Edwards et al v. Hartford et al
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 170 Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law for the reasons set forth in the attached Ruling. Signed by Judge William I. Garfinkel on 9/13/17. (Cates, S)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
FABIAN EDWARDS and KENVILLE
MATTHEW CORNELL, CHRISTOPHER
MAY, and THE CITY OF HARTFORD,
RULING ON CITY OF HARTFORD’S RULE 50 MOTION
FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW
In this civil rights action, plaintiffs Fabian Edwards and his brother Kenville Edwards
brought claims against the City of Hartford and Harford police officers Matthew Cornell and
Christopher May. After a jury trial, on April 27, 2017, a jury rendered a verdict for Officer
Cornell on all claims brought by Fabian Edwards. The jury also returned a verdict for Kenville
Edwards on his claims against Officer May. The jury found that Officer May violated Kenville’s
rights by using excessive force against him; it awarded $135,000.00 in compensatory damages
and $275,000.00 in punitive damages.1 Now before the Court is the City of Hartford’s Motion
for Judgment as a Matter of Law. [Doc. # 170]. For the reasons set forth below, the City’s
motion is granted in part and denied in part.
This was the second trial in this matter. After a trial held in December 2016, a jury found in
favor of Officer Cornell on claims brought by Kenville Edwards and in favor of Officer May on
claims brought by Fabian Edwards. The jury failed to reach a verdict on the excessive force
claim brought by Fabian Edwards against Officer Cornell and on the excessive force claim
brought by Kenville Edwards against Officer May.
Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for the entry of judgment as a
matter of law if a jury returns a verdict for which there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50. “A district court may not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law
unless the evidence is such that, without weighing the credibility of the witnesses or otherwise
considering the weight of the evidence, there can be but one conclusion as to the verdict that
reasonable [persons] could have reached.” This Is Me, Inc. v. Taylor, 157 F.3d 139, 142 (2d Cir.
1998) (internal quotations marks omitted). The standard under Rule 50(b) is not one of strength
or weakness of the evidence; rather, “the evidence must be such that a reasonable juror would
have been compelled to accept the view of the moving party.” Id. (internal quotation marks
omitted) (emphasis added). In short, judgment as a matter of law may not be granted unless
(1) there is such a complete absence of evidence supporting the verdict that the
jury’s findings could only have been the result of sheer surmise and conjecture, or
(2) there is such an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor of the movant that
reasonable and fair minded [persons] could not arrive at a verdict against [it].
Galdieri-Ambrosini v. Nat’l Realty & Dev. Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 289 (2d Cir. 1998). In
determining whether judgment as a matter of law is appropriate, “the court must draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility
determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prod., Inc., 530 U.S.
133, 150 (2000).
The issue presented in the City’s motion is one of great import for all involved: whether,
under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-465, a municipality is required to indemnify an officer for
compensatory damages in an excessive force case when a jury also awards punitive damages. §
7-465, provides, as relevant, that a municipality “shall pay on behalf of any employee of such
municipality ... all sums which such employee becomes obligated to pay ... for damages awarded
for infringement of any person’s civil rights ... if the employee, at the time of the occurrence,
accident, physical injury or damages complained of, was acting in the performance of his duties
and within the scope of his employment, and if such occurrence, accident, physical injury or
damage was not the result of any wilful or wanton act of such employee in the discharge of such
Here, it is undisputed that Officer May was acting in the performance of his duties and
within the scope of his employment at the time of the incident involving Kenville Edwards. The
City argues that, since the jury made an award of punitive damages, it necessarily found that
Officer May’s conduct was willful or wanton, and thus not subject to indemnification under § 7465. Kenville Edwards objects to the City’s statutory interpretation, and argues a municipality
must indemnify for compensatory and punitive damages arising out of the excessive force
verdict. He agrees that in circumstances inapposite to those here, a municipality would not be
liable for losses and expenses resulting from a wilful or wanton act that is not a civil rights
violation. The argument hinges, in sum, on this matter being a civil rights case. Inexplicably,
counsel for Officer May did not present any meaningful argument that would have advanced the
clear interest of his client: that, at a minimum, the statute requires indemnification of Officer
May for the compensatory damages award. Officer May’s counsel, despite the existence of a
sound argument, did not distinguish between compensatory and punitive damages in his feckless
one-and-a-half page response to the City’s motion, much to the disadvantage of the actual client
and to the advantage of the entity paying the bills.
The Supreme Court of Connecticut has provided helpful guidance in City of W. Haven v.
Hartford Ins. Co., 221 Conn. 149, 154 (1992), which involved a jury award of $30,000 in
compensatory damages and $60,000 in punitive damages in a civil rights case. West Haven’s
insurance company paid the compensatory damages, plus attorney’s fees, but refused to pay the
punitive damages portion of the award; West Haven paid the punitive damages and sought to
recover the amount from its insurer. Id. The trial court found that because West Haven was not
legally required to pay the punitive damages award, the insurer was not obligated to reimburse it
for the amount. Id. West Haven appealed.
The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that West Haven was not under a legal
obligation to pay the punitive damages award. Id. at 159-63. It reasoned that “the municipality
is obligated, pursuant to § 7-465, to indemnify a municipal employee unless the municipal
employee acted wilfully or wantonly.” Id. at 159. Wanton acts include those performed in
“reckless and callous disregard of the rights of others.” Id. at 160 (internal quotation marks
While the case is silent on the municipality’s legal obligation to indemnify for the
compensatory portion of the award, it is clear from its analysis that the parties and the court
viewed them as indemnifiable. The court examined and approved the jury instructions given at
the civil rights trial, which explained that “[p]unitive damages are additional damages beyond
those awarded as compensatory to be awarded to the plaintiff as a deterrent to the defendants to
discourage them from committing the conduct complained of in the future … You may add such
amount as you shall unanimously agree is proper to punish the defendants for extraordinary
misconduct and to serve as an example or warning to others not to engage in such conduct.” Id.
at 162 (emphasis in original).2 Thus, the court’s reasoning indicates that, at least in interpreting
§7-465, damages for civil rights violations are categorical by degree. An award of compensatory
damages addresses the civil rights violation. As the statute states, “a municipality shall pay on
behalf of any employee of such municipality ... all sums which such employee becomes
obligated to pay ... for damages awarded for infringement of any person’s civil rights ...” An
award of punitive damages, however, is for conduct that goes beyond merely a civil rights
violation; such an award provides additional compensation for “extraordinary misconduct,” or
conduct that is more severe than the civil rights violation itself. Under § 7-465, then, it is the
damages awarded for that extraordinary conduct, conduct that was “the result of any wilful or
wanton act,” that does not give rise to municipal indemnification. In this case, the City must
indemnify Officer May for the compensatory damages award. The punitive damages award does
not require indemnification.
The City did not cite any case that holds that an award of punitive damages for a civil
rights violation relieves a municipality from its obligation to pay compensatory damages for the
same violation. In fact, the cases cited in the City’s motion are consistent with this Court’s
analysis of City of W. Haven. In Gothberg v. Town of Plainville, 148 F. Supp. 3d 168, 194 (D.
Conn. 2015), the court granted a municipality’s motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the
plaintiff’s § 7-465 claim for indemnification for a Section 1983 claim alleging an intentional
violation of the 14th Amendment. In fact, the complaint expressly described the defendants’
actions as “willful and wanton.” Id. at n. 13. This is distinguishable from the Section 1983
violation in the instance case – excessive force – because proof of an excessive force violation
The jury instructions in the instant case are similar. The jury was charged that if they found a
constitutional violation giving rise to compensatory damages, they could give “a separate and
additional award of punitive damages” to “punish a wrongdoer for extreme or outrageous
conduct…” [Doc. # 160 at 19-20].
does not require a showing of specific intent. See Graham v. O’Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397
(1989) (explaining that the reasonableness inquiry in excessive forces cases asks whether the
officer’s actions are objectively reasonable “in light of the facts and circumstances confronting
them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.”) (emphasis added).
Likewise, in Milardo v. City of Middletown, No. 3:06-CV-01071(DJS), 2009 WL
801614, at *11 (D. Conn. Mar. 25, 2009), the court granted a municipality’s motion for summary
judgment as to the plaintiffs’ § 7-465 claims for indemnification for trespass and intentional
infliction of emotional distress causes of action. The court explained that § 7-465 “does not
require indemnification for ‘wilful’ acts,” and that “‘wilful’ is synonymous with ‘intentional.’”
Id. Trespass and intentional inflection of emotional distress, unlike an excessive force claim,
require a showing of intentional conduct. See City of Bristol v. Tilcon Minerals, Inc., 284 Conn.
55, 87 (2007) (“The essentials of an action for trespass are: (1) ownership or possessory interest
in land by the plaintiff; (2) invasion, intrusion or entry by the defendant affecting the plaintiff's
exclusive possessory interest; (3) done intentionally; and (4) causing direct injury.”) (emphasis
added); Milardo, 2009 WL 801614, at *9 (the first element of an intentional infliction of
emotional distress claim requires a showing “that the actor intended to inflict emotional
distress”) (emphasis added). The court in Milardo also denied the municipality’s motion for
summary judgment as to the plaintiffs’ unreasonable search claim, explaining that claim
“certainly falls under ‘civil rights’ for which Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-465(a) requires
indemnification.” Id. at *9.
In sum, these cases simply cannot stand for the proposition that an award of punitive
damages in a Section 1983 excessive force case relieves a municipality from its obligation to
indemnify for the compensatory portion of the award under § 7-465.
The City’s position, in addition to being unsupported by precedent, is bewildering. How
can Hartford maintain a qualified police force when it is willing to expose its officers to personal
liability for compensatory damages for civil rights judgments? What capable officer, in his or
her right mind, would want to work for such a city? And what message does this send to the
community, the residents of Hartford, when their governing officials promote a position that, in
all likelihood, will leave them without full compensation for injuries in the event that they are the
victims of a civil rights violation? The Court readily understands the need, as a general rule, to
deter police officers from the sort of outrageous conduct that warrants punitive damages. But
this is not that case. The result in this case, in a second trial after a jury could not reach a verdict
in the first, was a close call. This case arose from a confrontation apparently instigated by
Fabian Edwards, who lost his case, and involved something of a melee in an enclosed
environment in which the officers were initially outnumbered.3 It is safe to say that no police
officer would expect to be abandoned by his employer with respect to an award of compensatory
damages in this case, even if a jury unexpectedly also awarded punitive damages. Nor should
any officer expect that.
Given the City’s position on indemnification, it would have been advisable to bifurcate
punitive damages from compensatory damages to allow presentation of evidence on the officer’s
ability to pay, a relevant factor in a punitive damages analysis. See Patterson v. Balsamico, 440
F.3d 104, 121 (2d Cir. 2006). For the amount of both the compensatory and punitive damages
Presently, the Court is considering, but has not decided, whether the punitive damages award
will stand in whole or in part. That a court may disagree with an award of punitive damages is,
of course, not reason enough to disturb that award. Here, while the Court has no issue with the
jury’s determination of liability, it is considering not only whether to set aside the punitive
damages award, but also whether to order remittitur. The Court is contemplating remittitur with
no help from Officer May’s own counsel, who has neglected issues on which he could actually
make a difference for his client in favor of his quixotic pursuit of qualified immunity in this
straightforward excessive force case.
awarded, it is obvious that the jury assumed that the City would be paying both. While the Court
is concerned about fairness to the plaintiff, who had no reason to request bifurcation, the Court,
nevertheless, is considering whether to order a new trial on the punitive damages issues. In the
future, this Court and other judges would be well advised to raise the indemnification and
bifurcation issues before trial in a civil rights case. If a municipality cannot or will not commit
to indemnification of punitive damages, a court should allow the officer to introduce evidence of
his or her personal financial situation. See Patterson at 121-22.
The City also seeks judgment as a matter of law on the plaintiff’s claims brought
pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-101a. Unlike § 7-465, which permits a plaintiff to bring a claim
against a municipality to indemnify it employees, § 7-101a provides indemnification to the
employee from the municipality, and does not contain a direct action by a non-employee plaintiff
against the municipality. See Wilson v. City of Hartford, No. 3:97-CV-00671(AWT), 1998 WL
229819, at *7 (D. Conn. Mar. 24, 1998). Since § 7-101a does not does not provide a direct cause
of action for the plaintiff in this case, see Miller v. Bridgeport Bd. of Educ., No. 3:12-CV-01287
VLB, 2013 WL 3936925, at *11-12 (D. Conn. July 30, 2013) (citing cases), the City’s Motion
for Judgment as a Matter of Law will be granted as to the counts brought under §7-101a.
Finally, the City is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to Fabian Edwards’s claim
against Officer Cornell. Because the jury found in favor of Officer Cornell, the city is under no
obligation to indemnify him.
For the foregoing reasons, the City’s Motion for Judgment a Matter of Law is granted in
part and denied in part.
SO ORDERED, this 13th day of September, 2017, at Bridgeport, Connecticut.
/s/ William I. Garfinkel
WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL
United States Magistrate Judge
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