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Guzman v. Jay

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 24, 2014

NOEL JACKSON GUZMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
P.O. BRIAN JAY, Shield No. 29733, Individually and in his Official Capacity, Defendant.[1]

OPINION & ORDER

ANDREW L. CARTER, Jr., District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On August 25, 2010, Plaintiff Noel Jackson Guzman ("Plaintiff") brought this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, against New York City Police Department Police Officer Brian Jay ("Officer Jay" or "Defendant") and others alleging, among other things, false arrest and excessive force. This Court held a jury trial beginning on December 3, 2013 and concluding on December 13, 2013. On December 17, 2013, the jury rendered a verdict for Plaintiff, awarding him $4, 000 in compensatory damages on his false arrest claim, $2, 270, 000 in compensatory damages on his excessive force claim and $200, 000 in punitive damages. Defendant moves for a new trial and/or remittitur pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the "Federal Rules") and for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules. (ECF No. 98.) For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion for a new trial and remittitur are denied, while the motion for judgment as a matter of law on the false arrest claim is granted.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Case

On February 14, 2009, Plaintiff, 23 years old at the time, went out with a group of friends to a nightclub located on 207th Street and Sherman Avenue in Manhattan, New York. (Tr. 383:17-384:14.) Plaintiff testified that, after the club closed at approximately 4:00 a.m., he and a friend walked up to the corner of Sherman Avenue and 207th Street to hail a cab. (Tr. 381:19.) At some point, Plaintiff heard a commotion and turned around to see one of his friends who had accompanied him to the nightclub, Henry Luzuriaga, engaged in a fight with two males, Alberto Molina and Jorge Henriquez. ( See Tr. 388:1-22). Plaintiff testified that, while he was observing the altercation among a large crowd, Officer Jay, in plain clothes and wearing a pair of Timberland boots, walked up to him and without provocation kicked him on his right knee. (Tr. 390:3-12.) Plaintiff testified that he experienced a "strong pain [which he had] never felt before, " (Tr. 390: 14-16), and that his knee buckled and he fell to the ground. ( See Tr. 390:24-25.) Plaintiff testified that Officer Jay then got on top of Plaintiff, maced him and grabbed his ponytail and shoved his head into the ground twice, causing him to sustain facial abrasions. (Tr. 394:16-397:9.) Plaintiff testified that Officer Jay then began to place him under arrest, at one point saying "NYPD motherfucker." (Tr. 397:13-22.)

Plaintiff was arrested and subsequently charged with obstruction of governmental administration. He was transported to the precinct, where he almost immediately complained of pain in his right leg. (Tr. 405:13-15.) The paramedics were called and eventually evaluated Plaintiff, who declined to be transported to the hospital. Plaintiff testified he advised the Emergency Medical Technician ("EMT") who evaluated him that he had been kicked that evening, but did not specify Officer Jay because Officer Jay was standing next to him at the time. (Tr. 406:7-13.) Plaintiff also testified that, at the time he signed it, a prisoner medical report form documenting his treatment did not include a statement indicating that he sustained the injury prior to the arrest. (Tr. 408:2-13.)

Plaintiff was released a few hours later, at approximately 8:00 a.m. He testified that, upon release, he requested that Officer Jay give him a ride home, given that he was unable to walk and did not have money for a cab. (Tr. 409:7-13.) After Officer Jay declined, Plaintiff attempted to walk home, but was unable to and called an ambulance, which picked him up outside the precinct and transported to Harlem Hospital where Plaintiff was treated and released. (Tr. 410:1-413:1.) Still in pain on February 17, 2009, Plaintiff went to New York Presbyterian Hospital where he was given pain medication and x-rays were performed, which were negative. (Tr. 416:1-15.) With the pain not having subsided and now suffering from lost sensation in his right knee, Plaintiff went to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital on March 29, 2009. (Tr. 416:16-417:15.) Plaintiff was eventually diagnosed with and had surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate, and lateral collateral ligaments ("ACL, " "PCL" and "LCL, " respectively), permanent peroneal nerve damage and a foot drop. Plaintiff will be required to wear a corrective ankle brace for the rest of his life, and testified that he still suffers from residual pain in his knee, particularly during the colder months, has difficulty navigating up and down stairs and is unable to stand for more than two to three hours a day. (Tr. 422:12-16, 423:19-424:25.)

Dr. Gabriel Dassa, an orthopedic surgeon and Plaintiff's physician from May 2009 to November 2010, also testified regarding Plaintiff's injuries. Dr. Dassa testified that the records indicated that the Plaintiff was suffering from pain, swelling and decreased sensation in his right knee in May 2009. (Tr. 577:6-10.) Dr. Dassa testified that the swelling three months after the incident in particular was indicative of soft tissue dysfunction in the knee. (Tr. 589:1-5.) Dr. Dassa eventually ordered the nerve test which diagnosed Plaintiff with a completely dysfunctional peroneal nerve. (Tr. XXX-XX-XXX:14.) Dr. Dassa also ordered an MRI of the knee which diagnosed Plaintiff with complete tears of the ACL and PCL. (Tr. 592:14-25.) During surgery to repair those ligaments, Plaintiff was diagnosed with a tear to his LCL. (Tr. 594:4-12.) Dr. Dassa diagnosed Plaintiff with a foot drop, attributable to the peroneal nerve dysfunction, on a follow-up visit. (Tr. 602:24-603:20, 604:4-19.)

Dr. Dassa evaluated Plaintiff again in November 2013 and diagnosed him with post-traumatic arthritis which causes continued joint dysfunction and swelling and which limits Plaintiff's activity. (Tr. 613:14-614:1, 617:5-20.) Dr. Dassa testified that it was his opinion that the torn ligaments, post-traumatic arthritis and peroneal palsy with foot drop were permanent and caused by the blunt force trauma that Plaintiff reported he suffered on February 14, 2009, rather than a preexisting injury. (Tr. 618:23-619:20, 621:1-4, 18-25.) Dr. Dassa also testified that Plaintiff's knee condition would progressively worsen over time such that Plaintiff would likely need a total knee replacement within the next 20 years, a procedure which he testified had the current cost of $65, 000. (Tr. 621:25-624:14.)

B. Defendant's Case

Officer Jay testified that he, along with three other officers from the Anti-Crime Squad of the 34th Precinct of the NYPD, arrived on the scene while a fight was breaking out, and that he immediately proceeded to try and break up a two-on-one fight going on with Messrs. Henriquez and Molina assaulting Mr. Luzuriaga. He testified that when Mr. Henriquez tried to flee, he chased after him and brought him to the ground and handcuffed him with the help of his partner, Officer Johnny Diaz. (Tr. 95:25-96:7.) He testified that, while he was trying to handcuff Mr. Henriquez, Plaintiff charged at him, grabbed him and tried to pull him off Mr. Henriquez, and then attempted to strike him. (Tr. 96:16-99:16.) Officer Jay also testified that he believed the Plaintiff had grabbed Officer Diaz, (Tr. 96:17-18), and that he then pepper sprayed the Plaintiff in an effort to subdue him. (Tr. 112:19-113:8.) Officer Jay testified that Plaintiff attempted to flee at this point, but that he was able to corral him and place him under arrest. (Tr. 115:8-117:20.) Despite the foregoing, Officer Jay testified that he never saw the Plaintiff fighting that night. (Tr. 91:1-3, 218:8-12.)

Officer Jay transported Plaintiff back to the precinct. (Tr. 130:2-4.) After Plaintiff began to complain about pain to his right leg, Officer Jay requested medical assistance. (Tr. 130:24-25.) Officer Jay testified that, consistent with the EMT's paperwork, the Plaintiff had advised both him and the EMT that he sustained the injury to his leg prior to the arrest. (Tr. 134:6-13, 137:4-15.)

Officer Jay's fellow officers testified and had accounts that were different in material respects from Officer Jay's. Officer Diaz, for example, testified that he had no recollection of Plaintiff grabbing him or Officer Jay. (Tr. 236:1-237:3.) Officer Diaz claimed that Plaintiff had instead repeatedly approached Officer Jay, ignoring Officer Jay's instructions to step back, until Officer Jay pepper sprayed him. (Tr. 237:17-23.) Meanwhile, Sergeant Michael McHugh testified that he and Officer Walters, the other officers on the scene, had apprehended the two men assaulting the one individual with neither Officer Jay nor Diaz being in the immediate vicinity. (Tr. 281:14-282:4, 285:6-9, 285:23-25.) Officer Walters similarly testified that he and Sgt. McHugh had arrested Messrs. Molina and Henriquez and that, after apprehending them, he turned them over to Officer Jay. (Tr. 314:8-315:15.)

Finally, Mr. Molina testified that he and Mr. Henriquez were attacked by and fought with two individuals that evening, and that the individual Mr. Henriquez had fought could have been the Plaintiff. (Tr. 507:14-511:11.)

III. DISCUSSION

A. Motion for New Trial

Rule 59(a)(1)(A) of the Federal Rules provides that a district court can grant a new trial "after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." The Second Circuit has held that a grant of a new trial is appropriate under this rule only where "the trial court is convinced that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result or that the verdict is a miscarriage of justice." Piroscafor v. Metro-North Commuter R. Co., 552 F.Appx. 6, 9 (2d Cir. 2013) (summary order) (quoting Lightfoot v. Union Carbide Corp., 110 F.3d 898, 911 (2d Cir. 1997)). In making this determination, the court is permitted to "weigh the evidence and the credibility of witnesses and need not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict winner." Raedle v. Credit Agricole Indosuez, 670 F.3d 411, 418 (2d Cir. 2012). However, a district court judge "must exercise their ability to weigh credibility with caution and great restraint, " and may not "freely substitute his or her assessment of the credibility of witnesses for that of the jury simply because the judge disagrees with the jury." Id. (quoting DLC Mgmt. Corp. v. Town of Hyde Park, 163 F.3d 124, 134 (2d Cir. 1998) and United States v. Landau, 155 F.3d 93, 104 (2d Cir. 1998)).

In fact, where, as here, "the resolution of the issues depended on assessments of the credibility of the witnesses, it is proper for the court to refrain from setting aside the verdict and granting a new trial." Id. (quoting Metromedia Co. v. Fugazy, 983 F.2d 350, 363 (2d Cir. 1992)). As illustrated by this Court's recount of some of the relevant testimony in Section II, supra, this case was at bottom one that turned on the jury's credibility assessments. The Court sees no basis to disturb those assessments. Indeed Defendant's motion, rather than arguing the verdict is erroneous or lacking support in the evidence, insists instead that a new trial along with monetary sanctions are warranted because of Plaintiff's counsel misconduct at trial.

A court considering a motion for a new trial based on the misconduct of counsel "must consider such a claim in the context of the trial as a whole." Morse v. Fusto, No. 07-CV-4793 (CBA) (RML), 2013 WL 4647603, at *15 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 29, 2013) (quoting Claudio v. Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free Sch. Dist., No. 09-CV-5251 JFB AKT, 2013 WL 3820671, at *20 (E.D.N.Y. July 24, 2013)). It must examine, "among other things, the totality of the circumstances, including the nature of the comments, their frequency, their possible relevancy to the real issues before the jury, and the manner in which the parties and the court treated the comments." Levitant v. N.Y.C. Human Res. Admin., 914 F.Supp.2d 281, 311 (E.D.N.Y. 2012) (quoting In re Fosamax Prods. Liab. Litig., 742 F.Supp.2d 460, 477 (S.D.N.Y. 2010)).

Here, in support of his motion for a new trial, Defendant raises arguments related to Plaintiff's counsel violation of in limine rulings which this Court already considered during trial. "It is well-settled, " however, "that Rule 59 is not a vehicle for relitigating old issues, presenting the case under new theories, securing a rehearing on the merits or otherwise taking a second bite at the apple.'" Sequa Corp v. GBJ Corp., 156 F.3d 136, 144 (2d Cir. 1998); see also Osorio v. Source Enters., Inc., No. 05 Civ. 10029(JSR), 2007 WL 683985, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 2, 2007) (denying motion for new trial that "rel[ied] on a potpourri of arguments and objections that were previously rejected at trial and that have gained no greater persuasiveness since"); Morse v. Fusto, 2013 WL 4647603, at *14 (same). Nonetheless, Defendant seeks this Court's reconsideration of rulings because he ...


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