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Kotler v. Jubert

United States District Court, N.D. New York

May 18, 2017

KERRY KOTLER, Plaintiff,
v.
L. JUBERT, Deputy Superintendent of Security; W. DANN, Correction Sergeant; DARWIN DAILY, Corrections Officer; and DAVID CHARLAND, Corrections Officer, Defendants.

          KERRY KOTLER Plaintiff, pro se

          OFFICE OF THE NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL GREGORY J. RODRIGUEZ, AAG WILLIAM A. SCOTT, AAG Attorneys for Defendants

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          Frederick J. Scullin, Jr. Senior United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A jury trial was held between November 30, 3016, and December 2, 2016, at the conclusion of which the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants. Plaintiff now moves for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or, in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Dkt. No. 266. Defendants oppose this motion. See Dkt. No. 271.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Kerry Kotler filed a complaint seeking compensatory and punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging, among other things, that Defendants planted a weapon in his prison cell and then disciplined him for possession of that weapon in retaliation for his participation as a member of the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee ("IGRC") and for filing individual grievances in violation of his rights under the First Amendment. See Dkt. No. 1.

         At the trial, Plaintiff called Gregory Stanley, John Donelli, and Defendants Daily, Dann, Charland, and Jubert as witnesses.[1] Plaintiff also testified. Defendants called a single witness, Defendant Jubert. At the end of the third day of trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Defendants. See Dkt. No. 261.

         Plaintiff now moves for judgement as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial. See generally Dkt. No. 266. Plaintiff raises five grounds to support his motion. First, Plaintiff argues that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence because the timing of the search of his cell and packing of his possessions is, according to him, temporally impossible. Second, Plaintiff contends that the Court erred in sending information into the jury room, in the form of a response to the jury's question, which was not entered into evidence. Third, Plaintiff asserts that the Court erred in prohibiting him from putting all of his grievance records into evidence. Fourth, Plaintiff argues that the Court fast-tracked the trial in a manner that denied him full and fair due process. Finally, Plaintiff asserts that the Court erred in dismissing his due process claim against Defendant Jubert.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot bring a motion pursuant to Rule 50 "without a showing that a ruling is required to prevent 'manifest injustice'" because he failed to move for judgment as a matter of law before the Court submitted the case to the jury. See Dkt. No. 271 at 5 (quoting Henry v. Dinelle, 929 F.Supp.2d 107, 114 (N.D.N.Y. 2013)). Defendants contend that "[m]anifest injustice 'exists only when a jury's verdict is 'wholly without legal support.'" See Id. (quoting Henry, 92 F.Supp.2d at 114 (quotation omitted)). Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot show that a manifest injustice has been done because he "failed to prove that the Defendants planted a weapon on him or that they retaliated against [him] for his grievance activity." See id.

         To the contrary, Plaintiff argues that "defendants' account of what occurred lacks the 'window of opportunity' necessary to be physically possible"; and, thus, the verdict was a "manifest injustice." See Dkt. No. 272 at 1. Plaintiff also argues that the Court "stated prior to the verdict that it would hear the parties' motions at a later time." See id.

         Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

If the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion. No later than 28 days after the entry of judgment -- or if the motion addresses a jury issue not decided by a verdict, no later than 28 days after the jury was discharged -- the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and may include an alternative or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b).

         Thus, a pre-requisite for a post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law is a motion seeking relief on similar grounds during the trial. See Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n.5 (2008) (stating that "[a] motion under Rule 50(b) is not allowed unless the movant sought relief on similar grounds under Rule 50(a) before the case was submitted to the jury" (citations omitted)).

         As Plaintiff admits, he did not make a Rule 50(a) motion during trial.[2] However, Plaintiff may still seek relief pursuant to Rule 50(b) "to prevent manifest injustice." Lore v. City of Syracuse, 670 F.3d 127, 153 (2d Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). Plaintiff's only argument in this regard is that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence.

         In support of this argument, Plaintiff focuses on certain timing issues that he asserts demonstrate that Defendants conspired to plant a weapon in his cell. Plaintiff contends that "an 8:35/am I-2 Dorm Log entry indicates all of [his] property was 'secured in officers' storage room' and [Defendant Daily] could not have been in [his] cube searching the property between the time of 8:35/am and 9:20/am as he claimed if the property was secured in storage at the time." See Dkt. No. 266-2 at 2. Furthermore, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Daily claimed to have

downloaded the photograph of the weapon up front in the administration building at 9:20/am; and if [he] had just completed the search of [P]laintiff's property at 9:20/am, there was no time available for [Defendant Daily] to secure [P]laintiff's property in the officers' storage room, secure a ride up front, travel through multiple gates and check points, secure the camera box key, then the camera, take a photograph of the weapon, plug the camera into the computer, upload the photographic image taken, and then type up the language that appears at the bottom of the digital image he created, before 9:20/am.

See id.

         Thus, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Daily's testimony was not credible, ...


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