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Legg v. Ulster County

United States District Court, N.D. New York

August 24, 2017

ULSTER COUNTY; PAUL J. VANBLARCUM, in his official capacity as Sheriff of the County of Ulster and individually; RICHARD BOCKELMANN, in his official capacity as Sheriff of the County of Ulster and individually; BRADFORD EBEL, in his official capacity as Superintendent of the Ulster County Jail and individually; and RAY ACEVEDO, in his official capacity as Deputy Superintendent of Ulster County Jail and individually, Defendants.






         Pending before the Court is Defendant Ulster County's motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial with regard to Plaintiff Watson's hostile work environment claims. See Dkt. No. 138.[1]


         Plaintiff Watson and three other female corrections officers at the Ulster County Jail filed this lawsuit on May 11, 2009, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         On January 7, 2011, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiffs' claims failed for various reasons. See Dkt. No. 29. In a Memorandum-Decision and Order dated November 21, 2013, the Court dismissed several of Plaintiffs' claims. However, the Court determined that a trial was necessary to adjudicate, among others, Plaintiff Watson's Title VII hostile work environment claim against Defendant County and her § 1983 hostile work environment claim against Defendant County. See generally Dkt. No. 55.

         After Plaintiffs presented their case-in-chief, Defendants moved for a directed verdict on several of Plaintiffs' claims, including Plaintiff Watson's hostile work environment claims. Defendants' counsel generally argued that "the proof ha[d] been insufficient to set forth the prima facie case[.]" See Dkt. No. 137-8 at 602:16-17. The Court reserved its decision on the hostile work environment claims. The jury then returned a verdict on August 19, 2014, finding no cause of action for all of Plaintiffs' remaining claims with the exception of Plaintiff Watson's Title VII and § 1983 hostile work environment claims. See Dkt. No. 98. The jury awarded Plaintiff Watson $200, 000 in compensatory damages for her Title VII claim and $200, 000 in compensatory damages for her § 1983 claim. See id.

         After the Court excused the jury, the Court discussed post-trial motions with counsel. The Court averred that it would give the parties two weeks after the date that the trial record was prepared to file their post-trial motions. See Dkt. No. 166 at 71. The Court entered judgment on August 20, 2014. See Dkt. No. 102.

         Defendant[2] originally filed its motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial regarding Plaintiff's hostile work environment claims on November 5, 2014. See Dkt. No. 121. However, pursuant to Rule 50(b) and Rule 59(b), these motions had to be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b), 59(b). The Court noted that, "[g]enerally, a court may extend the time to act for good cause; however, Rule 6(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure explicitly provides that '[a] court must not extend the time to act under Rules 50(b) and (d), 52(b), 59(b), (d), and (e), and 60(b).'" See Dkt. No. 122 at 2 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b)(2) (emphasis added)). Thus, on November 6, 2014, before Plaintiff responded to Defendant's motion, the Court denied Defendant's motion as untimely because it was filed beyond the 28-day window.

         On the same day, November 6, 2014, Defendant filed a letter motion asking the Court to reconsider its decision to deny its Rule 50/59 motion as untimely. See Dkt. No. 123. For support, Defendant argued that the Court had previously granted its request to delay filing post-trial motions until two-weeks after the parties had received the trial record. See Id. Further, Defendant's attorney stated that he had received the trial transcript on October 22, 2014, and filed the motion less than two-weeks after that. See id.

         The Court denied Defendant's motion for reconsideration. See Dkt. No. 124. In doing so, the Court reasoned that "Rule 6(b)(2) renders the deadlines for filing motions pursuant to Rule 50(b) and Rule 59(b) jurisdictional. Therefore, the Court lacked the authority to extend those deadlines." See Id. at 2 (citations omitted). Thus, "[t]he fact that the Court instructed Defendants that they had two weeks from the time they received the trial transcript to file their post trial motions did not change the fact that, under Rules 50(b) and 59(b), Defendants were required to file any such motions '[]no later than 28 days after the entry of judgment . . . .'" See Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b)).

         Defendant appealed this Court's ruling to the Second Circuit. See Dkt. No. 127. In reversing this Court's decision, the Second Circuit first explained that "[a] time limitation is jurisdictional only if it is prescribed by statute." Legg v. Ulster Cty., 820 F.3d 67, 78 (2d Cir. 2016). However, "procedural rules which have no statutory analogue, although 'mandatory' in the sense that a party may insist upon their enforcement, do not affect the power of the courts and are subject to waiver or equitable exception." Id. at 78-79 (citation omitted). The Second Circuit concluded that Rule 6(b)(2) was not jurisdictional. See Id. at 79 (citations omitted). Accordingly, the Second Circuit held that, "even though the district court was without authority to grant an extension under Rule 6(b)(2), it retained the power to consider whether the plaintiffs had waived compliance with the rule or whether an equitable exception applied." Id. (citation omitted). Thus, the Second Circuit remanded the case to this Court with instructions to consider "whether the plaintiffs waived objection to the court's improper grant of an extension of time or whether an equitable exception to the prohibition of such extensions applied on the facts of this case." Id.

         After reviewing the Second Circuit's decision, this Court held a conference with counsel and directed the parties to submit briefs regarding the waiver/equitable exception issue and the merits of the underlying motion. The parties did so, see Dkt. Nos. 136, 138; and each filed a reply brief, see Dkt. Nos. 170, 172.


         A. Waiver

         With respect to waiver, the important consideration is axiomatically whether the opposing party timely objected to the motion. See Art Attacks Ink, LLC v. MGA Entm't Inc., 581 F.3d 1138, 1143 (9th Cir. 2009) (stating that the plaintiff "never objected to the timeliness of [the defendant's] Rule 50(b) motion for summary judgment before the district court[; a]ccordingly, [the plaintiff] has forfeited its untimeliness objection"); see also Dill v. Gen. Am. Life Ins. Co., 525 F.3d 612, 618 (8th Cir. 2008) (stating that the timeliness requirements in Rule 50(b) and 6(b) "may be forfeited if they are not timely raised" (citations omitted)). Therefore, the Court must consider "whether [Plaintiff] timely raised the untimeliness of [Defendant]'s Rule 50(b) [and Rule 59] motion[s]. If [s]he did, [s]he is 'assure[d] relief.''' Dill, 525 F.3d at 618-19 (quoting Eberhart, 546 U.S. at 19, 126 S.Ct. 403). On the other hand, if Plaintiff "'wait[ed] too long to raise the point, ' . . . as [Defendant] asserts, the defense was forfeited. . . ." Id. (quoting Kontrick, 540 U.S. at 456, 124 S.Ct. 906); see also Wilburn v. Robinson, 480 F.3d 1140, 1147 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (stating that "[a] party indisputably forfeits a timeliness objection based on a claim-processing rule if he raises the issue after the court has issued a merits decision"). Indisputably, Plaintiff is objecting to Defendant's untimely motion for the first time in this filing. Thus, the Court must determine whether Plaintiff, having waited until now to object, has waived her objection.

         The common principle in the above-cited cases is that whether a party has waived its objection to the timeliness of an opposing party's motion turns on whether that party has objected before the court rules on the underlying motion. See Dill, 525 F.3d at 618; see also Nat'l Ecological Found. v. Alexander, 496 F.3d 466, 476 (6th Cir. 2007) (finding that the party forfeited its timeliness argument because it raised that argument for the first time on appeal). Similarly, in Advanced Bodycare, the court held that the defendant had waived its right to object to an untimely Rule 50/59 motion because the defendant had failed to do so until after the district court issued a decision disposing of the motion. See Advanced Bodycare Sols., LLC v. Thione Int'l, Inc., 615 F.3d 1352, 1359 n.15 (11th Cir. 2010). In this case, the Court dismissed Defendant's Rule 50 and Rule 59 motion before Plaintiff objected; thus, it would follow that Plaintiff waived her right to object to Defendant's untimely motion.[3] See, e.g, Knox v. Countrywide Bank, 673 F.App'x 31, 33 (2d Cir. 2016) (summary order) (finding that the defendant had waived its untimeliness argument because it did not make any such argument).

         Admittedly, this case is in a unique procedural posture. It is unlike Dill because Plaintiff never had an opportunity to object in her opposition papers to Defendant's original motion. It is also unlike Advanced Bodycare because the Court did not rule on the merits of the motion but rather dismissed it on timeliness grounds before Plaintiff could respond. However, based on the circumstances of this case, the Court finds that Plaintiff constructively waived her right to object as soon as the Court issued an Order dismissing the motion (regardless of whether she had a chance to do so). See e.g., Advanced Bodycare, 615 F.3d at 1359. Accordingly, the Court will consider Defendant's motion.[4]

         B. Defendant's Rule 50 and Rule 59 motions

         1. Standard of review

         In considering a motion for judgment as a matter of law, a court "'must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non moving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.'. . ." Zellner v. Summerlin, 494 F.3d 344, 370 (2d Cir. 2007) (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing, 530 U.S. 133, 150[], 120 S.Ct. 2097, 147 L.Ed.2d 105 (2000) (emphasis [added])). "'Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.'" Id. (quotation omitted). Moreover, a court "must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe." Id. (quotation omitted). In sum, a court may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law "'only if it can conclude that, with credibility assessments made against the moving party and all inferences drawn against the moving party, a reasonable juror would have been compelled to accept the view of the moving party.'" Id. at 370-71 (quoting Piesco v. Koch, 12 F.3d 332, 343 (2d Cir. 1993) (emphasis added)). Accordingly, a court must not set aside a judgment unless

"(1) there is such a complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the jury's findings could only have been the result of sheer surmise and conjecture, or
(2) there is such an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor of the movant that reasonable and fair minded [persons] could not arrive at a verdict against [it]." Advance Pharm., Inc. v. United States, 391 F.3d 377, 390 (2d Cir. 2004) (quotation omitted).

Rule 59(a)(1)(A) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "[t]he court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues - and to any party - as follows: (A) after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). As a general matter, "[a] motion for a new trial should be granted when, in the opinion of the district court, 'the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result or . . . the verdict is a miscarriage of justice.'" Song v. Ives Labs., Inc., 957 F.2d 1041, 1047 (2d Cir. 1992) (quotation and other citations omitted). A court may grant a new trial, "therefore, when the jury's verdict is against the weight of the evidence." DLC Mgmt. Corp. v. Town of Hyde Park, 163 F.3d 124, 133 (2d Cir. 1998) (citations omitted).

         The standards governing a Rule 59 motion for a new trial on the ground that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence differs in two important ways from the standards governing a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law. "Unlike judgment as a matter of law, a new trial may be granted even if there is substantial evidence supporting the jury's verdict." Id. Additionally, a court "is free to weigh the evidence . . ., and need not view it in the light most favorable to the verdict winner." See Id. (citation omitted). Nonetheless, a court should only grant a Rule 59 motion when the jury's verdict is "'egregious."' Id. (citation omitted). "Accordingly, a court should rarely disturb a jury's evaluation of a witness's credibility." Id. (citations omitted).

         2. Hostile work environment -- Title VII and § 1983[5]

         a. Plaintiff's hostile work environment

         "'[T]o establish a hostile work environment claim under Title VII [or § 1983], a plaintiff must produce enough evidence to show that "the workplace is permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule, and insult, that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the victim's employment and create an abusive working environment."'" Rivera v. Rochester Genesee Reg'l Transp. Auth., 743 F.3d 11, 20 (2d Cir. 2014) (quotation and footnote omitted). In that regard, a plaintiff must show "both 'objective and subjective elements: the misconduct shown must be "severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment, " and the victim must also subjectively perceive that environment to be abusive.'" Feingold v. New York, 366 F.3d 138, 150 (2d Cir. 2004) (quotation omitted). Furthermore, when evaluating a hostile work environment claim, courts "'examin[e] the totality of the circumstances, including: the frequency of the discriminatory conduct; its severity; whether it is physically threatening or humiliating, or a mere offensive utterance; and whether it unreasonably interferes with the victim's [job] performance.'" Rivera, 743 F.3d at 20 (quoting Hayut v. State Univ. of N.Y., 352 F.3d 733, 745 (2d Cir. 2003)). "'As a general rule, incidents must be more than "episodic; they must be sufficiently continuous and concerted in order to be deemed pervasive."'" Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 148 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Alfano, 294 F.3d at 374 (quoting Perry, 115 F.3d at 149)).

         In Terry, the Second ...

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