial was the presentation to the jury of evidence of Aparicio's wages and the indemnification of any punitive award by the County.[1] This case differs from most reported cases concerning similar issues because defendants did not initiate the effort to introduce evidence concerning their finances. Rather, it was plaintiff who introduced such evidence. On November 7, 2013, counsel to plaintiff filed an application memorializing his " request to illicit [sic] income/wealth information for the individual Defendants." Pl.'s Case Management Statement, DE [113]. In the same application, plaintiff's counsel requested that plaintiff be " permitted to present evidence of the fact of indemnification." Id. Plaintiff was permitted to introduce some limited evidence concerning defendants' income to the jury. See, e.g., Tr. 11/8/2013 at 101:3-109:25, June 10, 2014, DE [134]. Aparicio's annual salary for 2009-2011, inclusive of overtime, was $117,647, $152,684, and $146,651. Tr. 11/8/2013 at 187:13-191:6, June 10, 2014, DE [131-1]. Objections by plaintiff's counsel were sustained as to any other questions about Aparicio's financial condition, such as the number of children he had and his prior salary at a different job. Id. The jury charge provided the following instruction concerning calculation of a punitive damages award:

If you decide to award punitive damages, you should proceed with calm discretion and sound reason to fix an amount that would warn defendants and others not to engage in similar conduct, but you should . . . not set an ...

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