Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, Jeffrey T. Miller, District Judge, Presiding, D.C. No. 3:06-cv-00766-JM-LSP.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gould, Circuit Judge
Argued and Submitted June 5, 2009
Submission deferred June 15, 2009
Resubmitted January 12, 2010 -- Las Vegas, Nevada
Before: Ronald M. Gould and Johnnie B. Rawlinson, Circuit Judges, and Ralph R. Beistline,*fn1 Chief District Judge.
Opinion by Judge Gould; Dissent by Judge Rawlinson.
Anthony Guy appeals the district court's denial of his motion for a new trial on damages following a jury verdict that was reached in his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action. The jury concluded that police officer David Maley used excessive force when he detained Guy during a late-night confrontation, but the jury awarded only nominal damages, and that prompts Guy's appeal seeking a new trial solely on damages. Guy also appeals the district court's decision not to award him attorney's fees and nontaxable costs as the prevailing party in the lawsuit. We conclude that substantial evidence supported the jury's damages verdict, but we reverse the district court's decision not to award costs and attorney's fees.
Anthony Guy left a bar in the San Diego nightlife district near its closing time on January 2, 2005. Guy had consumed four beers during his three-and-one-half hours at the bar, but he testified that he was not intoxicated when he left. Just outside the bar, Guy saw someone punch another person in the back of the head, and he saw two other people come to the aid of the initial puncher. Guy joined the fight and punched at least one person from behind.
Meanwhile, San Diego Police Department ("SDPD") Officer David Maley and several other SDPD officers were stationed across the street to monitor the area as bars closed for the night. Maley heard another officer, fellow defendant Richard W. Garcia, yell "fight," and Maley observed the fight involving Guy.
The parties dispute the following events. Guy testified at trial that Maley approached him from behind and grabbed him without first identifying himself as a police officer. Guy said that he threw the unknown assailant off him but in so doing Guy's sweatshirt was pulled up and blocked his vision. Guy said he then punched and hit the other person and at that point heard Maley identify himself as a police officer. Maley testified, on the other hand, that he approached Guy from the front at an angle and yelled "police" as he approached. Maley said that Guy threw a punch at him but missed. Maley testified that he then grabbed Guy and, as Guy pulled back, Guy's sweatshirt came completely off and did not obscure Guy's vision. Maley said Guy then faced him in a fighting stance and thereafter Maley pulled Guy to the ground and pinned him.
Guy testified that once Maley identified himself as a police officer he ceased all resistance for the duration of the incident. Maley testified, however, that Guy continued to struggle and resist after Maley pinned him down and that in response Maley sprayed Guy in the face with pepper spray. Guy did not claim that Maley sprayed him with pepper spray at that point.
The parties do not dispute that after Maley pinned Guy to the ground, Maley handcuffed Guy and led him across the street to a police car. As Maley searched Guy, Guy said, "Why don't you relax a little bit there, tough guy?" Maley then performed a control maneuver during which Guy, while handcuffed, was thrown to the ground. Officers Garcia and Kevin Friedman then assisted Maley in helping to control Guy. At some point while Guy was on the ground near the police car, Maley applied pepper spray directly onto Guy's face.
Guy testified that despite offering no resistance, Maley and the other officers repeatedly kicked and beat him. Maley, Garcia, and Friedman all testified, however, that Guy was not compliant but instead was yelling, cursing, and thrashing his legs. They also testified that Guy was generally physically combative, even after Maley placed him in handcuffs. Friedman and Garcia claimed that they did not beat Guy but only placed their feet on him to stop him from kicking and to assist Maley in controlling him. A third-party witness confirmed the officers' account that they did not punch or kick Guy. The parties agreed that Guy did not resist after Maley applied pepper spray (for the second time, according to Maley's testimony).
Guy testified that several of Maley's actions injured him. Guy claimed that Maley tightened the handcuffs so much that they caused painful welts on his wrists. He also contended that when Maley threw him to the ground the impact tore skin off his shoulder and face. Guy further testified that after throwing him to the ground, Maley yanked and injured Guy's thumb. Finally, Guy claimed that the pepper spray caused him excruciating pain.
Eventually, Maley and Garcia drove Guy to SDPD headquarters, where Guy complained of multiple injures, specifically to his thumb, and then drove Guy to the hospital for treatment. The ...