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Borges v. County of Humboldt

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 30, 2017

Stephany Borges, Plaintiff,
v.
County of Humboldt, Michael Downey, Tim Hershberger, Terri Bittner, Tim Hammer and David Swim Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW PURSUANT TO FED. R. CIV. PRO. 50(A) DKT. NOS. 232 AND 235

          YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         On August 24, 2017, defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 50(a). (Dkt No. 232.) For the reasons stated on the record on August 24, 2017, this Court tentatively denied the motion and submitted the case to the jury. See Waters v. Young, 100 F.3d 1437, 1440-42 (9th Cir. 1996); Therrell v. Georgia Marble Holdings Corp. 960 F.2d 1555, 1568 (11th Cir. 1992) (desirable to take verdict and then rule on sufficiency of evidence on a post-verdict motion); McPhillamy v. Brown & Root, Inc. 810 F.2d 529, 533 (5th Cir. 1987); 9 Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2533, at 586 (1971) (“Even at the close of all evidence it may be desirable to refrain from directing a verdict though it would be possible to do so. . . .”).

         On August 28, 2017, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiffs and (i) against defendants David Swim, Terri Bittner, and Tim Hammer as to plaintiff's claim for denial of adequate medical care in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (ii) against the County of Humboldt as to plaintiff's claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The jury awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $2, 500, 000.00 and no punitive damages. The jury also returned a verdict in favor of (i) defendant Tim Hershberger as to plaintiff's claim for denial of adequate medical care, (ii) all defendants as to plaintiff's claim for interference with familial association under the Fourteenth Amendment, and (iii) Sheriff Michael Downey as to the Section 1983 claim.[1] Having considered the evidence offered at trial, and the arguments presented in defendants' motion, the Court Denies defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law.[2]

         I. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 50(a):

(1) In General. If a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue, the court may:
(A) resolve the issue against the party; and
(B) grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue.

         In reviewing a Rule 50(a) motion, the court must “view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party . . . and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Ostad v. Oregon Health Scis. Univ., 327 F.3d 876, 881 (9th Cir. 2003). “Judgment as a matter of law is proper when the evidence permits only one reasonable conclusion and the conclusion is contrary to that reached by the jury.” Id. Further, judgment as a matter of law is appropriate only when the nonmoving party “has been fully heard.” Velez v. City of New York 730 F.3d 128, 134 (2nd Cir. 2013) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 50(a)(1)) (emphasis supplied). The Ninth Circuit has held that a “party who has been called on to respond to a Rule 50(a) motion must have a meaningful opportunity to reply[3] and must not be sandbagged by a decision on grounds not properly noticed.” Summers v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 508 F.3d 923, 927 (9th Cir. 2007).

         II. Discussion

         Defendants argue that plaintiff failed to proffer evidence upon which a reasonable jury could find that defendants Swim, Bittner, or Hammer was deliberately indifferent to a known medical need of Daren Borges in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.[4] Defendants further argue that there exists insufficient evidence to support a Section 1983 claim against the County of Humboldt. The Court addresses each argument.

         1. Defendants Swim, Bittner and Hammer

         Viewing the “evidence in the light most favorable to the [plaintiff] . . . and draw[ing] all reasonable inferences in [plaintiff's] favor, ” the Court finds that there exists sufficient evidence in the record to support the jury's verdict against defendants Swim, Bittner, and Hammer. See Ostad, 327 F.3d at 881. Contrary to defendants' position, substantial evidence supports the jury's findings. First, video footage admitted into evidence depicting the correctional facility screening area and sobering cell in which Daren Borges expired supports the jury's finding that a reasonable officer in the circumstances would have “appreciated the high degree of risk involved - making the consequences of the defendant's conduct obvious.” See Castro, 833 F.3d 1060, 1071 (9th Cir. 2016). Second, the testimony of Officer Michael Stelzig describing the current state of Mr. Borges as corroborated on video and the continued deterioration of this condition further supports the jury's finding. Third, the failure of the defendant officers to testify in an honest and forthright manner entitled the jury to discount the defendant officers' version of the facts entirely. At minimum, this is plainly not a situation where “the evidence permits only one reasonable conclusion and the conclusion is contrary to that reached by the jury.” Ostad, 327 F.3d at 881. Therefore judgment as a matter of law is not appropriate. Id.

         2. ...


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