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Hipolito M. Chacoan v. Dr. Rohrer

March 27, 2012

HIPOLITO M. CHACOAN,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
DR. ROHRER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This case proceeded to a jury trial on January 30, 2012. On February 3, 2012, the jury reached a verdict in favor of Defendants Dr. Traquina and Dr. Naku. Plaintiff now moves for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule*fn1 of Civil Procedure 59.

STANDARD

Under Rule 59(a), the court may grant a new 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). For example, the Court may grant a new trial if "the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence, or is based upon evidence which is false, or to prevent, in the sound discretion of the court, a miscarriage of justice." Silver Sage Partners, Ltd. v. City of Desert Hot Springs, 251 F.3d 814, 818-819 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

ANALYSIS

Plaintiff asserts two general arguments in support of the motion for a new trial. First, Plaintiff argues that the jury's verdict in favor of both Dr. Naku and Dr. Traquina was contrary to the clear weight of the evidence. Second, Plaintiff maintains that the court's decision to not instruct the jury on Plaintiff's proffered special instructions constituted legal error.*fn2

A. Clear Weight of the Evidence

Plaintiff's argument as to Dr. Traquina rests on his contention that Dr. Traquina, the chief medical officer at the prison where Plaintiff was incarcerated, knew that patients were "falling through the cracks," yet did nothing to alleviate the problem. Plaintiff maintains that this fatal error in the medical operation Dr. Traquina oversaw resulted in Plaintiff's injury. Thus, Plaintiff argues, the jury's finding that Defendant was not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical need was contrary to the clear weight of the evidence.

Dr. Traquina counters that, even if, as Plaintiff maintains, Dr. Traquina was aware that some inmates with routine problems were "falling through the cracks," that, in and of itself, does not demonstrate the jury's conclusion that Dr. Traquina was not deliberately indifferent to Chacoan's serious medical needs was clearly contradicted by the weight of the evidence presented at trial. Dr. Traquina testified that he was under serious budgetary restraints that required a concentration on high risk patients. Moreover, for "routine patients whose care was delayed, [Dr. Traquina] relied on their complaints, either written or oral; letters or telephone calls from their families; or formal inmate grievances, also known as 602 appeals." (Dr. Traquina's Opp'n, filed March 5, 2012, [ECF No. 205] at 3:7-10.) Dr. Traquina also points out that when he received such notice, he personally reviewed the inmates case to rectify existing problems.

Thus, Dr. Traquina avers the jury's finding - that Dr. Traquina was not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical needs - did not conflict with the clear weight of the evidence.

With regard to Defendant Dr. Naku, Plaintiff argues that the jury's conclusion that Dr. Naku was not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's medical needs was contrary to the clear weight of the evidence because he testified that, despite being aware of Plaintiff's ear condition, he took no steps to ensure that Plaintiff received the surgery he needed. Naku counters that the jury did not erroneously find that he was not deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's ear condition because Dr. Naku is not an ear, nose and throat specialist. Naku also notes that the evidence showed that he consistently provided Plaintiff with antibiotics which, according to Dr. Lustig, Plaintiff's surgeon at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco, is an appropriate manner to treat infections associated with Plaintiff's ear condition.

The court must apply a stringent standard to Plaintiff's argument that the verdict reached cannot be reconciled with the weight of the evidence. Digidyne Corp. v. Data General Corp., 734 F.2d 1336, 1347 (9th Cir. 1984). A motion for new trial may be granted on this ground only if the verdict is against the "great weight" of the evidence or if "it is quite clear that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result." Id., see also Venegas v. Wagner, 831 F.2d 1514, 1519 (9th Cir. 1987).

It would amount to an abuse of discretion on the part of the court to grant a new trial on any lesser showing, and the court cannot extend relief simply because it would have arrived at a different verdict. Silver Sage Partner, LTD v. City of Desert Hot Springs, 251 F.3d 814, 818-19 (9th Cir. 2001).

The Court finds that Plaintiff has not presented a compelling argument for granting the extraordinary remedy sought. In the Court's view, there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could have reached its conclusion that neither Dr. Naku nor Dr. Traquina were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's serious medical needs. As to Dr. Traquina, the parties presented conflicting evidence regarding whether Dr. Traquina was deliberately indifferent. Indeed, the court specifically referenced this conflicting evidence in denying Dr. Traquina's Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law. It is clear that the jury found credible Dr. Traquina's testimony that, given the circumstances, he took sufficient precautions to ensure that those prisoners with serious medical needs did not slip through the cracks. Indeed, Dr. Lustig testified that his system was similar to that employed by Dr. Traquina and that some routine scheduling matters ...


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