Brandon v. Royce et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER re: 180 MOTION for New Trial. filed by Chamma K. Brandon. Plaintiffs renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b) or, in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59, is DENIED. The Clerk is instructed to terminate the motion. (Doc. #180). SO ORDERED. (Signed by Judge Vincent L. Briccetti on 2/22/2022) Copies Mailed By Chambers. (mml)
Copy mailed by chambers 2/22/22. DH
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
CHAMMA K. BRANDON,
MARK ROYCE, Deputy Superintendent of
OPINION AND ORDER
16 CV 5552 (VB)
Plaintiff Chamma K. Brandon commenced this action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, alleging defendant Mark Royce violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel
and unusual punishment while he was incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility (“Sing
Sing”), because he was exposed to bright lighting in his cell twenty-four hours a day, seven days
a week, from December 2015 to February 2019.
On September 15, 2021, after a six-day trial, during which plaintiff was ably represented
by pro bono counsel, the jury returned a verdict in defendant’s favor. On September 16, 2021,
the Court entered judgment dismissing the complaint. (Doc. #176). Thereafter, the Court
granted plaintiff’s counsel’s motion to withdraw. (Doc. #184).
Now pending is plaintiff’s renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”)
pursuant to Rule 50(b) or, in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a)(1)(A). (Doc.
For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED.
The Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
Renewed Motion for JMOL
Plaintiff argues that “[g]iven the undisputed severity of the conditions Brandon faced
while incarcerated” (Doc. #181 (“Pl. Br.”) at 2), the Court, prior to the jury being charged,
should have granted JMOL on the objective prong of the Eighth Amendment deliberate
indifference claim, and that the Court’s failure to grant plaintiff’s Rule 50(a) motion on that issue
was error. Plaintiff contends the jury should have been charged with determining only whether
defendant acted with deliberate indifference to plaintiff’s health and safety, that is whether the
mens rea prong of the Eighth Amendment claim was established, and whether defendant’s acts
were the proximate cause of plaintiff’s “undisputed injuries.” (Id. at 3).
Plaintiff is incorrect.
A court may grant a Rule 50(a) motion if “a party has been fully heard on an issue . . .
and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to
find for the party on that issue.”
On a motion for JMOL under Rule 50(b),
a court may set aside the verdict only if there exists 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 the evidence in favor of the movant is so
overwhelming that reasonable and fair minded persons could not arrive at a
verdict against it.
Cash v. County of Erie, 654 F.3d 324, 333 (2d Cir. 2011). 1
In reviewing a Rule 50(b) motion, the court “‘must draw all reasonable inferences in
favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the
Unless otherwise indicated, case quotations omit all internal citations, quotations,
footnotes, and alterations.
evidence.’” Cross v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 417 F.3d 241, 247 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Reeves v.
Sanderson Plumbing Prods. Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)). “The court cannot assess the weight
of conflicting evidence, pass on the credibility of witnesses, or substitute its judgment for that of
the jury.” Wiercinski v. Mangia 57, Inc., 787 F.3d 106, 113 (2d Cir. 2015). For these reasons,
the movant’s burden in securing relief is “particularly heavy after the jury has deliberated in the
case and actually returned its verdict.” Cross v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 417 F.3d at 248.
“Because the Rule 50(b) motion is only a renewal of the preverdict motion, it can be
granted only on grounds advanced in the preverdict motion.” Lore v. City of Syracuse, 670 F.3d
127, 153 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 Advisory Committee Note (2006)). “As to
any issue on which proper Rule 50 motions were not made, JMOL may not properly be granted
. . . unless that action is required to prevent manifest injustice.” Id.
Eighth Amendment Deliberate Indifference Standard
To establish a violation of Eighth Amendment rights, an inmate must satisfy an objective
prong and a mens rea prong. Namely, an inmate must show (i) “a deprivation that is objectively,
sufficiently serious that he was denied the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,” and
(ii) “a sufficiently culpable state of mind on the part of the defendant official, such as deliberate
indifference to inmate health or safety.” Gaston v. Coughlin, 249 F.3d 156, 164 (2d Cir. 2001).
To satisfy the objective element, “the inmate must show that the conditions, either alone
or in combination, pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his health.” Walker v. Schult,
717 F.3d 119, 125 (2d Cir. 2013). “Thus, prison officials violate the Constitution when they
deprive an inmate of his basic human needs such as food, clothing, medical care, and safe and
sanitary living conditions.” Id. “While the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and
unusual punishment does not mandate comfortable prisons, the conditions of confinement must
be at least humane.” Gaston v. Coughlin, 249 F.3d at 164. “[S]leep is critical to human
existence, and conditions that prevent sleep have been held to violate the Eighth Amendment.”
Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d at 126. Therefore, “[r]equiring inmates to live in constant
illumination can[,] under certain circumstances, rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment
violation.” Collins v. Fischer, 2018 WL 1626528, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 30, 2018) (quoting
Holmes v. Fischer, 2016 WL 552962, at *17 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 10, 2016)). 2
First, the Court did not err in denying plaintiff’s Rule 50(a) motion at the close of
defendant’s case because the jury had “a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for” either
party on the issue of the objective prong of the Eighth Amendment claim. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a).
The Court so explained when it denied defendant’s Rule 50(a) motion at the close of plaintiff’s
case (Doc. #182 (“Tr.”) 415–417; id. 416 (“there’s conflicting evidence about just about
everything in this case”)), and when it denied plaintiff’s Rule 50(a) motion at the close of
defendant’s case (id. 501–502).
Indeed, plaintiff’s testimony regarding the severe impact the constant illumination had on
his health and ability to sleep—including that it prevented him from sleeping more than three to
four hours a night and had a negative impact on his studies (Tr. 155–159)—was contradicted by
his medical records (Tr. Ex. E-1) and the testimony of Dr. Tasbirul Alam, one of plaintiff’s
treating physicians at Sing Sing (Tr. 298–313). The records showed that after December 2015,
plaintiff did not complain to medical staff that he was unable to sleep as a result of the lights
Plaintiff will be provided copies of all unpublished opinions cited in this decision. See
Lebron v. Sanders, 557 F.3d 76, 79 (2d Cir. 2009).
shining into his cell.3 Moreover, plaintiff himself testified that from February 2016 to December
2018—during which time the lights shone into his cell twenty-four hours a day, seven days a
week—he was completing a bachelors degree, which he ultimately received summa cum laude
(Tr. 118–119), giving rise to an inference that the constant illumination did not “pose an
unreasonable risk of serious damage to his health.” Walker v. Schult, 717 F.3d at 125. In other
words, plaintiff’s contention that “there was a complete ABSENCE of evidence contravening
that the conditions of Brandon’s confinement resulted in the denial of the minimal measure of
Brandon’s life necessities” (Doc. #187 (“Pl. Reply”) at 4), is simply not correct.
Second, for this same reason—that there was credible evidence from which the jury could
have found for either plaintiff or defendant—the Rule 50(b) motion must be denied.
Finally, although plaintiff states in his reply that “this Rule 50(b) motion is not an
objection to a jury instruction” (Pl. Reply at 3), his briefs in support of the motion can be
construed to object to the Court’s charging the jury on the objective prong of the Eighth
Amendment claim. However, a Rule 50(b) motion on the ground that the jury should not have
been charged on the objective prong fails because plaintiff never raised this objection before the
case was submitted to the jury. “Failure to object to a jury instruction . . . prior to the jury
retiring results in a waiver of that objection.” Lavoie v. Pac. Press & Shear Co., 975 F.2d 48, 55
(2d Cir. 1992) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 51). Nor has plaintiff established a Rule 50(b) motion on
this ground must be granted to prevent manifest injustice. See Lore v. City of Syracuse, 670
F.3d at 153. Accordingly, insofar as the Rule 50(b) motion is based on plaintiff’s objection to
the jury charge, the motion must be denied.
Although Dr. Alam testified a nurse’s notes stated plaintiff had difficulty sleeping, the
notes attributed such difficulty to medication, not lights shining into plaintiff’s cell. (Tr. 308–
Motion for a New Trial
Plaintiff argues he is entitled to a new trial because, as with his argument underlying the
Rule 50(b) motion, there was a complete lack of evidence demonstrating the conditions of his
confinement were not objectively substantially serious, meaning the jury should not have been
charged with deciding the issue of whether the objective prong of the Eighth Amendment claim
had been established.
The Court disagrees.
A “court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues . . . 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. Civ. P. 59(a)(1)(A).
Whether to grant a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 is in the district court’s sound discretion.
Sequa Corp. v. GBJ Corp., 156 F.3d 136, 143 (2d Cir. 1998). “[F]or a district court to order a
new trial under Rule 59(a), it must conclude that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result
or the verdict is a miscarriage of justice, i.e., it must view the jury’s verdict as against the weight
of the evidence.” Manley v. AmBase Corp., 337 F.3d 237, 245 (2d Cir. 2003). In other words,
“[a] court considering a Rule 59 motion for a new trial . . . should only grant such a motion when
the jury’s verdict is egregious.” DLC Mgmt. Corp. v. Town of Hyde Park, 163 F.3d 124, 134
(2d Cir. 1998).
In considering whether a jury’s verdict is against the weight of the evidence such that a
new trial is warranted, the district judge is “free to weigh the evidence and assess the credibility
of the witnesses and need not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict
winner.” Scherer v. Kane, 284 F. App’x 850, 854 (2d Cir. 2008) (summary order). Indeed,
“[t]he court must consider [any purported] error in light of the entire record when evaluating
whether a new trial is warranted.” Ojeda v. Metro. Transp. Auth., 477 F. Supp. 3d 65, 77
As discussed above, there was a legally sufficient evidentiary basis from which a
reasonable jury could have found either for plaintiff or for defendant on the objective prong of
the Eighth Amendment claim. Therefore, the jury did not reach an erroneous result in light of
the trial evidence, or a verdict that signifies a miscarriage of justice. Indeed, just as plaintiff
testified that the constant illumination into his cell had serious medical effects on him, including
on his ability to sleep, plaintiff’s medical records and Dr. Alam’s testimony provided evidence to
the contrary. Presentation of such conflicting evidence goes to show that the objective prong of
the Eighth Amendment claim was not, as plaintiff now argues, undisputed.
Moreover, to render a plaintiff’s verdict, the jury also would have had to conclude both
that defendant acted with a sufficient mens rea and defendant’s acts proximately caused
plaintiff’s injuries. If the jury concluded plaintiff did not prove by a preponderance of the
evidence any of these three prongs of the deliberate indifference claim—the objective prong, the
mens rea prong, or the causal connection—it could have found for defendant. Given the
conflicting evidence presented at trial on each of these issues, the jury concluded credible record
evidence supported a defense verdict.
Thus, the Court cannot conclude the jury reached a seriously erroneous result or the
verdict is a miscarriage of justice, and the Rule 59 motion must be denied.
Plaintiff’s renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b) or, in
the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59, is DENIED.
The Clerk is instructed to terminate the motion. (Doc. #180).
Dated: February 22, 2022
White Plains, NY
Vincent L. Briccetti
United States District Judge
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