Parker v. Mississippi Department of Public Safety et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION re 83 Order on Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, Order on Motion for New Trial. Signed by Senior Judge Glen H. Davidson on 8/15/17. (rel)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:14-cv-00231-GHD-DAS
MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING DEFENDANT JUSTIN ROLLINS'
MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW OR, ALTERNATIVELY, FOR A
Presently before the Court is a motion for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively,
for a new trial  filed by Defendant Justin Rollins ("Defendant Rollins"). Plaintiff Rick
Parker ("Plaintiff') has filed a response, and Defendant Rollins has filed a reply. The matter is
now ripe for review.
The Court has carefully considered Defendant Rollins' arguments
concerning his motion for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, request for a new trial, as
well as attached documentation, the trial transcript, the trial exhibits, and all authorities bearing
on the matter. The Court is of the opinion that none of Defendant Rollins' arguments have merit
and that the jury verdict should stand, for the reasons stated below.
Federal Rule o/Civil Procedure 59 Standard
Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides in pertinent part: "[N]o later
than 28 days after the jury was discharged[,] the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment
as a matter of law and may include an alternative or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59."
FED. R. ClV. P. 50(b). Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides in pertinent part
that "[t]he 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. ClV. P. 59(a)(1)(A). Such a motion "must be filed
no later than 28 days after the entry of jUdgment." FED. R. CIV. P. 59(b). Because the instant
motion for a new trial was filed within 28 days of the entry of judgment, it shall be construed as
a Rule 59 motion. See, e.g., KomolaJe v. Dewease, 87 F. App'x 385, 2004 WL 304198, at *1
(5th Cir. 2004) (per curiam) (citing Teal v. Eagle Fleet, Inc., 933 F.2d 34 I, 347 n.3 (5th Cir.
1991) (post-judgment motion for new trial and/or for relief from judgment was properly
considered under Rule 59 because it was filed within the requisite Rule 59 time period)).
"A district court has discretion to grant a new trial under Rule 59(a) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure when it is necessary to do so 'to prevent an injustice.' " Jones v. Ruiz, 478 F.
App'x 834, 835 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (quoting United States v. Flores, 981 F.2d 231, 237
(5th Cir. 1993». Although Rule 59(a) does not state appropriate grounds for a new trial, "[a]
new trial may be appropriate if the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, the amount
awarded is excessive, or the trial was unfair or marred by prejudicial error." Scott v. Monsanto
Co., 868 F.2d 786, 789 (5th Cir. 1989) (internal citation omitted). "Courts do not grant new
trials unless it is reasonably clear that prejudicial error has crept into the record or that substantial
justice has not been done, and the burden of showing harmful error rests on the party seeking the
new trial." Sibley v. Lemaire, 184 F.3d 481,487 (5th Cir. 1999).
Analysis and Discussion
On December 23, 2014, Plaintiff brought this civil rights action against Defendants
Mississippi Department of Public Safety; Donnell Berry, Chief of the Mississippi Highway
Patrol; Rollins, Mississippi State Trooper; and Josh Boyd, Mississippi State Trooper. Plaintiff
asserted claims for excessive force and unlawful seizure under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, gross
negligence and reckless disregard under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act, as well as common law
assault and battery and false arrest. Pretrial Order 
On July 23, 2015, upon Defendants' Mississippi Department of Public Safety's and
Donnell Berry's unopposed motion to dismiss, the Court dismissed Defendants Mississippi
Department of Public Safety and Donnell Berry as parties due to Eleventh Amendment immunity
and failure to state a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against Defendant Donnell Berry in his individual
capacity. The parties did not otherwise file any dispositive motions in the case. Subsequently,
the Court entered the parties' Pretrial Order .
The following facts were established by the Pretrial Order: Plaintiff was arrested by State
Trooper Rollins on June 28, 2013 and was subsequently charged with DUI refusal, resisting
arrest, littering, and no insurance.
Pretrial Order 
Trooper Rollins and
Trooper Josh Boyd were acting within the course and scope of their employment with the
Mississippi Highway Patrol during their encounter with Plaintiff on June 28, 2013. Id.
The case proceeded to trial on March 27, 2017. The parties agreed to dismiss the state
law claims; thus, the case proceeded to trial on the Section 1983 excessive force and unlawful
seizure claims only. On March 28, 2017, the Court granted Defendant Josh Boyd's motion for
judgment as a matter of law and entered judgment in his favor. See Ct.' s Final J. & Order
Granting Mot. J. Matter of Law  at 1. However, the Court denied Defendant Rollins' motion
for judgment as a matter of law. Later that same day, the jury returned a verdict finding that
Defendant Rollins used excessive force and unlawfully seized Plaintiff; the jury awarded
Plaintiff damages against Defendant Rollins in the amount of $200,000.00.
On April 25, 2017, Defendant Rollins filed the present motion for judgment as a matter
of law or, alternatively, for a new trial . Defendant Rollins asserts essentially two grounds
for relief: (1) "[t]here is no legally sufficient basis for a reasonable jury to find for Plaintiff ...
on his claims that Defendant Rollins used excessive force or that Defendant Rollins unlawfully
arrested him"; and (2) "[t]here was evident confusion on the part of the jury as shown by the
transcript excerpt ...." See Def. Rollins' Mot. J. Matter of Law, or, Alternatively for New Trial
"2-3. The Court examines each argument in turn.
(1) Sufficiency of Evidence
First, Defendant Rollins argues the verdict and judgment should be set aside and
judgment entered for Defendant Rollins due to insufficient evidence of excessive force and
unreasonable seizure or that Defendant Rollins' conduct was objectively unreasonable.
Plaintiff argues in response that the jury verdict was supported by substantial evidence
including the testimony of the parties in the case sub judice.
The Court finds Plaintiff's
arguments in this respect to be well taken. Evidence in the record supports the jury's finding of
excessive force and unreasonable seizure.
"To establish a violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on excessive force, the
plaintiff must [show]: '(1) an injury that (2) resulted directly and only from the use of force that
was excessive to the need, and (3) the use of force [ ] was objectively unreasonable.'" See
Mathews v. Davidson, 674 F. App'x 394, 395 (5th CiT. 2017), as revised (Jan. 9, 2017) (per
curiam) (quoting Bush v. Strain, 513 F.3d 492, 500-D1 (5th Cir. 2008)). Defendant Rollins does
not make a specific argument that there was insufficient evidence to find Defendant Rollins
liable on the excessive force claim.
In any event, Plaintiff presented evidence at trial that
Defendant Rollins stopped Plaintiff at a driver's license checkpoint on Highway 25 in Itawamba
County, asked him to step outside of his vehicle, and initiated a struggle. Plaintiff testified at
trial that Defendant Rollins repeatedly squeezed the keys in Plaintiff's pocket, put him in a head
lock, took him to the ground, put all of his weight on Plaintiff, forced his body to the ground on
gravel, and pushed his wrists toward his shoulder blades, injuring his shoulder. See Trial Tr.
Excerpt  at 15-20. In addition, Plaintiff and Defendant Rollins introduced photographs of
Plaintiff's injuries following the incidents in question.
See P-I-P-5; D-4.
introduced into evidence his medical bills. See P-IO. Therefore, there was a legally sufficient
evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find that Defendant Rollins used excessive force on
The following are the elements of an unlawful seIzure claim under the Fourth
Amendment: "(a) a meaningful interference with her possessory interests in her property, which
is (b) unreasonable because the interference is unjustified by state law or, if justified, then
uncompensated." Severance v. Patterson, 566 F.3d 490, 502 (5th Cir. 2009). Defendant Rollins
argues that probable cause justified his arrest of Plaintiff. In support of this, Defendant Rollins
argues that it is undisputed that Plaintiff "threw his lit cigarette on the ground during his
encounter with Defendant Rollins," which is a misdemeanor under Mississippi Code § 97-15
29(1) and that Plaintiff was properly arrested pursuant to Mississippi Code § 45-3-21(f).
However, evidence at trial supports the jury verdict on unreasonable seizure. Defendant Rollins'
testimony at trial indicated that he did not arrest Plaintiff for littering, but for driving under the
influence. In addition, Plaintiff testified at trial that he picked up the cigarette and placed it back
in his truck at Defendant Rollins' request, and evidence demonstrated that the citation for litter
was dismissed after a trial on the merits in Justice Court. See Trial Tr. Excerpt  at 14. The
jury further heard testimony from Plaintiff, Justin Parker, Kayla Parker, Constable Doug Leslie
and Defendant Josh Boyd that Plaintiff was not impaired or intoxicated on the night in question.
Therefore, there was a legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to fmd that
Defendant Rollins unreasonably seized Plaintiff.
(2) Jury Note
Second, Defendant Rollins argues that the jury was confused on what constituted a lawful
arrest, that the jury note reveals this confusion, and that Defendant Rollins had probable cause to
arrest Plaintiff for littering. Defendant Rollins requests that the Court grant a new trial on this
Plaintiff argues in response that the jury note did not show confusion and further argues
that the parties and the Court agreed on all jury instructions, the fonn of the verdict, and the
Court's written response to the jury note. The Court finds that Plaintiffs arguments are well
During jury deliberations, the jury had a note delivered to the Court. The Court read into
the record the note from the jury which stated as follows:
In regards to suspicion of alcohol use and refusal to take a portable
breathalyzer, what constitutes a lawful arrest?
Is refusing a portable breathalyzer cause for arrest? Is going to the
station to take the breath test considered to be an arrest?
Trial Tr. Excerpt [70-1] at 2; Jury Note  at 1. The transcript indicates the Court stated to
counsel for Plaintiff and Defendant Rollins: "We can bring [the jury] back in the courtroom, just
read the whole jury charge to them, but that ... doesn't speak to these specific questions. I don't
think we've got anything like that in the jury charge." Trial Tr. Excerpt [70-1] at 2. Counsel for
Defendant Rollins responded to the Court: "I don't think we do either. . .. I think just a note
back to them saying that you have been instructed as to the law in this case - as to the law to
apply in this case." Id at 2-3. The Court then read on the record its written response to the jury
note: "I cannot reply to your specific questions. Please rely on your recollection of the evidence
and the Court's instruction to you on the law." Jury Note  at 1; Trial Tr. Excerpt [70-1] at 3.
Defendant Rollins' counsel responded: "Yeah."
Trial Tr. Excerpt [70-1] at 3.
Rollins' counsel did not object to the Court's response to the jury note. The Court finds that
Defendant Rollins has waived any chance to object to jury confusion since this issue was not
raised at trial. 1
For all of the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that the jury verdict against Defendant
Justin Rollins should stand. "[M]ere dissatisfaction with the jury's weighing of evidence or
detennination of witness credibility is not a valid ground on which to grant judgment as a matter
of law [or] a new trial ...." Bovie-Clark v. Sentry Select Ins. Co., 568 F. App'x 312,313 (5th
Cir. 2014) (per curiam). Therefore, Defendant Justin Rollins' motion for judgment as a matter of
law or, alternatively, for a new trial  is DENIED.
An order in accordance with this opinion shall issue this day.
THIS, the_'v_ofAugust, 2017.
SENIOR U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
I The Court finds it necessary to note that Defendant Rollins did not at any point in this proceeding ever
raise the issue of Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to the official-capacity claims against him.
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