United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW
Re: ECF No. 81
JON S. TIGAR, District Judge.
On January 6, 7, and 8, 2015, the Court heard a jury trial in this excessive force case. Plaintiff rested his case on January 8, 2015 after having introduced evidence from only one witness, Defendant Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Marcus Holton ("Deputy Holton"). Because Plaintiff failed to introduce sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to render a verdict in his favor, the Court will grant Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a).
A. Procedural History
Plaintiff filed this case on March 26, 2012, alleging eight causes of action. ECF Nos. 1, 3. On June 17, 2013, Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment, which the Court granted on September 16, 2013, dismissing Plaintiff's sixth, seventh, and eighth causes of action. ECF Nos. 22, 34.
Defendants then filed a second motion for summary judgment regarding Plaintiff's remaining claims. ECF No. 43. The Court denied that motion in part and granted it in part. ECF No. 53. The Court found disputes of material fact related to the alleged excessive force incident, based in large part on deposition testimony by Plaintiff and his wife, D'Mitria Williamson-Pickard's. Id.
At the pre-trial conference on December 19, 2014, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed all then-existing claims for relief except his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. ECF No. 67 at 2. Trial proceeded on that claim alone.
Jury trial commenced on January 6, 2015. ECF No. 74. On that date, the parties completed juror selection and the Court seated nine jurors. Id . The following day, both sides gave opening statements, and Plaintiff called his first witness, Deputy Holton. ECF No. 75. Deputy Holton's testimony continued into and concluded on January 8, 2015. ECF No. 78.
Plaintiff's counsel had informed the Court and Defendants that Plaintiff and Williamson-Pickard would both testify at trial, but neither Plaintiff nor Williamson-Pickard were present in court on January 8, 2015. ECF No. 78 at 4. In the parties' joint pretrial statement, Plaintiff also proposed to call the following persons: CHP Officer Sean Harvey; Sonoma County Sheriff's Office employee Debbie Little; Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Dave Pedersen; Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Brian Keen; Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Travis Koeppel; Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Vance Eaton; Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Joe Dulworth; Sonoma County Sheriff's Office employee Orlando Rodriguez; Sonoma County Sheriff's Detective Brandon Cutting; Dr. Scott Benninghoven; Dr. Chris Kosakowski; and Olesya Plisovskijh. ECF No. 56 at 5-6. But none of those persons was present in court, either.
Plaintiff's counsel attempted to contact Plaintiff and Williamson-Pickard, but couldn't locate them. Id . Plaintiff's counsel then moved unsuccessfully for permission to read Plaintiff and Williamson-Pickard's deposition testimony into evidence. Id .; ECF No. 80 at 10:14-13:6.
Having no further witnesses, Plaintiff's counsel then rested his case. Id . Plaintiff's counsel neither sought a continuance nor provided an explanation for Plaintiff or Williamson-Pickard's absence.
Without testimony from either Plaintiff or Williamson-Pickard, Deputy Holton's testimony - unlike the situation at summary judgment - stood un-rebutted.
Defendants then moved orally for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(a). Defendants argued that the unrebutted evidence showed that Plaintiff posed a substantial threat to both law enforcement and to the community as a whole, and under both the general reasonableness test supplied by Graham v. Connor , 490 U.S. 386 (1989), as well as under the ...