United States District Court, C.D. California
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR REMITTITUR
D. PREGERSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendant Heather M. Hendrickson's
Motion for New Trial, or, in the Alternative, Request for
Remittitur. After reviewing the parties' submissions and
hearing oral argument, the Court adopts the following Order.
J.N. filed the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 alleging violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendment Rights on the basis of judicial deception and
malicious prosecution by Defendant Det. Heather Hendrickson.
(See Third Amended Complaint.) The facts, as
presented at trial, are as follows.
March 2011, the Sacramento Police Department received a
report from Nicole W. that her 12-year-old daughter, K.W.,
had been the victim of internet sex crimes. During the
preceding months, K.W. had been contacted on Facebook by a
man with the name "Pater Noster." Pater Noster
spoke to K.W. through text and video chats. During these
conversations, Pater Noster victimized K.W. by exposing
himself, performing lewd acts while she was on a video chat,
and encouraging her to undress for him on video.
approximately March 31, 2011, Det. Hendrickson was assigned
to the case by the Sacramento Police Department. Det.
Hendrickson began her investigation by searching for the name
"Pater Noster" in a California mugshot database.
Det. Hendrickson got one result from her search: a man named
John Noster who had, at times, gone by the alias "John
Pater." Based on this result, Det. Hendrickson prepared
a "six-pack" -an array of six photographs, which
included John Noster's photograph at position number
three. Det. Hendrickson then conducted a video-recorded
interview of K.W. During the interview, Det. Hendrickson
asked K.W. about her encounters with Pater Noster. Det.
Hendrickson then delivered a series of admonishments and
proceeded to show K.W. the six-pack. Specifically, Det.
Hendrickson said, "I think we found a picture of the guy
who we think might be the person ... I want to show it to you
and see if it is, okay?" She followed up by noting,
"If the person that you saw is not in that series of
photographs, then tell me, okay . . . We don't want to be
going after the wrong guy. So if he's in there,
excellent. If he's not, we need to know that too."
K.W. proceeded to look at the photographs. She pointed at one
picture and said, "He's too dark." K.W. then
pointed at photograph number 3 (John Noster's photograph)
and said, "He is too skinny, the guy I saw was much
chunkier." After a few seconds, K.W. returned to
photograph number 3 and said, "That kind of looks like
him. . . . The rest of them don't even look close to
him." Based on this statement, Det. Hendrickson directed
K.W. to circle photograph number 3.
this interview, Det. Hendrickson spoke with an agent from
Federal Bureau of Investigation, Special Agent Schofield.
According Schofield, who testified at trial, Det. Hendrickson
discussed Pater Noster's activities with the FBI and was
told that the FBI would issue a subpoena to Facebook for
Pater Noster's account information. At trial, Det.
Hendrickson stated that she did not follow up with the FBI
for the results of the subpoena and was not aware until
approximately January or February 2012 that the subpoena
results indicated that Pater Noster had logged into Facebook
from a computer with an IP address originating in Vienna,
the next few months, Det. Hendrickson continued the
investigation by communicating with Pater Noster over
Facebook using K.W.'s computer and account. She also
reached out to the Los Angeles Police Department for
assistance because her primary suspect, John Noster, lived in
the Los Angeles area. In August 2011, Det. Hendrickson
received word that the Los Angeles Police Department was
prepared to assist in the case. Det. Hendrickson prepared a
search and arrest warrant for John Noster, which she then
presented to a judge. According to Plaintiff, the report Det.
Hendrickson attached to the warrant application contained a
number of inaccuracies and gave rise to his claims for
judicial deception and malicious prosecution. First, the
report omitted the fact that Det. Hendrickson may have
tainted the six-pack identification by indicating to K.W.
that she thought she "found a picture of the guy"
before showing the photo array. Second, the report did not
accurately reflect K.W.'s remarks during the photo
identification. During the interview, K.W. affirmatively
states that the man depicted in photograph number 3 "is
too skinny" and only later says that "[he] kind of
looks like him." By contrast, the report states that
"Victim W. stated that # 3 (Suspect Noster) looked like
the person she knew as "Pater." Third, Plaintiff
argued that the report confusingly switched between the names
"Pater Noster" and "Suspect Noster" in a
manner that indicated Det. Hendrickson had actually
communicated with John Noster (Suspect Noster) on Facebook
rather than a man who used the name "Pater Noster"
online. Fourth, the report did not indicate that Det.
Hendrickson requested an IP lookup or report the results of
the IP search, which would have shown that Pater Noster's
computer IP address originated in Austria.
warrant was approved and, on August 17, 2011, Det.
Hendrickson and LAPD executed the warrant and arrested
Plaintiff while he was waiting outside his apartment for the
bus to work. Plaintiff testified that he was confused and
fearful during his arrest. Plaintiff remained in detention
for approximately eight months. At his initial booking,
Plaintiff recalls a person calling out to another officer
that he was accused of raping a young child and that they
should "beat the shit out of him." While detained,
Plaintiff was held in protective custody because of his
status as a suspected sex crime offender. During his time in
jail, Plaintiff reported being assaulted by fellow inmates on
four occasions because of the crimes he was accused of
Plaintiff remained in custody, additional developments
occurred in the case. In September 2011, a district attorney
working on the case reached out to Det. Hendrickson to
inquire about the strength of the case, noting there was
reason to think this might be the wrong person. In October
2011, Det. Hendrickson learned that the computers seized from
Plaintiff's home contained no evidence indicating he was
Pater Noster. In December 2011, Plaintiff's defense
counsel informed the district attorney's office that he
had confirmed "Pater Noster" was still active on
Facebook. During this time, the district attorney assigned to
the case reached out to Det. Hendrickson indicating concerns
about the strength of the case and requesting further updates
but received no response. In January 2012, Plaintiff's
defense counsel was able to view the recorded interview of
KW. for the first time. He shared that video with the
district attorney, raised concerns about the tainted
identification, and asked for the charges to be dropped. In
early February 2012, a live lineup was conducted, but KW. was
unable to identify Plaintiff at the lineup. On February 15,
2012, the District Attorney dismissed the case for
insufficient evidence. Due to Plaintiff's prior
convictions, none of which were for sex crimes, he was
transferred to federal custody and not actually released
until April 3, 2012.
trial, defense counsel acknowledged a number of the key facts
and that "mistakes were made" during the
investigation. Nonetheless, counsel urged a defense verdict
on the ground that the negligence in this case did not rise
to the level of judicial deception or malicious prosecution.
After a four-day trial, the jury returned a verdict finding
Det. Hendrickson liable on both causes of action. The jury
awarded $5, 000, 000 in compensatory damages and $5, 000 in
punitive damages. (Dkts. 136, 138.) Judgment was entered on
March 28, 2017. (Dkt. 143.)
now moves for an order granting a new trial or, in the
alternative, a remittitur of the jury's award for
Rule of Civil Procedure 59 governs motions for a new trial.
Pursuant to Rule 59(a)(1), "[t]he court may, on motion,
grant a new trial on all or some of the issues . . . 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). Although Rule 59 does
not enumerate specific grounds for a new trial, the Ninth
Circuit has held that "'the 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)
(quoting Passantino v. Johnson & Johnson Consumer
Prods.,212 F.3d 493, 510 n.15 (9th Cir. 2000))
(brackets omitted). A miscarriage of justice can occur where
there is prejudicial misconduct from opposing counsel or