United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Cedar Rapids Division
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL
STUART SCOLES CHIEF MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on the Motion for New Trial on
Damages Against Defendant Payne Only (docket number 70) filed
by the Plaintiff on November 29, 2016, and the Resistance
(docket number 73) filed by Defendant Bruce Payne on December
13. Pursuant to Local Rule 7.c, the motion will be decided
without oral argument.
January 29, 2014, Defendants Grant Rasmussen and Bruce Payne,
both police officers with the City of Cedar Rapids,
approached the residence of Plaintiff Patrick James, Sr. The
officers had a warrant for the arrest of Patrick James, Jr.
Payne entered the house with permission and asked Plaintiff
whether he was Patrick James. When Plaintiff answered
affirmatively, Payne placed James under arrest. Almost
immediately, however, it was determined that Plaintiff was
not the subject of the warrant, and Patrick James, Jr. was in
the basement. Plaintiff was released within a minute without
ever having left his living room. James argues, however, that
he suffered a torn rotator cuff as the result of Payne's
use of excessive force, and required surgery.
16, 2015, James filed this action against the City of Cedar
Rapids, Rasmussen, and Payne, claiming damages for wrongful
arrest and the use of excessive force. The City of Cedar
Rapids was dismissed on summary judgment on July 19, 2016.
The claims against Rasmussen and Payne came on for trial to a
jury on October 31, 2016. On November 3, the jury returned a
verdict finding in favor of Rasmussen on both claims, and
finding against Payne on both claims. The jury found
James' damages for wrongful arrest to be $22, 500, and
found damages for the excessive use of force to be $7, 500.
Judgment was entered accordingly.
asks the Court to order a new trial on the issue of damages
only. James asserts a reasonable jury could have concluded
$22, 500 was fair compensation for the wrongful arrest, but
argues that no reasonable jury could conclude that $7, 500
was fair compensation for the use of excessive force. In
resisting the motion for new trial, Payne states in a
footnote that he "does not dispute the possibility $22,
500 represents the value the jury placed on James'
non-medical damages." Payne argues, however, that a new
trial is not justified.
jury found Payne wrongfully arrested James and, in the
process, used excessive force. In awarding damages for
wrongful arrest, it is unclear whether the jury considered
James' physical injuries in determining appropriate
damages. Absent James' claim of physical injury, the
damages associated with the wrongful arrest would seem to be
nominal. That is, while the jury could conclude James was
wrongfully arrested, he was in custody for less man one
minute. The record was imprecise regarding whether he was
even fully handcuffed. While his daughter and his son
witnessed the episode, it is difficult to imagine that he
suffered $22, 500 worth of emotional distress.
possible the jury conflated James' wrongful arrest with
his claim of physical injury. The damages award on the
wrongful arrest claim ($22, 500) approximates the amount of
medical bills ($22, 020.72) which James would have to repay
if recovered in this lawsuit. See Plaintiffs Exhibit
15 (docket number 63-17). The jury may have included the
subrogated medical bills in its award for damages on the
wrongful arrest claim.
jury awarded substantially less ($7, 500) on the excessive
force claim. How the jury arrived at the amount of damages is
unknowable. It should be noted, however, that the jury could
award damages on the excessive force claim without
concluding mat James suffered a torn rotator cuff as a result
of the excessive force. That is, the jury could have found
Payne used excessive force, but did not cause James'
injury. Plaintiff's own expert testified that he had
never heard of a person suffering a rotator cuff tear as a
result of being arrested and handcuffed.
Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(A) authorizes the Court to
grant a new trial on all or some of the issues "for any
reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in
an action at law in federal court." In White v.
Pence, 961 F.2d 776 (8th Cir. 1992), the Court discussed
at length the standard to be applied by the trial court in
considering a motion for new trial. "[T]he standard is
simply one as to whether a miscarriage of justice had
occurred." Id. at 778. See also Murphy v.
Missouri Dept. of Corrections, 506 F.3d 1111, 1116 (8th
Cir. 2007) ("The grant of a motion for new trial is
appropriate only if 'the verdict is against the weight of
the evidence and allowing it to stand would result in a
miscarriage of justice.'"); Beckman v. Mayo
Found., 804 F.2d 435, 439 (8th Cir. 1986) ("The
district court can only disturb a jury verdict to prevent a
miscarriage of justice.").
plaintiff argues that they deserve a new trial because the
jury's damage award was inadequate, the court "will
not reverse a verdict on tiiese grounds unless there has been
plain injustice or a monstrous or shocking result."
First State Bank of Floodwood v. Jubie, 86 F.3d 755,
759 (8th Cir. 1996). The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has
stated repeatedly that it "will not reverse a trial
judge's denial of a motion for new trial on the grounds
of an inadequate or excessive jury verdict except in tiiose
rare cases in which there is plain injustice or a monstrous
or shocking result." Novak v. Gramm, 469 F.2d
430, 434 (8th Cir. 1972).
determining whether a verdict is against the weight of the
evidence, the trial court can rely on its own reading of the
evidence - it can 'weigh the evidence, disbelieve
witnesses, and grant a new trial even where there is
substantial evidence to sustain me verdict.'"
White, 961 F.2d at 780 (quoting Ryan v.
McDonough Power Equip., 734 F.2d 385, 387 (8th Cir.
1984)). The Court's discretion is not boundless, however,
and it is not "free to reweigh the evidence and set
aside the jury verdict merely because the jury could have
drawn different inferences or conclusions or because judges
feel that other results are more reasonable."
Id. That is, a "trial judge may not usurp the
functions of a jury which weighs the evidence and credibility
of witnesses." Id. at 781.
these general principles in mind, the Court turns to the
arguments made by James in his motion for new trial. James
asserts he is entitled to a new trial, on the issue of
damages only, for two reasons: First, James argues that
questions posed by the jury suggest it "got off on a
tangent not supported by the record." Second, James
argues that Defendants' counsel improperly asked the jury