Langford v. Hale County AL Commission et al
ORDER denying 88 Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law as set out. Signed by Judge Kristi K. DuBose on 9/16/2016. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A, # 2 Exhibit B) (cmj)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
HALE COUNTY ALABAMA
ARTHUR CRAWFORD in his Individual
and Official Capacity,
Civil Action No. 2:14-00070-KD-M
This action is before the Court on Defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law, or
in the alternative, for remittitur or a new trial (doc. 88) and Plaintiff’s response (doc. 97). Upon
consideration, and for the reasons set forth herein, the motion is DENIED.
I. Defendants’ Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of law
The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently set out the standard for reviewing
post-trial motions pursuant to Rule 50(b), as follows:
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a)(2) provides that a party may move for
judgment as a matter of law “before the case is submitted to the jury.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(2). “The motion must specify the judgment sought and the law
and facts that entitle the movant to the judgment.” Id. If a district court does not
grant the motion, the movant may file “a renewed motion,” under Rule 50(b),
after trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).
“The standard for granting a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law
under Rule 50(b) is precisely the same as the standard for granting the presubmission motion [under 50(a)].” Chaney v. City of Orlando, 483 F.3d 1221,
1227 (11th Cir.2007) (alteration in original) (quoting 9A Charles Alan Wright &
Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2537 (2d ed.1995)). Thus, as
Defendant Hale County, Alabama was dismissed on motion for summary judgment (Doc. 56).
with motions under Rule 50(a), the question before a district court confronting a
renewed Rule 50(b) motion is whether the evidence is “legally sufficient ... to find
for the party on that issue.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1).
In considering whether the verdict is supported by sufficient evidence, “the court
must evaluate all the evidence, together with any logical inferences, in the light
most favorable to the non-moving party.” Beckwith v. City of Daytona Beach
Shores, 58 F.3d 1554, 1560 (11th Cir.1995). And, as we have stressed, “[i]t is the
jury's task—not [the court's]—to weigh conflicting evidence and inferences, and
determine the credibility of witnesses.” Shannon v. Bellsouth Telecomms., Inc.,
292 F.3d 712, 715 (11th Cir.2002) (quoting Lipphardt v. Durango Steakhouse of
Brandon, Inc., 267 F.3d 1183, 1186 (11th Cir.2001)).
McGinnis v. American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc., 817 F.3d 1241, 1254–1255 (11th Cir.
Defendants move the Court to grant their Rule 50(b) motion for judgment as a matter of
law and reduce the jury’s award of $110,230.00 for Plaintiff’s 14th Amendment procedural due
process violation to nominal damages of $1.00. In response, Plaintiff argues that in order to raise
a post-verdict issue under Rule 50(b), Defendants must first have raised the issue in a Rule 50(a)
motion before the verdict. Plaintiff argues that Defendants failed to do so as to any aspect of her
due process claim; and therefore, Defendants’ Rule 50(b) motion is due to be denied.
In the 2006 Amendment to the Rule, which eliminated the requirement that Rule 50(a)
motions must be renewed at the close of all evidence, the Advisory Committee stated as follows:
“Because the Rule 50(b) motion is only a renewal of the preverdict motion, it can be granted
only on grounds advanced in the preverdict motion.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 50, Advisory Committee
Notes to 2006 Amendment. Moreover, as delineated by the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh
Circuit, “ ‘[a] Rule 50(b) motion is a renewal of a Rule 50(a) motion. This Court repeatedly has
made clear that any renewal of a motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b) must
be based upon the same grounds as the original request for judgment as a matter of law made
under Rule 50(a) at the close of the evidence and prior to the case being submitted to the jury.’ ”
U.S. S.E.C. v. Big Apple Consulting USA, Inc., 783 F.3d 786, 813 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Doe
v. Celebrity Cruises, Inc., 394 F.3d 891, 903 (11th Cir.2004)) “In order to ensure that opposing
counsel is not ‘ambushed’ by a sufficiency of the evidence argument, a party may renew its Rule
50(a) motion after trial ‘under Rule 50(b), but a party cannot assert grounds in the renewed
motion that it did not raise in the earlier motion.’” Id., quoting Celebrity Cruises, 394 F.3d at 903
(internal quotation marks omitted)); Jaimes v. GEICO General Ins. Co., 534 Fed.Appx. 860, 865
(11th Cir. 2013)(same) (“Because GEICO failed to argue in its Rule 50(a) motion that Jaimes
breached the Policy's notice provision by failing to promptly inform GEICO of the
Lindenbergers' suit, the district court lacked authority to enter judgment under Rule 50(b) based
on that argument.”); Shannon v. Bellsouth Telecommunications, Inc., 292 F.3d 712, 717 n. 3
(11th Cir. 2002) (“BellSouth also argues that Shannon failed to present legally sufficient
evidence for a reasonable jury to award compensatory damages on his retaliation claim. We will
not entertain this argument, because BellSouth raised this issue for the first time in its postverdict
renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. If a party asserts new grounds in its renewed
motion for judgment as a matter of law that it did not assert in its initial motion for judgment as a
matter of law, a court ‘may not rely on the new grounds to set aside the jury's verdict.’”) (quoting
Ross v. Rhodes Furniture, Inc., 146 F.3d 1286, 1289 (11th Cir.1998)).
The Court previously found as a matter of law that Plaintiff had been denied her
procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment because she did not receive pretermination notice or a hearing (doc. 56, p. 20). The issue of damages was carried to trial and the
question for the jury to resolve was whether there was evidence to support an award of more than
nominal damages of $1.00.
In their motion, Defendants cite Akouri v. State of Florida Dept. of Transportation, 408
F. 3d 1338, 1343-1344 (11th Cir. 2005) to support their argument that “[w]hen a plaintiff fails to
put forth substantial evidence of her damages, the court may reduce a jury’s award to nominal
damages pursuant to a Rule 50 motion.” (Doc. 88, p. 2) However, in Akouri, the defendant
raised the issue of damages by a timely Rule 50 motion during trial. Thus, a renewed Rule 50(b)
motion after the verdict was permissible in that action.2
The Court has been unable to find in the trial transcript where the Defendants moved for
judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a) on basis that the evidence was insufficient to
support more than nominal damages for Plaintiff’s due process violation.3 Accordingly,
Defendants’ Rule 50(b) renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law is denied.
The Eleventh Circuit explained as follows: “To the extent Akouri contests the DOT's ability to
challenge the sufficiency of the evidence in its motion for JNOV [Rule 50(b) motion], we find
that the DOT has not waived its argument. At the charge conference, the DOT moved to strike
the damage interrogatories to the jury in their entirety on the ground that Akouri had failed to
present any evidence of his salary while employed by the DOT. The district court felt the
objection would be more appropriately raised as a Rule 50 matter and, therefore, permitted the
DOT to amend and renew its Rule 50 motion. Accordingly, the DOT did not waive its evidentiary
argument as it was plainly raised to the district court in a timely manner.” Akouri, 408 F.3d at
1344 (bracketed text added) (emphasis added).
(Exhibit A, Official Transcript Excerpts, p. 8-12: Defense counsel: “I think that the more clear
point right now is that there’s been very, very little bit of evidence as to the First Amendment
Claim as to why she was fired in associating with Judge Avery. There’s been a lot of evidence,
certainly a lot of evidence, about the race claim, but most of the evidence thus far has been
about, you know, the due process claim, that she wasn’t granted due process. Well, that’s a
separate issue.” The Court: “Well, as to the political claim, First Amendment claim, I deny your
motion. As to the race claim, what evidence do we have that it was race- based other than she
was white”…. The Court: “Denied on the First Amendment. Carried under advisement on the
race discrimination. Do you have any other motion?” Defense counsel: “Not at this time.”);
(Exhibit B, Official Transcript, Excerpts, p. 4-5; Defense counsel: “We renew our motions for
judgment as a matter of law on behalf of the Commission, on 1983, Judge Arthur Crawford in
his official and individual capacities - - for all defendants in all counts.” The Court: “And for all
claims?” Defense counsel: “And for all claims, yes, ma’am.” The Court: “So I grant the
summary judgment on the 1983 claims as to the race and First Amendment as to the County
II. Defendants’ motion for remittitur and alternative motion for new trial under Rule 59
In the Eleventh Circuit, as an alternative to ordering a new trial, the district court may
order remittitur and reduce the compensatory damages awarded by the jury. The remedy for a
damages award that is “outside the bounds of evidence is for the ‘district court [to] reduce the
award to the maximum amount established by the evidence.’” Hicks v. City of Tuscaloosa, 2016
WL 1180119, at *7 (N.D. Ala., 2016) (quoting Rodriguez v. Farm Stores Grocery, Inc., 518
F.3d 1259, 1268 (11th Cir. 2008); Sand v. Dawasaki Motors Corp. U.S.A., 513 Fed. Appx. 847,
855 (11th Cir. 2013) (“In general, a remittitur order reducing a jury's award to the outer limit of
the proof is the appropriate remedy where the jury's damage award exceeds the amount
established by the evidence.”) (quoting Goldstein v. Manhattan Industries, Inc., 758 F.2d 1435,
1448 (11th Cir. 1985)). However, before remitting the award of damages, the “Seventh
Amendment requires a plaintiff be given the option of a new trial in lieu of the court’s
discretionary remittitur of a jury’s award.” Breland v. Levada Ef Five, LLC, 2016 WL 1717207,
at *7 (S.D. Ala., July 6, 2016) (quoting Johansen v. Combustion Engineering, Inc., 170 F.3d
1320, 1329 (11th Cir. 1999)). However, “if legal error is detected, the federal courts have the
obligation and the power to correct the error by vacating or reversing the jury's verdict.”
Johansen, 170 F.3d at 1330. “The Seventh Amendment is not offended by this reduction because
the issue is one of law and not fact.” Id. Therefore, where there is legal error, the Court need not
give Plaintiff the option of a new trial in lieu of remittitur.
Commission. The Title 7 claim motion for summary judgment against the County Commission
is denied. The motions for summary judgment as to Arthur Crawford in his individual and
official capacity as to both claims are denied.”).
In support of their motion for remittitur, Defendants argue that in the final instructions
and in response to the jury’s question, the jury was properly instructed that Plaintiff was “entitled
to compensatory damages on her due process claim only if [the jury] found that she would not
have been terminated if her due process rights had not been violated.” (Doc. 88, p. 1) Defendants
point out that Plaintiff did not object to these instructions. Defendants argue that all the
“evidence adduced at trial … established that a pre-disciplinary hearing would not have changed
the outcome” (Id., p. 2) and since Defendant Crawford would have terminated Plaintiff anyway,
there was no substantial evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff was
entitled to anything more than nominal damages of $1.00; “the outer limit of proof in this case.”
(Doc. 88, p. 1-2)
Plaintiff argues that the Defendants have not correctly stated the instruction to the jury.
Plaintiff argues that the jury was instructed that she could recover more than nominal damages if
she could “show by a preponderance of the evidence that she suffered some actual compensable
injury caused solely by the failure to give her procedural due process.” (Doc. 97, p. 5) In support,
Plaintiff argues that when an employee is terminated without a hearing, the employer may only
suspend with pay, and that there was “ample testimony” regarding her lost wages and benefits to
support an award of damages, from termination until trial. 4
Plaintiff also argues “there was ample testimony of mental anguish caused solely by
Defendants’ failure to provide due process.” (Doc. 97, p. 7) Plaintiff argues that after her
Plaintiff argues that the damages award of $110,230.00 was less than the evidence presented as
to total lost wages between the termination and trial - $153,831.60. Plaintiff testified that she was
paid $1,820.49 biweekly. She was terminated in March 2013 and the jury returned its verdict in
June 2016, three years and three months later, or approximately 84 pay periods. Multiplying 84
pay periods times $1,820.49 yields $152,921.16.
termination was in the newspaper, people questioned her as to why she was terminated, but
because Judge Crawford did not give her notice of the reasons, she did not know what to tell
people, and that caused her significant stress and embarrassment. She argues that this emotional
distress is a “discrete and actual compensable injury tied solely to the failure to give notice.” (Id.)
In regard to damages for the due process violation, the Jury received the following final
Now, you must at least award a nominal damage of $1 against Judge Crawford
and the Hale County Commission for their violation of Ann Langford’s due
Now, in order for Ann Langford to recover more than this $1 nominal damage for
the deprivation of due process, she must show by a preponderance of the evidence
that she suffered some actual compensable injury caused solely by the failure to
give her procedural due process.
Now, if you find that the emotional distress or any other damages would have
been incurred by Ann Langford even if proper procedures had been used in
discharging her, then she is not entitled to such damages.
(Exhibit B, Official Transcript Excerpts, p. 6-7).
That same day, after the final instructions were given, and following a conference with
counsel, the Jury received the following additional instruction:5
To clarify the cumulative damage issue:
Because the plaintiff is requesting the same damages on each claim, i.e.,
loss of wages, benefits and emotional distress based on her termination,
she can only recover one time for these compensatory damages.
Therefore, if you find that she has proven her race claim and that she has
proven compensatory damages, then you should put that amount in the
blank under the Race Discrimination section.
The jury questioned how to calculate compensatory damages. (Exhibit B, Official Transcript
Excerpts, p. 8-9).
If you also find that she has proven her 1st Amendment claim and that she
has proven compensatory damages, then you should put that amount in the
blank under the 1st Amendment section.
If you also find that she has proven compensatory damages on her Due
Process claim, then you should put that amount in the blank under the Due
As to the Due Process claim, you may find:
1) that she is not due any compensatory damages, only nominal
damages of $1, or
2) that she is due compensatory damages based on her termination.
The amount of compensatory damages, if proven, should be the same for
the Race Discrimination, 1st Amendment claim, and the Due Process
claim, because the same evidence was presented as the basis for damages
for each of these claims.
When the Court issues final judgment, it will note the amount awarded on
each claim but actually award only one sum for compensatory damages.
Two examples to illustrate:
1) Race Disc. $50 – 1st Amend. $50 - Due Process $1 (nominal)
The court would award $51.
2) Race Disc. $200,000 – 1st Amend. $200,000 - Due process $200,000
The court would award $200,000.
(Doc. 94-3, p. 5-6) (Emphasis added) (Under seal).
On the morning of June 8, 2016, the Jury asked another question- “When deciding an
amount for due process do you include compensatory damages (net lost wages & benefits)? (Doc. 94-3, Under seal). The following additional instruction was given:
Compensatory damages includes:
a) Net lost wages and benefits
b) Other items of monetary damages
c) Emotional pain and mental anguish
You may award compensatory damages for the due process violation instead of
nominal damages ($1), if you find by a preponderance of the evidence that Ann
Langford’s termination would not have occurred if she had been given her due
process right to notice and the opportunity to be heard.
So if you determine that Ann Langford is due compensatory damages, then you
would include net lost wages and benefits to the extent they have been proven by
a preponderance of the evidence.
(Doc. 94-3, p. 4, Under Seal).
Upon review of the instructions, the Court finds that it may have erred (without
objection) when giving the following instruction: “The amount of compensatory damages, if
proven, should be the same for the Race Discrimination, 1st Amendment claim, and the Due
Process claim, because the same evidence was presented as the basis for damages for each of
these claims.” (See, supra, p. 8). The error, however, was harmless because the jury obviously
ignored this instruction.
Upon review, the court finds that Plaintiff presented sufficient evidence of her emotional
distress (that occurred between her termination without explanation in March 2013 and May
2013, when she was first given an explanation) to support the verdict. Specifically, Plaintiff
testified that she had lived in Greensboro, Alabama in Hale County, Alabama her entire life and
knew most of the citizens. (Exhibit A, Official Transcript Excerpts, p. 5).
She testified that
when she asked Judge Crawford why she was terminated, he would not give her a reason but
stated that there had been a “breach of trust and confidence.” (Id., p. 2) Plaintiff testified that she
was embarrassed and humiliated when she was terminated and a report of her termination was
published in the newspaper. (Id., p. 5-6) Also, she testified that she had to go to work the next
day and “face everybody that came in that office that day” and had to tell her coworkers and
persons that she assisted, specifically customers and attorneys, “what was happening”.
Moreover, “[i]t was embarrassing and humiliating and that was not just that day. For the rest of
the next several days and weeks, months, everywhere you go. People ask what’s happening to
you, why it happened, details, even phones call from people, you know, wondering why you are
not there.” (Id., p. 6) In May 2013, approximately two months after she was terminated in March
2013, she was shown a letter from defense counsel, which stated the reasons for her termination.
(Id., p. 7) See Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 263-264, 98 S. Ct. 1042 (1978) (finding that
compensatory damages for emotional distress should be shown by competent, sufficient evidence
and are “customarily proved by showing the nature and circumstances of the wrong and its effect
on the plaintiff.”); Akouri, 408 F.3d at 1345 ([A]lthough a plaintiff's testimony, standing alone,
can support an award of compensatory damages for emotional distress based on a constitutional
violation, “the testimony must establish that the plaintiff suffered demonstrable emotional
distress, which must be sufficiently articulated; neither conclusory statements that the plaintiff
suffered emotional distress nor the mere fact that a constitutional violation occurred supports an
award for compensatory damages.”) (quoting Price v. City of Charlotte, 93 F.3d 1241 (4th
Cir.1996)). Accordingly, Defendants’ motion for remittitur is denied.
B. Alternative motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59
Rule 59(a)(1)(A) states that the “court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of
the issues – and to any party -- … 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).
“Such grounds include ‘the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, that the damages are
excessive, or that, for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving[.]’” McGinnis, 817
F.3d at 1254–1255 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243,
251, 61 S. Ct. 189, 194 (1940)); Frazier v. City of Gadsden, 2016 WL 2771128, at *6 (N.D. Ala.,
May 13, 2016) (slip copy) (same). Generally, as to excessive damages, a “jury verdict may be
vacated as excessive only if it is so large as to shock the conscience.” Ash v. Tyson Foods, Inc.,
664 F.3d 883, 899 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Sykes v. McDowell, 786 F.2d 1098, 1105 (11th
Cir.1986)): Christopher v. Florida, 449 F.3d 1360, 1368 (11th Cir. 2006) (“‘a new trial should
only be ordered where the verdict is so excessive as to shock the conscience of the court.’”)
(quoting Simon v. Shearson Lehman Bros., Inc., 895 F.2d 1304, 1310 (11th Cir.1990)).
“Although a trial judge cannot weigh the evidence when confronted with a motion [for
judgment] notwithstanding the verdict, in a motion for a new trial the judge is free to weigh the
evidence.” McGinnis, 817 F.3d at 1255 (citations omitted) (bracketed text in original). “[W]hen
independently weighing the evidence, the trial court is to view not only that evidence favoring
the jury verdict but evidence in favor of the moving party as well.” McGinnis, 817 F.3d at 1255
(citations omitted). “Because it is critical that a judge does not merely substitute his judgment for
that of the jury, ‘new trials should not be granted on evidentiary grounds unless, at a minimum,
the verdict is against the great—not merely the greater—weight of the evidence.’ ” Frazier, 2016
WL 2771128, at *6 (quoting Lipphardt v. Durango Steakhouse of Brandon, Inc., 267 F.3d 1183,
1186 (11th Cir. 2001)).
Defendants “request that a new trial be ordered pursuant to Rule 59 … solely as to the
issue of damages on the due process claims on the basis that the verdict was excessive” (doc. 88,
p. 3). Plaintiff argues that there was sufficient evidence of an actual compensable injury tied
solely to the failure to receive due process to support the verdict. Specifically, Plaintiff testified
as to her emotional distress and economic damages. See supra. Plaintiff also argues that the
verdict was consistent with awards in similar cases, and therefore, not excessive.
The Eleventh Circuit has instructed that it is “‘particularly deferential to the fact finder's
determination of compensatory damage awards for intangible, emotional harms because the harm
is so subjective and evaluating it depends considerably on the demeanor of the witnesses.’”
Tucker v. Housing Authority of Birmingham Dist., 229 Fed. Appx. 820, 826–827 (11th Cir.
2007) (quoting Griffin v. City of Opa–Locka, 261 F.3d 1295, 1315 (11th Cir. 2001) (internal
quotation omitted). Also, “[g]eneral compensatory damages do not have to be proven with a high
degree of specificity, and they may be inferred from the circumstances or proven through
testimony.” Davis v. Florida Agency for Health Care Admininstration, 612 Fed. Appx. 983, 987
(11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Akouri, 408 F.3d at 1345). “‘A plaintiff's testimony, standing alone,
can support an award of compensatory damages for emotional distress based on a constitutional
violation,’ but ‘the testimony must establish that the plaintiff suffered demonstrable emotional
distress, which must be sufficiently articulate; neither conclusory statements that the plaintiff
suffered emotional distress nor the mere fact that a constitutional violation occurred supports an
award for compensatory damages.’” Tucker, 229 Fed. Appx. at 827 (quoting Akouri, 408 F.3d at
1345) ; Davis, 612 Fed. Appx. at 987 (“A plaintiff's own testimony may support an award of
compensatory damages for emotional distress, but the testimony must consist of more than
conclusory statements that the plaintiff suffered from emotional distress.”) (citing Akouri, 408 F.
3d at 1345).
Overall, the damages award for Plaintiff’s procedural due process violation is not
excessive and does not “shock the conscience”. Tucker, 229 Fed. Appx. 820 (affirming award of
$100,000 in damages for mental anguish); Munoz v. Oceanside Resorts, Inc., 223 F.3d 1340,
1349 (11th Cir. 2000) (upholding a jury’s verdict of $150,000 as compensatory damages for
emotional distress in an ADEA action as not “so excessive as to shock the conscience of the
court” and noting that review of “‘awards of compensatory damages for intangible, emotional
harms is deferential to the fact finder because the harm is subjective and evaluating it depends
considerably on the demeanor of the witnesses.’”) (quoting Goldstein, 758 F.2d at 1447 and
quoting Ferrill v. Parker Group, Inc., 168 F.3d 468, 476 (11th Cir.1999)); Stallworth v. Shuler,
777 F.2d 1431, 1435 (11th Cir. 1985) (affirming award of $100,000 in compensatory damages
for mental anguish for Section 1981 and Section 1983 violations in a failure to promote action
and finding that the “amount of the award is within the acceptable universe for such injuries
under the evidence before us.”). Accordingly, Defendants’ alternative motion for new trial is
DONE and ORDERED this the 16th day of September 2016.
s/ Kristi K. DuBose
KRISTI K. DuBOSE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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