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Jeffrey Gorman v. City of San Diego

May 18, 2012

JEFFREY GORMAN,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF SAN DIEGO, SAN DIEGO POLICE DEPARTMENT, WILLIAM LANSDOWNE, AS AN INDIVIDUAL AND CHIEF OF POLICE OF CITY OF SAN DIEGO, MICHAEL AGUIRRE, AS CITY ATTORNEY OF SAN DIEGO, AND AS AN INDIVIDUAL, OFFICER JAMES ZIRPOLOG #4310, OFFICER D. SPITZER #4665, OFFICER G. MACPHEE #4940, SERGEANT B. DARE #2438, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PEACE OFFICERS, AND DOES 1-15, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL [Doc. No. 107]

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Jeffrey Gorman ("Plaintiff")'s motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. [Doc. No. 107.] For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES the motion.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a paraplegic, was arrested for driving under the influence ("DUI") by San Diego Police Department officers on December 19, 2006 as a result of a traffic stop. [Doc. No. 40 at 2.] Plaintiff contended that during the course of his arrest, he was subjected to excessive force on three separate occasions. First, that his transportation in the backseat of a patrol car instead of a wheelchair accessible vehicle while Officer James Zirpolo drove at excessive speeds constituted excessive force. [Doc. No. 38 at 2-3.] Second, that the officers pulling him out of the patrol car, laying him on the ground of the police department sally port, and conducting a forced blood draw constituted excessive force. [Id.] Third, that Officer Zirpolo yanking him out of the car and dropping him on the ground at the jail constituted excessive force. [Id.]

On December 18, 2008, Plaintiff filed a civil rights action against Defendants City of San Diego, the San Diego Police Department ("SDPD"), Chief of Police William Lansdowne ("Chief Lansdowne"), Michael Aguirre ("Aguirre"), Officer James Zirpolo ("Officer Zirpolo"), Officer D. Spitzer ("Officer Spitzer"), Officer G. Macphee ("Officer Macphee"), Sergeant B. Dare ("Sgt. Dare") alleging causes of action for (1) violation of his right to be free from excessive force and false arrest under the Fourth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) municipal liability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the unlawful policy, custom, or habit of permitting or condoning excessive force by police officers; and (3) violation of California Civil Code §§ 51, 51.7, 52(b), and 52.1(b). [Doc. No. 1, Compl.] Prior to the pre-trial conference, Plaintiff dismissed Defendant Aguirre and abandoned his claims for false arrest and violation of California Civil Code §§ 51, 51.7, 52(b), and 52.1(b). [Doc. No. 38 at 4.]

The Court held an eight-day jury trial in this matter beginning on February 7, 2012. [Doc. No. 86.] At the conclusion of Plaintiff's case in chief, on February 10, 2012, the Court granted Defendant's oral Rule 50(a) motion and dismissed Defendants City of San Diego, SDPD, and Chief Lansdowne. [Doc. Nos. 89, 100.] The trial proceeded with the remaining Defendants. On February 16, 2012, the jury returned a special verdict finding that none of the Defendants' actions constituted unreasonable or excessive force. [Doc. No. 99.] On February 22, 2012, the Court entered judgment in favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff. [Doc. No. 101.]

By the present motion, Plaintiff moves for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. [Doc. No. 107.] Plaintiff moves for a new trial on eleven different grounds. [See id.] The Court addresses each of these grounds below.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard for a Motion for New Trial

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1), the Court may grant a new trial "on all or some of the issues . . . (A) after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." Because "Rule 59 does not specify the grounds on which a motion for a new trial may be granted," district courts are "bound by those grounds that have been historically recognized." Zhang v. Am. Gem Seafoods, Inc., 339 F.3d 1020, 1035 (9th Cir. 2003). Those grounds include (1) a verdict that is contrary to the weight of the evidence, (2) a verdict that is based on false or perjurious evidence, (3) that damages are excessive, or (4) to prevent a miscarriage of justice. Molski v. M .J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 2007). Erroneous evidentiary rulings and errors in jury instructions are also grounds for a new trial. See Ruvalcaba v. City of Los Angeles, 64 F.3d 1323, 1328 (9th Cir. 1995); Murphy v. City of Long Beach, 914 F.2d 183, 187 (9th Cir. 1990).

"The grant of a new trial is 'confided almost entirely to the exercise of discretion on the part of the trial court.'" Murphy, 914 F.2d at 186. In addition, due to the inherently fact-specific nature of the Rule 59(a) inquiry, a district court's order denying a motion for a new trial will generally stand on appeal provided there is some reasonable basis for the jury's verdict. Molski, 481 F.3d at 729. It is reversible error, however, for a district court to deny a Rule 59(a) motion for new trial where there is an "absolute absence of evidence to support the jury's verdict." Id.

II. Analysis

A. Defendants' Failure to Provide Plaintiff With A Reasonable Accommodation Plaintiff argues that a new trial is justified because the Defendants were required as a matter of law to provide him with a reasonable accommodation when transporting him. [Doc. No. 107-1 at 2-5.] Specifically, Plaintiff argues that it is undisputed that he was transported from the scene of his arrest by a patrol car rather than a wheelchair accessible vehicle, and therefore, he was subjected to excessive force as a matter of law. [Id.] In response, Defendants argue that Plaintiff did not bring any claims for violation of the ADA at trial and whether the ADA was violated does not further the determination of whether the Defendants used excessive force. [Doc. No. 108 at 5.]

In support of his argument, Plaintiff cites to the American with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and cases dealing with ADA claims. [Doc. No. 107-1 at 2-4.] The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted "to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities." 42 U.S.C. § 12101(b)(2). Title II of the ADA provides: "No qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity." 42 U.S.C. § 12132. "Public entities" under Title II include law enforcement officers. See Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 691 (9th Cir. 2001). "Generally, public entities must 'make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures when the modifications are necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless the public entity can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity.'" Pierce v. County of Orange, 526 F.3d 1190, 1215 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(7)).

However, Plaintiff did not bring any claims against the Defendants for violation of the ADA nor did Plaintiff attempt to amend his complaint to bring a claim for violation of the ADA. [See generally Compl.; Doc. No. 38; Doc. No. 40.] Plaintiff only brought claims at trial for violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, specifically the right to be free from excessive force. [See Doc. No. 40 at 4 ("The following issues of law and no other remain to be litigation [sic] upon trial: 1. Whether or not the Defendants used excessive force upon Plaintiff in violation of the Fourth Amendment. . . . 3. Whether the City of San Diego, through its Police Department, has customs, policies, or practices that condone or permit excessive force").]

Claims for excessive force are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures using the framework articulated in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). The reasonableness of a seizure turns on "whether the officers' actions are 'objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them," id. at 397, which is determined by balancing "the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the countervailing governmental interests at stake." Id. at 396 (quoting Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 8 (1985)) (internal quotation marks omitted). ...


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