United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana
RULING AND ORDER
JOHN W. deGRAVELLES, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on the Defendants' Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment, or in the Alternative, Motion for New Trial or Remittitur (R. Doc. 134). Plaintiff Christopher Miller opposes the motion. (R. Doc. 136). Oral argument was previously scheduled for July 28, 2015. Upon reconsideration, oral argument is not necessary.
Considering the law and facts in the record, Defendants' motion is DENIED.
Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants Darius Credit and the State of Louisiana. (R. Doc. 1-1). Plaintiff alleged that, on February 8, 2011, he was asleep on the top bunk at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center when Credit, without cause, grabbed Miller and physically flung him to the ground. ( Id. ). Plaintiff claimed that Credit violated Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. ( Id. ). Alternatively, Plaintiff claimed that Credit was negligent and that the State was vicariously liable for Credit's conduct.
A jury trial in this matter was conducted from March 23, 2015, to March 25, 2015. (R. Docs. 123-127). On March 25, 2015, the Jury rendered a verdict in favor of the Plaintiffs, finding that Credit was negligent. (R. Doc. 126). The jury apportioned fault by assigning 75% fault to Plaintiff and 25% fault to the Defendant. ( Id. ). Compensatory damages were awarded in a lump sum in the amount of $300, 000.00. ( Id. ). Thus, the total award to Miller was $75, 000.00. ( Id. ).
The instant motion was filed on April 21, 2015. (R. Doc. 134). In sum, Defendants assert three main arguments. First, the judgment should be altered or amended because the jury committed a manifest error in fact by finding that Credit was negligent. Second, the Court should order a remittitur or new trial on the issue of damages because the jury award was excessive. And third, the Court should order a new trial on all issues because the jury award was so excessive that it was the result of "passion or prejudice." The court will address each of these in turn.
II. Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment
A. Defendants' Arguments
Defendants argue that the judgment should be altered or amended because the Plaintiff failed to prove that Credit was negligent. Defendants rely on the "objective medical evidence" and the expert testimony of Dr. Messina and Dr. Boudreaux in support of their motion. In short, Defendants claim that Miller suffered no damages.
B. Legal Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) provides that a "motion to alter or amend a judgment must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment." "A Rule 59(e) motion calls into question the correctness of a judgment.'" Templet v. HydroChem Inc., 367 F.3d 473, 478 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting In re Transtexas Gas Corp., 303 F.3d 571, 581 (5th Cir. 2002)). The Fifth Circuit has held that a Rule 59(e) motion "is not the proper vehicle for rehashing evidence, legal theories, or arguments that could have been offered or raised before the entry of judgment." Templet, 367 F.3d at 478-79 (citing Simon v. United States, 891 F.2d 1154, 1159 (5th Cir. 1990)). Instead, Rule 59(e) "serves the narrow purpose of allowing a party to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Templet, 367 F.3d at 479 (quoting Waltman v. Int'l Paper Co., 875 F.2d 468, 473 (5th Cir. 1989)) (alterations omitted). "Reconsideration of a judgment after its entry is an extraordinary remedy that should be used sparingly." Id. (citations omitted).
Defendants' motion fails for two reasons. First, while they cite to certain facts in support of their motion, a reasonable juror could draw different inferences from these facts than those advanced by the Defendants. Second, there are additional facts which Defendants ignore that also support the verdict. In sum, the Defendants have failed to sustain their burden of showing a manifest error of fact so as to justify this extraordinary remedy.
1. Defendants' Evidence Arguably Supports the Verdict
Defendants cite to several pieces of evidence which they contend support a verdict in their favor. However, a reasonable juror could draw other inferences from this evidence.
Concerning the "Objective Medical Evidence, " on February 8, 2011 (the day of the incident), a Health Care Request Form (Defs.' Ex. 3 at 71) was completed. Defendants cite to the facts that, in this document, (1) Miller complained of shoulder and upper back pain; (2) Miller told the health care personnel that the pain was a 3/10 and that the onset was "When I woke up this morning;" and (3) this was described as a "Routine Sick call." However, a juror could infer from the 3/10 pain scale that Miller did in fact suffer some injuries, and the pain could have increased later. Further, the fact that Miller said he suffered the pain "When [he] woke up this morning" does not exclude the possibility that Credit was responsible. Finally, "shoulder and upper back pain" is not necessarily inconsistent with a dislocated shoulder.
Moreover, on February 11, 2011, a Health Care Request Form (Defs.' Ex. 3 at 68) was completed. Defendants cite to the fact that Miller complained of a dislocated shoulder "while lying down." But this again is not entirely inconsistent with Miller's account that Credit pulled Miller out of bed.
2. Review of the Other Evidence Concerning Damages
Additionally, there was other evidence which Defendants ignore. This evidence supports a finding of liability and damages in this case. The Court will begin by reviewing evidence in support of Defendants' motion and will then review the Plaintiff's evidence.
a. Defendants' Evidence
Concerning the "Objective Medical Evidence, " Defendants cite to the fact that Miller received medical treatment for complaints of his shoulder popping out of joint and/or dislocating nine times before the incident. Defendants also cite to the fact that Miller did not tell Hunt, Phelps Correctional Center, or Dr. Blanda about his prior shoulder problems.
Additionally, Dr. Messina testified to the following to support the Defendants: Miller had a history of shoulder problems dating back to 2005. Miller's two MRIs - the first, from June 11, 2009 (before the incident), and the second from Sept. 15, 2011 - showed he had a Bankart lesion. Thus, nothing could have helped him except surgical reconstruction. Further, Miller needed surgical reconstruction in June of 2009; otherwise, his shoulder would continue to pop out of the socket. The only surgical operation that would help Miller would be a Bristow or Latarjet procedure, which costs about $2, 000. Credit touching Miller's shoulder on Feb 8, 2011 had no bearing on his need for surgery. Finally, physical therapy made his shoulder worse and was "not money well spent."
Finally, concerning Dr. Boudeaux, Defendants cite to the facts that (1) Miller made more money in 2011 (the year of the incident) than he did in eight of the ten years preceding the incident and (2) Boudreaux said there was "no reason for me to do a future loss calculation" because he was asked to assume that Miller could go back to work making at least as much money as he had demonstrated an ability to earn prior to the incident.
b. Plaintiff's evidence showing that motion should be denied
i. Lay testimony from the Plaintiff and his family concerning his injuries
Miller testified extensively about the fact that, while he was injured in 2009, his shoulder was healthy five weeks afterward. (Transcript of Record, R. Doc. 130, at 107-08). Miller said that he had problems before but that his shoulder is much worse since the incident (Transcript of Record, R. Doc. 131, at 57). Miller also stated that, in all nine prior examples of shoulder pain, there was no prior instance where his arm was out of place for two days or where a doctor had to put his arm back into place. ( Id. at 62). Miller further testified that he did not tell Hunt about his prior shoulder injuries because it had healed. (R. Doc. 130 at 110). Miller said in March 2010, he was fine, active, could swim and be involved with his kids. (R. Doc. 131 at 62-63). When he got to Hunt in Jan. 2011, his shoulder was healed, and he could play baseball, basketball, football, box, and swim. ( Id. at 64).
Contrary to Defendants' evidence, an eyewitness to the incident, Blake Francis, testified that Miller's left arm was slouching really badly after the incident. (R. Doc. 131 at 71). While Dr. Messina expressed skepticism of any dislocation ( Id. at 231), a reasonable juror could infer from this eyewitness account that the shoulder was in fact dislocated during the incident.
Cheryl Miller, the Plaintiff's mother, testified that after Christopher Miller hurt his arm playing basketball,  Miller was able to play sports, do house chores, cut grass, and everything else. ( Id. at 75). He was active in the lives of his kids and would play football, basketball, skating, and everything. ( Id. at 76). After 2010 until the time of the accident, there were no shoulder problems. ( Id. ). After Captain Credit pulled Miller out of the bunk, Miller's shoulder would come out when he picked up a bag of trash to bring to the road, when he lay in his bed, or when he played sports. ( Id. at 77). Defendants tried to impeach Cheryl Miller by showing her deposition transcript, where she said that he had no prior shoulder injury, but she clarified at trial that she did not understand the question at the deposition and thought Defendants meant broken or something like that. ( Id. at 83). On rebuttal, Cheryl reiterated that, after the incident, Christopher could not help around the house or play sports and that he would cry in the house because he knows he cannot play any sports with his children. ( Id. at 85).
In sum, there is extensive lay testimony concerning causation and the extent of the Plaintiff's injuries following the incident with Credit.
ii. Medical Records
The first MRI was done on June 12, 2009 (See Defs.' Ex. 6 at 216). The radiologist's report provides:
No discreet biceps tendon pathology identified. The rotator cuff here tendons appear intact although there may be a small undersurface tear of the supraspinatus tendon. There appears to be a focal small cortical defect in the underlying humeral head here with a small amount of fluid. There is a mild edema at the acromioclavicular joint without malalignment.
Impression: Small undersurface tear supraspinatus tendon with questionable subjacent small cortical defect superior humeral head
The second MRI was done on September 15, 2011. (See Defs.' Ex. 5 at 100). Jeffrey Laborde was the reporting physician, and he was referred there by Dr. Blanda. The MRI provided:
AC joint: The study is positive for a small amount of free fluid in the AC joint and thickening of the inferior AC ligament indicating early osteoarthritis and arthrosis of the AC joint.
Rotator cuff: There is increased signal in a linear fashion of the rotator cuff on all 3 coronal sequences. Study would indicate intralaminar changes that do not extend to either the bursal or articulating surfaces. Study would suggest an intralaminar tear. There is no evidence of retraction or deformity of the articulating surfaces.
Glenohumeral joint: There is no joint space effusion. Labrum is normal. Articulating surfaces of the humeral head and glenoid are intact.
Surrounding musculature and tendinous structures: Biceps tendon is in its normal position throughout. Muscle signal intensity is normal with no evidence of inflammation or denervation.
1. Early osteoarthritis of the AC joint creating minor rotator cuff impingement
2. Increased signal of the rotator cuff consistent with an intralaminar tear. No evidence of ...