United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION AND ORDER
ABRAMS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
September 5, 2017, after a five-day trial, a jury found in
favor of Plaintiff Eon Shepherd, who is currently
incarcerated, on his sexual assault claims against Defendants
Shawn Sarles and Jason Ferrick, and in favor of correction
officer Defendants Alan Twedt, Robert Bentivegna, and Robert
Ercole on Plaintiffs remaining claims. The jury awarded
Plaintiff one dollar in nominal damages and $20, 000 in
punitive damages for each liable Defendant. Before the Court
are Defendants Sarles's and Ferrick's motions for
judgment as a matter of law, a new trial, or a reduction in
the punitive-damages award. See Dkt. 273. For the
reasons stated below, Defendants' motions are denied.
September 13, 2011, Plaintiff, then proceeding pro
se, brought a variety of Federal constitutional claims
in an amended complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
All of Plaintiff s claims arose from events that allegedly
occurred between October 2005 and August 2008 while he was an
inmate at New York State's Green Haven and Elmira
Correctional Facilities. See Dkt. 61. Defendants
were more than two dozen current and former employees of the
New York State Department of Corrections and Community
Supervision, on whose behalf the Attorney General of the
State of New York filed a consolidated motion for summary
judgment. Defendants argued that the majority of Plaintiffs
claims were precluded as a matter of law and that he had
failed to properly exhaust the remainder. See Dkt.
109. On March 31, 2015, the Court granted in part and denied
in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Dkt.
127. After the Court appointed counsel to represent
Plaintiff, it sought additional briefing on Defendants'
motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 159. On February 16,
2017, the Court reconsidered its previous decision to grant
summary judgment to Defendants on Shepherd's claims that
he was sexually assaulted, in violation of the Eighth
Amendment, and that he was denied religious meals on two
Rastafarian holidays in violation of the Free Exercise
Clause, and it denied summary judgment as to those two causes
of action. The Court had also previously denied summary
judgment for three additional causes of action: (1) that
Defendant Bentivegna had been deliberately indifferent to
Plaintiffs request for pain medication, in violation of the
Eighth Amendment; (2) that Defendant Sarles had frisk
searched Plaintiff in retaliation for filing grievances, in
violation of the First Amendment; and (3) that multiple
Defendants had searched Plaintiffs hair, in violation of the
First Amendment because of his Rastafarian religious beliefs.
See Feb. 2017 Op. (Dkt. 194).
17, 2017, Plaintiff agreed to dismiss with prejudice his
hair-search claims. Dkt. 220. On August 29, 2017, the parties
proceeded to trial on the remaining four causes of action
against five Defendants. On September 5, 2017, the jury found
for Defendants on the retaliation, deliberate indifference,
and religious-meal causes of action. Tr. Trans., Sept. 5,
2017 at 6-8 (Dkt. 272). The jury found for Plaintiff and
against Defendants Sarles and Ferrick on the Eighth Amendment
cause of action, specifically finding that Plaintiff had
"proven by a preponderance of the credible evidence that
he was sexually abused or assaulted in violation of his
constitutional rights." Id. at 6-7. The jury
awarded Plaintiff no compensatory damages, one dollar in
nominal damages, and $20, 000 in punitive damages against
both Sarles and Ferrick.
October 3, 2017, Sarles and Ferrick reiterated their motion
for judgment as a matter of law-which they had first made at
the close of Plaintiffs case-or a new trial, based on
insufficient evidence, qualified immunity, and one of this
Court's evidentiary rulings. Failing a favorable judgment
or a new trial, they asked for a reduction in punitive
damages. Plaintiff opposed the motion and Defendants replied.
Dkts. 278, 279. For the reasons stated below, Defendants'
motions are denied.
argue that the record did not contain sufficient evidence to
allow a reasonable jury to find for Plaintiff and that the
Court should either enter judgment for Defendants as a matter
of law or, in the alternative, grant them a new trial. They
argue that the only evidence in the record to support the
verdicts are "Plaintiffs own self-serving
complaints" and vague medical records. Defs. Memorandum
of Law at 6 (Dkt. 274).
may only grant judgment as a matter of law if "a party
has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the
court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally
sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that
issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). That standard "imposes a
heavy burden on a movant," requiring "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 the evidence in favor of the
movant is so overwhelming that reasonable and fair minded
persons could not arrive at a verdict against it."
Cash v. Cty. of Erie, 654 F.3d 324, 333 (2d Cir.
2011) (internal quotation omitted). This Court "must
draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving
party, and it may not make credibility assessments or weigh
the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods.,
Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). "In short, a Rule
50 motion may be granted 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.'" Cash, 654 F.3d at 333 (quoting
Zellner v. Summerlin, 494 F.3d 344, 371 (2d Cir.
trial, this Court instructed the jury that, to find for
Plaintiff on his sexual abuse claims against Sarles and
Ferrick, it would have to find (1) "that the [relevant]
defendant sexually abused or assaulted the plaintiff,"
(2) "that the defendant did so intentionally or
recklessly," and (3) "that the defendant's
actions proximately caused injury to the plaintiff."
Dkt. 227 at 24. In the instruction, the Court also advised
that a "prison official's intentional contact with
an inmate's genitalia or other intimate area which serves
no penological interest and is undertaken with the intent to
gratify the prison official's sexual desire or humiliate
the inmate, violates the Eighth Amendment." Id.
"An inmate need not show there was penetration, physical
injury or direct contact with uncovered genitalia."
testified that on January 23, 2007, Defendant Sarles took a
metal wand and "rammed it between [his] ass,"
meaning his "butt cheeks," while he was facing the
wall and being searched. Tr. Trans., Aug. 29, 2017 at 76
(Dkt. 264). In addition to the physical intrusion, Plaintiff
stated that Sarles, after Plaintiff asked what he was doing,
said that "he should take this hand scanner and 'f
[Plaintiff] with it." Id. at 77. Plaintiff
testified that the "ramm[ing]" caused a "sharp
pain." Id. Furthermore, Plaintiff said that
shortly afterwards when he was "crying" and telling
a doctor about what Sarles had just done to him, Sarles was
standing nearby and "rubbing his eyes like [Plaintiff
was] a cry baby." Id. at 78. Plaintiff told the
jury that he was crying because of the pain, and because he
felt "ashamed" and "embarrassed" by the
incident. Id. at 78-79. He also testified that ...