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George E. Jacobs, Iv v. Jeanne Woodford

March 27, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jennifer L. Thurston United States Magistrate Judge


Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for a new trial. (Doc. 119) In support of the motion, Plaintiff contends the jury returned an inconsistent verdict in that it did not find the use of excessive force but did find that Defendant Martinez failed to summon medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 4-5. Also, he asserts the jury erred in awarding nominal damages in light of the egregious acts by Defendants. Id. at 5. Finally, Plaintiff asserts the Court erred in failing to instruct the jury on compensatory damages, namely damages for mental and psychological harm. Id. at 5-6. Alternatively, Plaintiff requests the Court alter or amend the judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES the motion.

I.Factual background and procedural history

On July 24, 2007, Plaintiff claimed Defendants David and Masiel used excessive force against him while they escorted him from the law library to his cell.*fn1 He claimed Masiel squeezed his arm 2 and when they arrived at his cell and after he had placed his wrists through the food port, David 3 slammed it closed, causing him injury. He alleged that this was done in retaliation for a lawsuit he 4 filed against Defendant Martinez. Plaintiff claimed also that when Martinez arrived at the cell, he 5 appreciated that Plaintiff suffered an injury but failed to call for medical treatment. After a two-day 6 trial, beginning on February 6, 2013, the jury returned a verdict finding that neither David nor Masiel 7 used excessive force and none of the Defendants retaliated against him. However, the jury found that 8

Martinez was deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's medical care and awarded nominal damages. 9

Judgment was entered on February 8, 2013 and on March 7, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant motion.

II.Legal standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59 provides in pertinent part: "The court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all of some of the issues--and to any party--as follows: [¶] (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[.]" Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a)(1)(A). "'Rule 59 does not specify the grounds on which a motion for new trial may be granted.' Rather, the court is 'bound by those grounds that have been historically recognized.'

Historically, recognized grounds include, but are not limited to, claims "'the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, that the damages are excessive, or that, for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving.' We have held that '[t]he trial court may grant a new trial only if the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence, is based upon false or perjurious evidence, or to prevent a miscarriage of justice.'" Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 2007) (internal citations omitted). A Rule 59 motion is "confided to the discretion of the trial court, whose decision will be overturned . . . only for abuse of discretion." Kode v. Carlson, 596 F.3d 608, 611 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Philippine Nat. Oil Co. v. Garrett Corp., 724 F.3d 803, 805 (9th Cir. 1984)).


a.The verdict, finding no excessive force, is not inconsistent with the finding of liability against Martinez In his first argument, Plaintiff asserts that a new trial should be granted because the verdict 5 against Martinez is inconsistent with the verdict finding no liability against David and Masiel for 6 excessive force. At trial, Plaintiff testified he suffered a wound on his left hand*fn2 and a knot on his 7 right hand when Defendants slammed the food port tray on his wrists. Indeed, while testifying, a juror 8 asked if Plaintiff could raise his hand in order to better display the knot. The Court requested Plaintiff 9 raise his hand up and he complied and displayed the injury to the jury.*fn3

Plaintiff testified the handcuff key was broken during this incident and he would not return the broken portion of the key or allow the handcuffs to be removed because he wanted a sergeant to be called so he could complain about the use of force. Plaintiff testified Martinez appeared but later called Lieutenant Smith to the cell. Lieutenant Smith examined his injuries and promised he would not be hurt if he put his hands in the food port and allow the handcuffs to be removed. Plaintiff complied and allowed the cuffs to be removed. Plaintiff testified that Martinez refused to call for medical attention and that he did not receive medical care until Lieutenant Smith arrived and called for it.

David testified that when he attempted to remove the handcuffs from Plaintiff's wrists through the tray slot, Plaintiff jerked his hands inside and, as a result, hit handcuff key on the food port and caused it to break off. David testified that initially, Plaintiff refused to return the broken portion of the key or to allow the handcuffs to be removed. Martinez testified he was called to the cell due to Plaintiff's refusal to provide the broken portion of the key or to allow his handcuffs to be removed.

Masiel testified that he didn't recall whether he escorted Plaintiff on the day at issue or any other day but that he has never seen anyone slam a food port on an inmate's hands. He ...

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