Jacobs v. Sullivan et al

Filing 275

ORDER Granting the Parties' Joint Motion to Vacate the Jury Verdict in Accordance with the Global Settlement Agreement, and Granting Stipulation to Extend the Time to Submit Dispositional Documents re 273 , 274 , signed by Magistrate Judge Stanley A. Boone on 5/12/17. 30- Day Deadline. (Gonzalez, R)

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1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 6 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 7 GEORGE E. JACOBS IV, 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Plaintiff, v. ALEXANDER, et al., Defendants. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) Case No.: 1:05-cv-01625-SAB (PC) ORDER GRANTING THE PARTIES’ JOINT MOTION TO VACATE THE JURY VERDICT IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE GLOBAL SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT, AND GRANTING STIPULATION TO EXTEND THE TIME TO SUBMIT DISPOSITIONAL DOCUMENTS [ECF Nos. 273, 274] Currently before the Court is the parties’ joint request for the Court to vacate the October 3, 2016, jury verdict under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), filed April 7, 2017. 15 I. 16 RELEVANT BACKGROUND 17 This action proceeded on Plaintiff’s claim that Defendants used excessive amounts of pepper 18 spray and physical force to extract him from his cell on January 25, 2015, at the California 19 Correctional Institution (CCI). Plaintiff contended that after the extraction, he was improperly 20 decontaminated, that he was pepper sprayed without justification, and that he was denied medical care 21 for his injuries and from the effects of the pepper spray. 22 A jury trial commenced on September 27, 2016, on Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claims for 23 excessive force, failure to intervene, and medical deliberate indifference. On October 3, 2016, the jury 24 found the following: (1) in favor of Defendants Alexander, Blankenship, Granillo, McGregor, and 25 Nelson; (2) Defendant Watson liable for excessive force, failure to intervene, and deliberate 26 indifference in the amount of $10,000; (3) Defendants Chan, Carrasco, and Johnson liable for failing 27 to intervene in the amount of $1,000 and $2,000, respectively; and (4) Defendant Adams liable for 28 1 1 deliberate indifference in the amount of $1,000. The jury also awarded Plaintiff $25,000 in punitive 2 damages against Defendant Watson. The total amount of damages awarded was $41,000. 3 Defendants moved under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 to set aside the failure to 4 intervene claims against Defendant Watson, the deliberate indifference claim against Defendant 5 Adams, and the failure to intervene claim against Defendant Chan. 6 The parties’ joint motion is presented under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), on the 7 grounds that the proposed settlement avoids the hardship of costly post-trial motions and an appeal, 8 litigation costs and attorney’s fees in four other lawsuits that were resolved as part of a global 9 agreement, and satisfies other equities and the interests of justice. The Court deferred ruling on the 10 11 12 13 motions and set a briefing schedule for the filing of post-trial motions. On November 17, 2016, the Court approved the parties’ stipulation to vacate and continue the post-trial motion schedule to engage in a settlement conference. On March 28, 2017, a settlement conference was held with Magistrate Judge Kendall J. 14 Newman. The parties submit that they reached a global settlement that included this action and four 15 other of Plaintiff’s pending cases: Jacobs v. Scriber, No. 1:06-cv-01280 AWI-EPG (E.D. Cal.); Jacobs 16 v. Quinones, 9th Circuit No. 16-16145 (E.D. Cal. No. 1:10-cv-02349 AWI-JLT); Jacobs v. CSR Reps, 17 No. 16-cv-00791 DAD-MJS (E.D. Cal.); Jacobs v. Hernandez, No. 1:16-cv-000595 AWI-GSA (E.D. 18 Cal.). The parties agreed to a global settlement sum of $85,000, contingent on this Court vacating the 19 October 3, 2016, verdict. 20 II. 21 DISCUSSION 22 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) provides that a “court may relieve a party or its legal 23 representative form a final judgment, order, or proceeding” where “the judgment has been satisfied, 24 released or discharged,” where “applying it prospectively is no longer equitable,” or for “any other 25 reason that justifies relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(5)-(6). Rule 60 “vests power in courts adequate to 26 enable them to vacate judgments whenever such action is appropriate to accomplish justice.” 27 Klapprott v. United States, 335 U.S. 601, 615 (1949). In U.S. Bancorp Mortgage Co. v. Bonner Mall 28 Partnership, 513 U.S. 18, 29 (1994), the Supreme Court held that appellate court vacatur of district 2 1 court judgments should only be granted in exceptional circumstances when mootness results from a 2 negotiated settlement, and such circumstance, does not in itself, warrant vacatur. However, the Ninth 3 Circuit has distinguished Bonner Mall in situations where, as here, the district court is asked to vacate 4 its own judgment because such court is enjoys “greater equitable discretion when reviewing [its] own 5 judgments than do appellate courts operating at a distance.” Am. Games, Inc. v. Trade Products, Inc., 6 142 F.3d 1164, 1170 (9th Cir. 1998). 7 The Ninth Circuit applies a case-by-case balancing determination to assess whether vacatur is 8 appropriate. See Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Seafirst Corp., 891 F.2d 762, 765, 767 (9th Cir. 1989). 9 To determine whether to vacate a judgment, the Court must balance “the competing values of finality 10 of judgment and right to relitigation of unreviewed disputes” and consider “the consequences and 11 attendance hardships of dismissal or refusal to dismiss.” Bates v. Union Oil Co. of Calif., 944 F.2d 12 647, 650 (9th Cir. 1991) (internal citation omitted); Am. Games, Inc. v. Trade Prods., Inc., 142 F.3d at 13 1168 (internal citations omitted); see also Ringsby Truck Lines, Inc. v. Western Conference of 14 Teamsters, 686 F.2d 720, 722 (9th Cir. 1982)). The Court should also consider and weigh a settlement 15 negotiated between the parties when balancing the equities. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. v. Seafirst 16 Corp., 891 F.2d at 768; see also In re: TFT-LCD (Flat Panel) Antitrust Litig., No. M 07-1827 SI, 2012 17 WL 12369590, at *4 (N.D. Cal. October 15, 2012) (finding judicial economy supported preliminary 18 approval of a settlement agreement calling for vacatur of a jury verdict because “the Settlement 19 obviates the need for ruling on an outstanding motion seeking to set aside the verdict, any appeal and 20 potential remand, and any new trial that this Court or an appellate court potentially could require,” and 21 stating that “the judicial resources that resulted in the jury verdict were not wasted, as the verdict 22 surely had a significant effect on the Settlement’s outcome”) (quoting In re Vitamins Antitrust Litig., 23 Docket No. 4572, Case No. 1:99-cv-0197-TFH, slip op. at 5-9 (D.D.C. Nov. 30, 2004). Thus, if 24 vacatur does not undermine judicial precedent or unduly impinge on judicial resources, vacatur may 25 be appropriate. In re: TFT-LCD (Flat Panel) Antitrust Litig., 2012 WL 12369590, at *4; Mayes v. 26 City of Hammond, Ind., 631 F.Supp.2d 1082, 1089 (N.D. Ind. 2008) (noting the different effects and 27 consequences of vacating judicial opinion or orders containing substantive rulings versus a jury 28 verdict that makes a decision on the merits without explanation of its reasoning). 3 At first glance, it appears unjust to vacate a jury verdict that was fully rendered, not based on 1 2 any error, but rather on the parties’ subsequent settlement, as the interests of the public are implicated. 3 Indeed, the Supreme Court has noted that judicial decisions “are not merely the property of private 4 litigants and should stand unless a court concludes that the public interest would be served by a 5 vacatur.” U.S. Bancorp Mortgage v. Bonner Mall Partner, 513 U.S. at 26 (quoting Izumi Seimitsu 6 Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha v. U.S. Phillips Corp., 510 U.S. 27, 40 (1993)). In most situations, the 7 sanctity of the jury trial would be compromised if parties are allowed to weigh the cost benefits by 8 proceeding to trial only to receive an unfavorable decision that can be vacated by a way of subsequent 9 settlement. See, e.g., U.S. Bancorp Mortgage v. Bonner Mall Partner, 513 U.S. at 28 (Some litigants, 10 at least, may think it worthwhile to roll the dice rather than settle in the district court, or in the court of 11 appeals, if, but only if, an unfavorable outcome can be washed away by a settlement-related vacatur.”) 12 The Court must protect the sanctity of jury verdicts and should not allow parties to subsequently 13 "hedge their bets" by taking a risk at trial, only to “pay away” the verdict if that risk does not pay off 14 for one party.1 It is with this vigilance that the Court approaches any request to vacate a jury verdict 15 when there is no plausible allegation of trial error or infirmary. Nonetheless, after consideration of the record in this case, the Court finds the equitable 16 17 considerations weigh in favor of accepting the parties’ settlement and vacatur is appropriate in this 18 action and is unique only to the specific facts of this case. By way of settlement and the joint filing of 19 a motion to vacate the jury verdict, the parties have waived their ability to have the judgment reviewed 20 on appeal, as well as filing post-trial motions and potential appeal of those orders; thus, elevating the 21 need for further litigation and continuance of this action. All parties involved played a role in arriving 22 at a settlement award that is double of that awarded by the jury. Both sides submit that they have 23 limited resources and seek to avoid the substantial hardships imposed by costly and uncertain post-trial 24 25 26 27 1 Our jury system is one of the quintessential pillars of our American democracy. It is a process whereby peers within in our community—not government officials—hold discussion and render a verdict about a party’s legal rights and possible remedies. Once the parties exercise that right to a trial by jury, and the community renders a verdict, that verdict should be maintained, absent a legal basis for disturbing that decision. That is the risk one takes in going to trial- that a jury may not rule in one’s favor. 28 4 1 motions and an appeal. However, if this were merely the record, the equities would not justify vacatur 2 of the jury verdict. What makes the equities sway to granting the requested relief is the considerations 3 present in this case: the settlement of four other federal cases and the resources freed both to the 4 parties and the Court in settling those cases. Therefore, of significant importance to the Court is that 5 the parties’ settlement terms call for the resolution of three other cases pending in this Court and an 6 appeal in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The parties submit that without vacatur, Jacobs v. 7 Scribner, No. 1:06-cv-01280 AWI-EPG (E.D. Cal.), will proceed to trial, where Defendants’ attorneys 8 and Plaintiff’s appointed pro bono counsel will expend substantial resources and costs. Although 9 Jacobs v. CSR Reps, No. 16-cv-00791 DAD-MJS (E.D. Cal.) and Jacobs v. Hernandez, No. 1:16-cv- 10 000595 AWI-GSA (E.D. Cal.), are still in the screening process under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the district 11 court will expend additional time and resources screening the complaint, and all parties will be 12 affected if the cases survive the screening process. Further, without vacatur, the parties in Jacobs v. 13 Quinones, 9th Circuit No. 16-16145 (E.D. Cal. No. 1:10-cv-02349 AWI-JLT), the parties will expend 14 substantial time on appellate briefs, and if Plaintiff’s appeal is successful, the matter will be remanded 15 to this Court, resulting in further expenditure of scarce resources to litigate this case that will likely go 16 to trial. Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that the equities, along with the joint agreement of the 17 18 parties, weigh in favor of vacating the verdict to facilitate implementation of the parties’ global 19 settlement. Accordingly, it is HEREBY ORDERED that the jury verdict rendered on October 3, 2016, 20 is vacated. The parties’ stipulation for a thirty day extension of time to file the dispositional 21 documents is GRANTED, and the dispositional documents in all relevant cases shall be filed within 22 thirty days from the date of service of this order. 23 24 IT IS SO ORDERED. 25 Dated: 26 May 12, 2017 UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 27 28 5

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