John Young v. Aron Wolfe et al

Filing 420

ORDER Re: DEFENDANT WOLFES MOTION FOR QUALIFIED IMMUNITY OR NEW TRIAL 411 by Judge Ronald S.W. Lew. The Court DENIES Defendant Wolfes Motion for Qualified Immunity as Judgment as a Matter of Law and to Alter or Amend the Judgment and Defendant Wolfes Motion for a New Trial. SEE ORDER FOR FURTHER AND COMPLETE DETAILS. (jre)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 JOHN YOUNG, 12 Plaintiff, 13 v. 14 ARON WOLFE and ROBERTO OCHOA 15 16 Defendants. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) CV 07-03190 RSWL-AJWx ORDER Re: DEFENDANT WOLFE’S MOTION FOR QUALIFIED IMMUNITY OR NEW TRIAL [411] 17 I. INTRODUCTION 18 Currently before the Court is Defendant Aron 19 Wolfe’s (“Defendant Wolfe”) Motion for Qualified 20 Immunity and to Alter or Amend the Judgment, or in the 21 alternative, a Motion for a New Trial (“Motion”) [411]. 22 Def. Wolfe’s Mot. for Qualified Immunity or Mot. for 23 New Trial (“Mot.”), ECF No. 411. The Court, having 24 reviewed all papers and arguments submitted pertaining 25 to this Motion, NOW FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS: the 26 Court DENIES Defendant Wolfe’s Motion in its entirety. 27 /// 28 /// 1 1 II. BACKGROUND 2 A. Factual Background 3 This case arises from a May 15, 2004 incident. 4 Pl.’s Opposition to Def.’s Mot. for Qualified Immunity 5 or Mot. for New Trial (“Opp’n”) 3:4-5. Plaintiff John 6 Young (“Plaintiff”) was a pretrial detainee in the 7 Men’s Central Jail (“MCJ”) Discipline Module in Los 8 Angeles, California. Mot. 3:13-14. Defendant Wolfe 9 was supervising the shower area in the discipline 10 module when he saw Plaintiff leaving the area with 11 three lacerations on his back. 12 11. Id. at 17:23-27; 18:9- Because detainees are not allowed to roam the 13 module free, Defendant Wolfe followed Plaintiff; 14 however, the two engaged in a physical altercation that 15 included a number of other deputies. Id. at 3:14-16. 16 Defendant Wolfe punched Plaintiff numerous times in the 17 face, and Plaintiff flailed, punched, kicked Defendant 18 Wolfe along with the other responding deputies. 19 13:25-26; 19:23-24. Id. at As a result, Plaintiff alleged he 20 suffered a broken tooth, lacerations and contusions, 21 and an injury to his neck. Opp’n 3:7-8. 22 B. Procedural Background 23 After a long procedural history, including two jury 24 trials in 2009 and 2013 with verdicts that were 25 overturned, a jury trial commenced on March 21, 2017 on 26 Plaintiff’s malicious prosecution and excessive force 27 claims against Defendant Wolfe and Defendant Roberto 28 Ochoa (“Defendant Ochoa”) (collectively “Defendants”). 2 1 Id. at 3:23-25. At the close of Plaintiff’s case in 2 chief, Defendants made a motion pursuant to Federal 3 Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP” or “Rule”) 50(a) for 4 judgment as a matter of law as to Plaintiff’s malicious 5 prosecution claim, which this Court granted. Mot. 6 3:25-27; Minutes of Jury Trial, ECF No. 380. On March 7 24, 2017, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of 8 Plaintiff against Defendant Wolfe as to Plaintiff’s 9 excessive force claim and against Plaintiff and for 10 Defendant Ochoa as to Plaintiff’s excessive force 11 claim. 12 381. Id. at 3:27-4:1; Minutes of Jury Trial, ECF No. The jury awarded Plaintiff $350,000 in damages. 13 Id. at 4:1-2. On March 24, 2017, Defendants brought a 14 FRCP 50(a) motion for judgment as a matter of law as to 15 Plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages, which this 16 Court granted. Id. at 4:2-3. On May 15, 2017, 17 Plaintiff brought a motion for attorney’s fees which is 18 currently pending with this Court [409]. On May 23, 19 2017, Defendant Wolfe filed the instant Motion for 20 Qualified Immunity and to Alter or Amend the Judgment, 21 or in the Alternative a Motion for a New Trial [411]. 22 Plaintiff filed his Opposition to this Motion on June 23 2, 2017 [413], and Defendant Wolfe’s Reply followed on 24 June 6, 2017 [414]. 25 /// 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 3 1 III. DISCUSSION 2 A. Legal Standard 3 1. 4 5 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50(b) PostVerdict Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law FRCP 50(a) requires a party seeking judgment as a 6 matter of law to file a Rule 50(a) motion at any time 7 before the case is submitted to the jury. Tortu v. Las 8 Vegas Metro. Police Dept., 556 F.3d 1075, 1082 (9th 9 Cir. 2009). If the jury returns a verdict against the 10 moving party, that party may then file a Rule 50(b) 11 motion for judgment as a matter of law no later than 28 12 days after the entry of judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 13 50(b). 14 However, a Rule 50(b) motion may be considered only 15 if a Rule 50(a) motion has been previously made during 16 trial, as the motion is considered a renewal of an 17 earlier 50(a) motion. Tortu, 556 F.3d at 1082 (citing 18 Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 advisory committee’s notes). As 19 required by the Federal Rules’s 2006 amendment, the 20 Ninth Circuit has construed this requirement strictly, 21 and has found that substantial compliance is not 22 enough. See Janes v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 279 F.3d 23 883, 888 (9th Cir. 2002)(finding that a motion for 24 summary judgment and a trial brief did not satisfy the 25 requirement that a party moved for judgment as a matter 26 of law before the close of evidence). The motion must 27 specify the judgment sought and the law and facts that 28 entitle the movant to the judgment. 4 Id. at 1083 1 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(2)). 2 3 4 2. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment FRCP 59(e) gives the district courts power to alter 5 or amend a judgment by motion. Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). 6 However, the motion to alter or amend must be filed no 7 later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment. 8 Id. Courts enjoy “considerable discretion in granting 9 or denying [a motion to amend or alter a judgment].” 10 Allstate Ins. v. Herron, 634 F.3d 1101, 1111 (9th Cir. 11 2011)(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). 12 However, Rule 59(e) motions are not vehicles for 13 bringing before the court theories or arguments not 14 advanced earlier, nor may the motion present evidence 15 which was available but not offered at the original 16 motion or trial. U.S. S.E.C. v. Edwin-Yoshihiro 17 Fujinaga, No. 16-15623, 2017 WL 2465002, at *1 18 (9th Cir. June 7, 2017)(unpublished). Rather, the 19 motion must rely on one of the following grounds: (1) 20 an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the 21 availability of new evidence; (3) the need to correct a 22 clear error of law or fact upon which the judgment 23 rests; or (4) the need to prevent manifest injustice. 24 Smith v. Clark County School Dist., 727 F.3d 950, 956 25 (9th Cir. 2013). Clear error occurs when the 26 “reviewing court on the entire record is left with the 27 definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been 28 committed.” Smith, 727 F.3d at 956 (quoting United 5 1 States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). 2 3. 3 4 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(a) Motion for a New Trial FRCP 59(a) states: “[t]he court may, on motion, 5 grant a new trial on all or some of the issues--and to 6 any party--after a jury trial, for any reason for which 7 a new trial heretofore has been granted in an action at 8 law in federal court.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a)(1)(A). 9 There are many such grounds, including but not limited 10 to, “claims that the verdict is against the weight of 11 the evidence, that the damages are excessive, or that, 12 for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the moving 13 party.” Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 730 14 (9th Cir. 2007)(internal quotation marks and citation 15 omitted). A motion for a new trial must be filed no 16 later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment. 17 Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(b). 18 The Ninth Circuit has held that the trial court 19 “may grant a new trial only if the verdict is contrary 20 to the clear weight of the evidence, is based upon 21 false or perjurious evidence, or to prevent a 22 miscarriage of justice.” Molski, 481 F.3d at 730 23 (quoting Passantino v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer 24 Prods., 212 F.3d 493, 510 n.15 (9th Cir. 2000)). 25 Additionally, when the motion is based on a trial error 26 or other irregularity in the proceedings, the movant 27 must show he or she was prejudiced by the error. 28 Anglo-American General Agents v. Jackson Nat. Life Ins. 6 1 Co., 83 F.R.D. 41, 43-44 (N.D. Cal. 1979). 2 However, Rule 59 has been interpreted to give the 3 district courts considerable discretion in granting 4 a new trial to prevent any perceived miscarriage of 5 justice, and the standard for granting a new trial is 6 not as strict as that for granting judgment as a matter 7 of law under Rule 50(b). Id. at 43. While a court 8 should not “lightly disturb a plausible jury verdict. . 9 . having given full respect to the jury’s findings, if 10 the judge on the entire evidence is left with the 11 definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been 12 committed, it is to be expected that he will grant a 13 new trial.” Id. (quoting 11 Wright and Miller, Federal 14 Practice and Procedure: Civil s 2806 at 49). 15 Similarly, the Ninth Circuit has found that the 16 district judge “ha[s] the right, and indeed the duty, 17 to weigh the evidence as he s[ees] it, and to set aside 18 the verdict of the jury, even though supported by 19 substantial evidence, where, in his conscientious 20 opinion, the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of 21 the evidence. . . to prevent. . . a miscarriage of 22 justice.” Murphy v. City of Long Beach, 914 F.2d 183, 23 188 (9th Cir. 1990)(internal citation omitted). 24 4. 25 Courts use a two-part inquiry to determine whether Qualified Immunity 26 an officer is entitled to qualified immunity. 27 v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001). Saucier In the first prong, 28 courts look to when resolving all disputes of fact and 7 1 credibility in favor of the party asserting the injury, 2 whether a constitutional right has been violated. 3 Kennedy v. City of Ridgefield, 439 F.3d 1055, 1061 (9th 4 Cir. 2006). The second prong prompts the court to 5 determine if the right was clearly established at the 6 time of the violation. Id. A right is clearly 7 established if its “contours” are “sufficiently clear 8 that a reasonable official would understand that what 9 he is doing violates that right.” Saucier, 533 U.S. at 10 202 (citing Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 11 (1987)). However, if an officer makes a mistake in 12 applying the relevant legal doctrine, and if “the 13 officer’s mistake as to what the law requires is 14 reasonable,. . . the officer is entitled to the 15 immunity defense.” Kennedy, 439 F.3d at 1062 (internal 16 quotation marks and citation omitted). Courts may 17 exercise sound discretion in deciding which of the two 18 prongs of the Saucier inquiry should be addressed first 19 in light of the circumstances in the particular case at 20 hand. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 237 (2009). 21 B. Analysis 22 1. 23 24 The Court DENIES Defendant Wolfe’s Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law Defendant Wolfe argues he is entitled to qualified 25 immunity and judgment as a matter of law as to 26 Plaintiff’s excessive force claim because the law 27 regarding the standard for an excessive force claim was 28 not clearly established in 2004 when this incident 8 1 occurred. Mot. 5:25-27. Plaintiff argues that 2 Defendant Wolfe is not entitled to qualified immunity 3 pursuant to Rule 50(b) because he failed to bring a 4 Rule 50(a) motion before the case was submitted to the 5 jury. 6 Opp’n 5:22-6:16. A motion made under FRCP 50(b) is a renewed motion 7 for judgment as a matter of law, and it must be 8 preceded by a Rule 50(a) motion made before the case is 9 submitted to the jury. E.E.O.C. v. Go Daddy Software, 10 Inc., 581 F.3d 951, 961 (9th Cir. 2009). Failure to 11 make a Rule 50(a) motion procedurally forecloses the 12 consideration of a Rule 50(b) motion. See Tortu, 556 13 F.3d at 1084 (reversing the district court’s grant of 14 the defendant’s Rule 50(b) motion on an excessive force 15 claim because the defendant had not made a Rule 50(a) 16 motion during trial). 17 As in Tortu, Defendant Wolfe failed to make a Rule 18 50(a) motion as to Plaintiff’s excessive force claim 19 during trial before the case was submitted to the jury. 20 This procedural defect precludes this Court from even 21 going into the merits of Defendant Wolfe’s claim of 22 qualified immunity. Defendant Wolfe claims to have 23 preserved his right to bring the instant Motion through 24 his Memorandum of Contentions of Fact and Law, the 25 Final Pretrial Conference Order, and discussions during 26 trial regarding special interrogatories Defendants 27 proposed as to the issue of qualified immunity. 28 4:12-20. Mot. Defendant Wolfe also argues that the trial 9 1 shows that there was a record of his intent to bring 2 the instant Motion, Plaintiff and the Court were aware 3 of it, and Plaintiff does not argue he was prejudiced 4 in any way by Defendant Wolfe’s failure to bring the 5 Rule 50(a) motion. 6 Reply 6:21-27. The Ninth Circuit has held that substantial 7 compliance is not enough. Janes, 279 F.3d at 887 8 (holding that the defendant’s motion for summary 9 judgment and its trial brief was not sufficient to 10 satisfy the Rule 50(a) requirement). Defendant Wolfe’s 11 argument that judgment as a matter of law as to 12 Plaintiff’s excessive force claim would likely not have 13 been granted before the case was submitted to the jury 14 is without merit. Even if it is true that a qualified 15 immunity claim would not have been resolved because of 16 a factual dispute, this does not relinquish Defendant 17 Wolfe’s obligation to make a Rule 50(a) motion to 18 preserve the issue for the Court to review on a Rule 19 50(b) motion post-trial. A.D. v. California Highway 20 Patrol, 712 F.3d 446, 452 n.2 (9th Cir. 2013). 21 Defendant Wolfe fails to, through any precedent, refute 22 the Ninth Circuit’s strict adherence to the procedural 23 requirement of making a Rule 50(a) motion as a 24 requisite to making a Rule 50(b) motion. See Janes, 25 279 F.3d at 887. 26 For these reasons, the Court must DENY Defendant 27 Wolfe’s Rule 50(b) Motion for Judgment as a Matter of 28 Law as to his claim of qualified immunity. 10 1 2. 2 3 The Court DENIES Defendant Wolfe’s Rule 59(e) Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment Defendant Wolfe argues that the judgment should be 4 altered or amended pursuant to FRCP 59(e) because he is 5 entitled to qualified immunity. Mot. 2:4-7. Plaintiff 6 argues Defendant Wolfe’s request to alter or amend the 7 judgment should be denied because Defendant Wolfe 8 failed to submit points and authorities supporting his 9 request. 10 Opp’n 6:22-23. A Rule 59(e) motion is an “extraordinary remedy 11 which should be used sparingly.” Allstate Ins., 634 12 F.3d at 1111 (internal quotation marks and citation 13 omitted). A Rule 59(e) motion must rely on one of 14 three grounds: an intervening change in controlling 15 law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to 16 correct a clear error of law or manifest injustice. 17 Smith, 727 F.3d at 956. Defendant Wolfe fails to cite 18 to any case law to support the request that this Court 19 should alter or amend the judgment. 20 See generally Mot. Defendant Wolfe’s argument appears to assert that 21 the controlling law regarding the rights of pretrial 22 detainees to be free from excessive force has changed, 23 and therefore, Defendant Wolfe must be entitled to 24 qualified immunity. Mot. 5:25-27. As an initial 25 matter, it appears that Defendant Wolfe makes a request 26 to alter or amend the judgment in conjunction with his 27 request for judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 2:4-6. 28 As discussed above, Defendant Wolfe is not entitled to 11 1 judgment as a matter of law because of the procedural 2 defects, and therefore there is also no basis on those 3 grounds to alter or amend the judgment. 4 Secondly, this change of law Defendant Wolfe 5 discusses occurred in 2015 when the Supreme Court 6 issued its ruling in Kingsley v. Henderson, 135 S. Ct. 7 2466 (2015). However, this change of law occurred in 8 between the incident in 2004 and the third trial in 9 2017, and therefore there was nothing preventing 10 Defendant Wolfe from making this argument at trial, 11 which he did not. To grant a Rule 59(e) motion now 12 would go against the body of case law requiring that 13 Rule 59(e) should not be used as a vehicle for bringing 14 before the court theories or arguments not advanced 15 earlier. See Kona Enterprises, Inc. v. Estate of 16 Bishop, 229 F.3d 877, 890-91 (9th Cir. 2000)(denying 17 the plaintiff’s rule 59(e) motion because the plaintiff 18 had numerous previous opportunities to raise the 19 arguments made in the motion). 20 Defendant Wolfe’s argument also implies that the 21 jury verdict represented a clear error of law and 22 constitutes manifest injustice. 23 11; 15:17-19. Mot. 13:16-18; 14:9- Defendant Wolfe argues that he did not 24 violate Plaintiff’s constitutional right to be free 25 from excessive force because his actions were 26 objectively reasonable. 27 Id. at 11:6-10. Clear error or manifest injustice occurs when the 28 “reviewing court on the entire record is left with the 12 1 definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been 2 committed.” Smith, 727 F.3d at 955 (internal quotation 3 marks and citation omitted). In the case at bar, there 4 is sufficient evidence to sustain a verdict for 5 Plaintiff and there is no evidence of a clear error of 6 law or manifest injustice, change in the controlling 7 law, or availability of new evidence. Zamani v. 8 Carnes, 491 F.3d 990, 998 (9th Cir. 2007)(finding the 9 district court did not abuse its discretion in denying 10 a motion to alter or amend the judgment where the 11 defendant failed to show there was a basis to grant the 12 motion). While Defendant Wolfe contends that two 13 previous juries found for him, he has failed to provide 14 this Court with any evidence of a clear error of law or 15 manifest injustice that a reasonable jury could not 16 find Defendant Wolfe’s use of force was excessive. 17 Defendant Wolfe hit Plaintiff numerous times, he was 18 the first deputy to come into contact with Plaintiff on 19 the day of the incident, and Plaintiff did incur some 20 injury. Opp’n 8:22-23; 9:2-6; 3:19-21. There is 21 sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict and 22 there is no evidence of a clear error of law or 23 manifest injustice. Granting a request to alter or 24 amend the judgment pursuant to FRCP 59(e) is an 25 extraordinary remedy to be used sparingly, and the case 26 at hand does not demand such. Therefore, Defendant 27 Wolfe’s request to alter or amend the judgment pursuant 28 to FRCP 59(e) is DENIED. 13 1 3. 2 3 The Court DENIES Defendant Wolfe’s Rule 59(a) Motion for a New Trial Defendant Wolfe argues that if the Court denies his 4 Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, in the 5 alternative, he requests the Court grant a Motion for a 6 New Trial. Mot. 22:16-17. If the Court cannot 7 determine if Defendant Wolfe is entitled to qualified 8 immunity because there are outstanding factual disputes 9 that need to be resolved by a jury, then the Court 10 should grant a new trial because the Court declined to 11 give Defendants’ proposed special interrogatories. 12 at 23:10-15, 19-20; Reply 9:18-10:2. Id. Plaintiff argues 13 a new trial should not be granted because Defendant 14 Wolfe failed to specify any error of law and he had 15 every opportunity to submit revised interrogatories, 16 however he did not. 17 Opp’n 7:17-27. A court may grant a new trial for any reason for 18 which historically a new trial has been granted, 19 including if the verdict is against the weight of the 20 evidence, the damages are excessive, or for other 21 reasons that the trial was not fair to the moving 22 party. Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a); Molski, 481 F.3d at 730. 23 Procedural errors may permit the granting of a new 24 trial; however, they must be found to be prejudicial. 25 Anglo-America General Agents, 83 F.R.D. at 43. The 26 party seeking a new trial bears the burden of proof for 27 a motion for a new trial and courts “should not lightly 28 disturb a plausible jury verdict.” 14 Id. 1 Here, Defendant Wolfe argues for a new trial on the 2 basis of a procedural error; the Court’s failure to 3 issue interrogatories to the jury that would provide 4 the factual determinations necessary for the Court to 5 grant qualified immunity. Reply 9:18-10:2. However, 6 Defendant Wolfe offers no case law to support this 7 assertion. Moreover, there is no indication that the 8 Court’s action was erroneous or that it was 9 prejudicial. 10 A court’s decision to decline to issue special 11 interrogatories to the jury is a matter committed to 12 the discretion of the trial court. See Acosta v. City 13 and County of San Francisco, 83 F.3d 1143, 1149 (9th 14 Cir. 1996) abrogation recognized by Randall v. 15 Williamson, 211 F. App’x 565 (9th Cir. Nov. 22, 2006) 16 (unpublished)(finding that the district court judge’s 17 decision to not issue special interrogatories to the 18 jury was well within his discretion). In this case, 19 the Court reviewed the interrogatories, and relayed its 20 concerns to Defendants giving them a chance to revise 21 and submit more appropriate questions to give to the 22 jury. Ultimately, the Court determined that the 23 interrogatories were not proper because they would not 24 aid the Court in determining if Defendants would 25 possibly be entitled to qualified immunity. Although 26 this was not the outcome Defendant Wolfe wanted, the 27 decision was well within the discretion of the Court, 28 and it did not constitute procedural error. 15 1 Finally, the decision did not prejudice Defendant 2 Wolfe. Qualified immunity is a question of law to be 3 decided by the court. Torres v. City of Los Angeles, 4 548 F. 3d 1197, 1210 (9th Cir. 2008). Courts have 5 stressed the importance of resolving qualified immunity 6 questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation. 7 Tortu, 556 F.3d at 1081-83. However, where a qualified 8 immunity claim cannot be resolved before trial due to a 9 factual conflict, it is a party’s responsibility to 10 preserve the legal issue for determination with a Rule 11 50(a) motion after the jury resolves the factual 12 conflict. Id. at 1084. Here, regardless of the 13 submission of interrogatories to the jury, it was 14 Defendant Wolfe’s duty to preserve the legal issue by 15 making a Rule 50(a) motion. 16 did not. However, Defendant Wolfe Even if the Court provided the 17 interrogatories, this would not change this Court’s 18 ruling on Defendant Wolfe’s inability to assert 19 qualified immunity because of the lack of a Rule 50(a) 20 motion. Therefore, denying the submission of 21 interrogatories did not prejudice Defendant Wolfe, and 22 because that is Defendant Wolfe’s only basis to request 23 a new trial, his request for a new trial is DENIED. 24 /// 25 /// 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 16 1 IV. Conclusion 2 For the reasons set forth above, the Court DENIES 3 Defendant Wolfe’s Motion for Qualified Immunity as 4 Judgment as a Matter of Law and to Alter or Amend the 5 Judgment and Defendant Wolfe’s Motion for a New Trial. 6 IT IS SO ORDERED. 7 DATED: June 27, 2017 s/ RONALD S.W. LEW 8 HONORABLE RONALD S.W. LEW Senior U.S. District Judge 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 17

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