United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' POST-TRIAL MOTION FOR A
NEW TRIAL, REMITTITUR, OR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF
THELTON E. HENDERSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter came before the Court on Defendants' motion for a
new trial, remittitur, or judgment as a matter of law.
Pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), the Court found oral
argument unnecessary and vacated the hearing set for March
13, 2017. After carefully considering the parties'
written arguments and the trial transcript in this case, the
Court DENIES Defendants' motion for the reasons discussed
parties are familiar with the factual background of this
case, the Court provides only a brief summary of the facts.
Plaintiff Steven Dale Percelle (“Percelle” or
“Plaintiff”) was incarcerated at the Correctional
Training Facility (“CTF”) in Soledad, California
from June 16, 2003 to March 16, 2013. For the first eight and
a half years, Plaintiff was housed in general population and
was earning good time and work time credits. After receiving
allegedly negligent medical care, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit
against the California Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) and obtained an entry of
default with potential damages assessed at $500, 000.
Plaintiff claims that Defendants Steven Pearson, Derek
Arredondo, Michael Williams and Dylan Fletcher
(“Defendants”), who were correctional officers
and members of the Institutional Gang Investigation task
force at CTF, retaliated against him for his litigation
activities by taking actions that led to his validation as a
gang member and placement in administrative segregation
(“ad-seg”). Plaintiff spent the last fourteen
months of his sentence in ad-seg, where he developed symptoms
of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
eight-day jury trial was held starting December 6, 2016.
Defendants testified at trial that the actions they took,
which included searching Percelle's cell, confiscating
his address book, taking a copy of a prison book, and
requesting information from an officer at another prison that
“would seal the deal” on Percelle's gang
validation, were part of their job duties as Institutional
Gang Investigators (“IGIs”). They claimed that
they began investigating Percelle because of a tip that they
had received about him. Plaintiff presented evidence that
Defendants knew of the entry of default in his case, that
they acted with a retaliatory motive and without a legitimate
penological goal, and that he suffered harm.
close of evidence, Defendants moved for judgment as a matter
of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). ECF No.
399. While the motion was under submission, the jury returned
a verdict for Plaintiff. The jury unanimously found that all
four Defendants had retaliated against Percelle in violation
of the First Amendment. They awarded Percelle $335, 000 in
compensatory damages, and $50, 000 against each Defendant in
punitive damages. On December 21, 2016, the Court denied
Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law. ECF
No. 409. Judgment was entered on January 3, 2017, and
Defendants filed their motion for new trial on January 31,
2017. ECF Nos. 413, 419.
Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 59 provides that
after a jury trial, “[t]he court may, on motion, 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. Pro. 59(a). “Historically
recognized grounds include, but are not limited to, claims
‘that 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.”
Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243,
the movant claims that a verdict was against the clear weight
of the evidence at trial, a new trial should be granted
“[i]f, having given full respect to the jury's
findings, the judge . . . is left with the definite and firm
conviction that a mistake has been committed.”
Landes Const. Co., Inc. v. Royal Bank of Can., 833
F.2d 1365, 1371-72 (9th Cir. 1987) (quoting 11 C. Wright
& A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2806,
at 48-49 (1973)). A “jury's verdict must be upheld
if it is supported by substantial evidence, which is evidence
adequate to support the jury's conclusion, even if it is
possible to draw a contrary conclusion.” Pavao v.
Pagay, 307 F.3d 915, 918 (9th Cir. 2007).
making this determination, the court “must view all
evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party,
draw all reasonable inferences in the favor of the non-mover,
and disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that
the jury is not required to believe.” Harper v.
City of Los Angeles, 533 F.3d 1020, 1021 (9th Cir. 2008)
(citation omitted). “The test applied is whether the
evidence permits only one reasonable conclusion, and that
conclusion is contrary to the jury's
verdict.” Josephs v. Pac. Bell, 443
F.3d 1050, 1062 (9th Cir. 2006). A court may not order a new
trial simply because were it sitting as the trier of fact it
would have come to a different decision to than did the jury.
Wilhelm v. Associated Container Trans. Ltd., 648
F.2d 1197, 1198 (9th Cir. 1981).
Judgment as a Matter of Law
Rule of Civil Procedure 50 governs motions for judgment as a
matter of law. Once a party has been fully heard on an issue
during a jury trial, the court may grant a motion for
judgment as a matter of law against the non-moving party only
if “there is no legally sufficient evidentiary basis
for a reasonable jury to find for that party on that
issue.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a); Ritchie v. United
States, 451 F.3d 1019, 1022-23 (9th Cir. 2006). In
deciding a motion under Rule 50(a), the Court once again
draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving
party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc.,
530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).
move alternatively for (1) a new trial, (2) remittitur on
punitive damages,  or (3) judgment as a matter of law. The
Court reviews Defendants' arguments for each remedy
A New Trial Is Not Warranted On The Basis That The Verdict Is
Against the Clear Weight of Evidence.
contend that a new trial is needed because the clear weight
of evidence established that Defendants did not validate
Plaintiff and never had the authority to do so. Mot. at 3.
They claim that Plaintiff's harm stems from his
validation and placement in ad-seg, and thus absent authority
to make the final determination on ...