John Young v. Aron Wolfe et al
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)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
11 JOHN YOUNG,
14 ARON WOLFE and ROBERTO
CV 07-03190 RSWL-AJWx
ORDER Re: DEFENDANT
WOLFE’S MOTION FOR
QUALIFIED IMMUNITY OR
NEW TRIAL 
Currently before the Court is Defendant Aron
Wolfe’s (“Defendant Wolfe”) Motion for Qualified
Immunity and to Alter or Amend the Judgment, or in the
alternative, a Motion for a New Trial (“Motion”) .
Def. Wolfe’s Mot. for Qualified Immunity or Mot. for
New Trial (“Mot.”), ECF No. 411.
The Court, having
reviewed all papers and arguments submitted pertaining
to this Motion, NOW FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS: the
Court DENIES Defendant Wolfe’s Motion in its entirety.
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.
6 Young (“Plaintiff”) was a pretrial detainee in the
7 Men’s Central Jail (“MCJ”) Discipline Module in Los
8 Angeles, California.
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.
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.
As a result, Plaintiff alleged he
20 suffered a broken tooth, lacerations and contusions,
21 and an injury to his neck.
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”).
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.
6 3:25-27; Minutes of Jury Trial, ECF No. 380.
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
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 .
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 .
22 Plaintiff filed his Opposition to this Motion on June
23 2, 2017 , and Defendant Wolfe’s Reply followed on
24 June 6, 2017 .
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.
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).
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
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.
Id. at 1083
1 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(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.
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).
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
Smith, 727 F.3d at 956 (quoting United
1 States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)).
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
Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 730
14 (9th Cir. 2007)(internal quotation marks and citation
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).
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.
1 Co., 83 F.R.D. 41, 43-44 (N.D. Cal. 1979).
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
Murphy v. City of Long Beach, 914 F.2d 183,
23 188 (9th Cir. 1990)(internal citation omitted).
Courts use a two-part inquiry to determine whether
26 an officer is entitled to qualified immunity.
27 v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001).
In the first prong,
28 courts look to when resolving all disputes of fact and
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.
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
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).
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
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 237 (2009).
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
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
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).
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).
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.
Defendant Wolfe also argues that the trial
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.
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).
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.
25 279 F.3d at 887.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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).
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.
Id. at 11:6-10.
Clear error or manifest injustice occurs when the
28 “reviewing court on the entire record is left with the
1 definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been
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.
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
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
Opp’n 8:22-23; 9:2-6; 3:19-21.
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.
27 Wolfe’s request to alter or amend the judgment pursuant
28 to FRCP 59(e) is DENIED.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
6 Defendant Wolfe offers no case law to support this
Moreover, there is no indication that the
8 Court’s action was erroneous or that it was
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
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.
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.
Finally, the decision did not prejudice Defendant
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).
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
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)
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.
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
HONORABLE RONALD S.W. LEW
Senior U.S. District Judge
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