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Murray v. Coleman

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 8, 2017

WILLIAM J. MURRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
GARY COLEMAN, et al., Defendants.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          DAVID G. LARIMER United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff William A. Murray brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the State of New York, the New York State Department of Correctional Services (“DOCS”), and a number of individual defendants, most of whom are or were employed by DOCS at the time of the relevant events, alleging that the defendants violated his constitutional rights to free speech and due process.[1]

         For much of the time this action was pending, plaintiff represented himself. The case was duly scheduled for a jury trial to begin on May 16, 2016.

         On May 6, 2016, ten days before the trial was set to begin, attorney Terrance J. Hoffmann entered his appearance on behalf of plaintiff, pursuant to a retainer agreement entered into by plaintiff and Hoffmann on or about that same date.

         The trial began as scheduled on May 16. By that date, the Court had dismissed plaintiff's claims against the State of New York and DOCS, and his claims against several of the individual defendants. The Court had also dismissed in its entirety plaintiff's due process claim. (Dkt. #180.) That left plaintiff's First Amendment free-speech claim against the remaining individual defendants.

         At the close of plaintiff's proof at trial, the Court granted defendants' Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law as to five of the remaining defendants. Plaintiff's First Amendment claim for damages proceeded against the nine other individual defendants. (Dkt. #243.)

         The jury returned a verdict finding no cause of action against seven of those defendants, but also found that plaintiff had established his claims against two defendants, John Lempke and Thomas Poole. The jury awarded $6500 in economic damages, and no punitive damages. (Dkt. #241.)

         The Court entered judgment based on the jury's verdict. (Dkt. #242.) Afterwards, defendants Lempke and Poole renewed their motion for judgment as a matter of law. (Dkt. #251.) See Fed.R.Civ.P. 50; Stoma v. Miller Marine Servs., 271 F.Supp.2d 429, 430 (E.D.N.Y. 2003). That motion is now pending before the Court, as is plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees. (Dkt. #249.) For the reasons that follow, defendants' Rule 50 motion is denied, and plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees is granted, in part.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Defendants' Rule 50 Motion

         Lempke and Poole have filed a “renewed” Rule 50 motion seeking judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”). The standard for deciding such a motion is well established: “Where a jury has rendered a verdict for the non-movant, a court may grant JMOL ‘only if the court, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, concludes that a reasonable juror would have been compelled to accept the view of the moving party.'” MacDermid Printing Solutions LLC v. Cortron Corp., 833 F.3d 172, 180 (2d Cir. 2016) (quoting Cash v. City of Erie, 654 F.3d 324, 333 (2d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 1259 (2012)). In applying that standard, the court may not “assess the weight of conflicting evidence, pass on the credibility of the witnesses, or substitute its judgment for that of the jury.” Gatti v. Community Action Agency of Greene Cty., Inc., 263 F.Supp.2d 496, 503 (N.D.N.Y. 2003) (quoting Mattivi v. South African Marine Corp., “Huguenot”, 618 F.2d 163, 167-68 (2d Cir. 1980)).

         Aside from one block quote from an unrelated case, defendants' motion papers comprise all of two sentences. Given its brevity, the Court quotes defendants' motion (minus the aforementioned block quote) in its entirety:

The plaintiff's proof failed to show that Superintendents Poole and Lempke were each aware of his allegedly protected speech at the time of his notices of discipline. ... [T]he record failed to show that neither [sic] Superintendent Poole nor Lempke had knowledge of the plaintiff's letter to the Governor's Office and responded to by [sic] the Department's Commissioner-let alone its content.

(Dkt. #251 at 1.)

         As stated, at the close of the plaintiff's proof at trial, the Court allowed the case to go forward as to nine defendants, including Lempke and Poole. Lempke was the superintendent of Five Points Correctional Facility, ...


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