The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur L. Alarcón United States Circuit Judge Sitting by Designation
Jamaal Laronde Smith filed an action on May 23, 2007, seeking damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for an alleged violation of his federal constitutional rights by several state officers. This matter went to trial on September 28, 2009. On September 30, 2009, the jury returned its unanimous verdict in favor of Scott Norton, the sole remaining defendant.
On October 13, 2009, Mr. Smith filed a motion for a new trial. He contends that "(1) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; (2) improper foundation was laid for admitting Defense's exhibits; and (3) prejudicial error." Doc. No. 143.
As explained below, the Court has reviewed each of these contentions and has concluded that the motion for a new trial will be denied because none of the issues raised by Mr. Smith has any merit.
In the declaration he filed in support of his motion, Mr. Smith summarized his testimony at trial as follows. (Doc. 143). On January 12, 2006, he kicked his cell door for 30 to 40 minutes. When Officer Norton and Officer Beasley came to his cell door, Mr. Smith told them he wanted to speak to someone. Officer Norton handcuffed him and requested that the control officer open the cell door. It would not open because it was off its track. After Officer Norton pushed and pulled on the cell door, the control officer was able to open it.
Officer Norton told Mr. Smith "that's why my doors don't work because ya'll (sic) always kicking on them."
Mr. Smith further testified that Officer Norton and Officer Beasley escorted him to one of the holding cages in front of the unit on the main hallway. As Mr. Smith approached the holding cage, he saw Lt. Simmerson standing in the hallway with 4 to 5 other officers. Mr. Smith testified that Officer Norton then stated "Simmerson get out of here." Officer Norton then told the rest of the officers to leave the area. Officer Kimble did not leave the area.
Mr. Smith testified that as he was stepping into the holding cage, Officer Norton placed his hand on the back of Mr. Smith's neck and rammed his head into the back of the holding cage and stated "if you ever kick my fucking door again, I'll break your neck." Mr. Smith testified he saw stars after the assault.
Mr. Smith testified that when Lt. Simmerson reappeared, Mr. Smith told him that something unethical had just occurred, and he needed to speak to him about it. Lt. Simmerson told him to speak to a psychologist first and then talk with him about it. After Mr. Smith met with a psychologist, he was taken back to his cell without talking to Lt. Simmerson about the assault.
Officer Norton testified at trial that he did not use any force on Mr. Smith. Officer Beasley corroborated this testimony.
On cross-examination, Mr. Smith admitted that he did not tell Lt. Simmerson about the alleged assault. Doc. No. 148. He also admitted that he did not tell the mental health clinician that Officer Norton had just slammed his head against the holding cage. Doc. 148. Mr. Smith also admitted on cross-examination that the first report he made of the alleged assault was in the grievance he filed nearly two weeks after the alleged incident. He also admitted that he did not receive any cuts or bruises from the alleged assault, nor did he seek medical treatment regarding any physical injury to his forehead. Doc. No. 148.
The jury was instructed that if it was persuaded by a preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Smith was assaulted by Officer Norton, it must render a verdict in the plaintiff's favor. The jury was also instructed on its duty to determine the credibility of the witnesses.
Mr. Smith testified he was assaulted by Office Norton. Officer Norton and Officer Beasley testified no assault occurred. In returning its verdict in favor of Officer Norton, the jury impliedly concluded that Mr. Smith's testimony was not credible. Contrary to Mr. Smith's contention, the verdict was not against the weight of the evidence. Mr. Smith's testimony that he was assaulted was thoroughly impeached on cross-examination. The jury was free to ...