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Patton v. First Light Property Management, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 15, 2017

DONALD PATTON, Plaintiff,
v.
FIRST LIGHT PROPERTY MANAGEMENT, INC., a California Corporation, JALEH HANASSAB, an individual, DOES 1 through 20, inclusive, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL (DOC. NO. 166)

          HON. ANTHONY J. BATTAGLIA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Donald Patton's (“Patton”) motion for new trial, which was heard on September 28, 2017. (Doc. Nos. 166, 180.) Defendants First Light Management, Inc., and Jaleh Hanassab (collectively referred to as “Defendants”) oppose the motion. (Doc. No. 173.) As will be explained in more detail below, the Court DENIES Patton's motion for new trial.

         BACKGROUND

         Patton asserts claims for housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, Fair Employment and Housing Act, and the Unruh Act. (Doc. No. 166-1 at 6.)[1] Patton is a Native American member of the Olgala Sioux tribe. (Doc. No. 43-1 ¶ 1.) Through his declaration, Patton also establishes that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2004 and is a recovering alcoholic, though he has not consumed alcohol or non-prescription drugs since December 2005. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 2.)

         In October of 2007, Patton applied for and was approved as a candidate for Section 8 housing, sponsored by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), the San Diego IMPACT program, and the San Diego Housing Commission. (Doc. No. 15 ¶ 14.) Thereafter, Patton entered into a lease with Defendant Jaleh Hanassab (“Hanassab”), to reside at 1440 Lincoln Avenue, Apartment 10 in San Diego (“the Property”). (Doc. No. 43-3 at 92-100.)

         For the first several years, Patton states that he resided at the Property without issue, however in late 2011, he contends that he became the subject of discrimination by Mr. Lonnie and Mrs. Darleen Thomas-independent contractors of First Light who performed maintenance and management duties beginning in June 2011. (Id. at 83; Doc. No. 38-3 at 50-51; Doc. No. 43-1 ¶ 8.) One interaction was when Patton told Mr. Thomas that he was Native American, and Mr. Thomas allegedly stated “I would hate to see you with your war paint on.” (Doc. No. 38-3 at 51.)

         Several other interactions included: (1) in April of 2012 when Mr. Thomas approached Patton and purportedly told him to “fucking move out, ” (Doc. No. 43-1 ¶ 13); (2) in May of 2012 when Mr. Thomas allegedly told Patton “We don't want your kind here, ” (Doc. No. 38-3 at 63); and (3) in July of 2012 when Mr. Thomas allegedly gestured to Patton with a “limp wrist” and in a mock, effeminate manner said, “Oh, honey, you're home, ” (Id. at 52-53).

         Beginning in August of 2012, Patton alleges that he was served with a series of improper and unlawful notices to vacate. (Doc. No. 54 at 4.) Patton received the first notice on August 23, 2012, from Mr. Thomas, however the notice did not state a reason for its issuance, and Patton was not informed of why he received the notice. (Doc. No. 43-3 at 122.) On September 11, 2013, Patton was served with another 60-day notice to move out, (Id. at 130), and in November of 2013, he received a 90-day notice of termination of tenancy stating that Hanassab was opting out of the Section 8 housing program, (Id. at 134).

         On June 18, 2014, Patton initiated this lawsuit against Defendants. (Doc. No. 1.) Subsequently, Patton's motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis was granted. (Doc. No. 4.) On September 29, 2014, Patton filed his amended complaint. (Doc. No. 15.) On October 29, 2014, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted in part and denied in part. (Doc. Nos. 16, 22.) Specifically, Patton's causes of action under section 1982 of the Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act were dismissed with leave to amend. (Doc. No. 22.) Thereafter, Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment on March 22, 2016, (Doc. No. 38), which was denied on August 29, 2016, (Doc. No. 54).

         This case then proceeded to trial in March of 2017. (Doc. No. 126.) The trial lasted seven days. (Doc. No. 141.) After deliberating for over a day, the jury came back with a verdict in favor of Defendants. (Doc. No. 143.) The verdict form filled out by the presiding juror checked “No” under the question “Has Plaintiff proved by a preponderance of the evidence that his race was the sole reason for the Defendants' attempts seeking termination of his tenancy?” (Doc. No. 149 at 2.) Under Question 3 “Has Plaintiff proved by a preponderance of the evidence that his race was a motivating factor in Defendants' attempts seeking termination of his tenancy?” the presiding juror checked “Yes.” (Id.) However, under Question 4 “Have Defendants proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendants' attempts seeking termination of Plaintiff's tenancy were also motivated by a lawful reason?” the presiding juror checked “Yes.” (Id. at 3.)

         On March 31, 2017, Patton filed an ex parte motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and waiver of transcript costs, (Doc. No. 151), which the Court granted on April 11, 2017, (Doc. No. 153). On May 24, 2017, Patton filed the instant matter, his motion for new trial and request to alter or amend judgment. (Doc. No. 166.) This Order now follows.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motion for a New Trial Under Rule 59

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) 59(a) provides that a “court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues-and to any party . . . after a jury trial, for any reasons for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a). The Ninth Circuit has 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 quotations and citation omitted). Upon a motion for new trial a “district judge [has] the right, and indeed the duty, to weigh the evidence as he saw it, and to set aside the verdict of the jury, even though supported by substantial evidence, where, in his conscientious opinion, the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence . . . .” See Murphy v. City of Long Beach, 914 F.2d 183, 187 (9th Cir. 1990). The court's control over a trial is illustrated by the court's sua sponte power to grant a new trial on the grounds not alleged by a party. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(d).

         B. Grounds for Amending or Altering a Verdict

         District courts have “considerable discretion” when addressing motions to amend a judgment under Rule 59(e). Turner v. Burlington N. Santa Fe R.R Co., 338 F.3d 1058, 1063 (9th Cir. 2003). However, “a Rule 59(e) motion is an ‘extraordinary remedy, to be used sparingly in the interests of finality and conservation of judicial resources.'” Wood v. Ryan, 759 F.3d 1117, 1121 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing Kona Enters., Inc. v. Estate of Bishop, 229 F.3d 877, 890 (9th Cir. 2000)). Typically, a district court may grant a Rule 59(e) motion where it “is presented with newly discovered evidence, committed clear error, or if there is an intervening change in controlling law.” Id. (citing McDowell v. Calderon, 197 F.3d 1253, 1255 (9th Cir. 1999) (en banc)).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Patton's Motion is Not Untimely

         As a threshold issue, the Court addresses Defendants' contention that Patton's present motion is untimely. (Doc. No. 173 at 12.) A Rule 59[2] motion must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(b), (e). The jury found in favor of Defendants on March 24, 2017, and judgment was filed in this case on March 27, 2017. (Doc. Nos. 149, 150.) Thus, Patton's 28 day period for filing a motion for new trial lapsed in late April. Patton filed his motion on May 24, 2017. (Doc. No. 166.)

         Based on the foregoing, Defendants are correct that within the parameters of Rule 59, Patton's motion is untimely. Moreover, the Court is cognizant that generally courts do not have discretion to extend the deadline for filing such a motion. See Tillman v. Assoc. of Apartment Owners of Ewa Apartments, 234 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir 2000); see also Bealer v. Rios, No. 1:12-cv-01516-DAD-EPG-PC, 2017 WL 915270, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 7, 2017).

         However, the Court notes that on April 11, 2017, the Court on its own initiative, allowed Patton until May 24, 2017, to file his post-trial motions.[3] (Doc. No. 153 at 3.) Consequently, the Court now finds itself in a curious situation as the Court provided Patton an extension of time past the twenty-eight day deadline. However, in an effort to decide this motion on the merits rather than deny it based on the Court's own procedural error, the Court will treat Patton's untimely Rule 59 motion as a motion for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b). See Mt. Graham Red Squirrel v. Madigan, 954 F.2d 1441, 1463 n.35 (9th Cir. 1992) (“An untimely motion for reconsideration is construed as a motion based on Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b).”); see also Magarrell v. Mangis, No. CIV S-04-2634 LKK/DAD P, 2012 WL 4468206, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 25, 2012) (“The court does have the power to treat an untimely motion for a new trial as a motion for relief from a final judgment under Rule 60(b), and will do so.”); Bailey v. United States, 250 F.R.D. 446, 448 (D.Ariz. 2008) (interpreting untimely motion for new trial as motion for relief from final judgment under Rule 60(b)). Furthermore, the Court employs Rule 1, and construes the rules so that they be employed by the Court to “secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 1.

         Consequently, as a motion under Rule 60(b) “must be made within a reasonable time” and Patton's motion was filed only two months after the jury returned their verdict, Patton's motion is timely.[4] Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(c)(1).

         B. Defendants' Objections

         Defendants filed objections to Patton's affidavit and exhibits submitted in support of his motion for new trial on June 15, 2017, as a separate document. (Doc. No. 175.) Specifically, Defendants object to the (1) Durana Affidavit; (2) Lepine Affidavit; and (3) Patton's flow chart. (Id.)

         First, the Court notes that per Judge Battaglia's Civil Case Procedures “[o]bjections relating to the motion should be set forth in the parties' opposition or reply. No separate statement of objections will be allowed.” Civ. Case. Proc. II.A. Thus, Defendants' objections are procedurally defective. However, finding that the majority of Defendants' objections mirror the Court's concerns, the Court will address each objection in turn.

         First, Defendants state that the Durana Affidavit is inadmissible and should be stricken based entirely on Rule 606(b)(1). (Doc. No. 175 at 2-4.) In response, Patton asserts that the affidavit falls under an exception to the foregoing exclusionary rule. (Doc. No. 177 at 2.)

         For clarity, Ms. Durana's affidavit states that (1) she believes that Patton was the victim of racial discrimination by Defendants; (2) after she confirmed her verdict with the Court, she asked the Court what would have happened if she refused to sign the verdict form as she was unaware that she could refuse to join in the jury's verdict; (3) she did not receive sufficient instruction about any options she had as a juror who did not agree with the majority; (4) she joined the jury's verdict and signed the verdict form because she was convinced of two things-first that by finding that race was a motivating factor, the jurors had established wrong doing on the part of Defendants and two, she was assured by her fellow jurors that Patton would get treatment for the harm he was inflicted through governmental services; (5) Ms. Durana observed the jury's disregard for the Court's limiting instruction about hearsay as to the verbal complaints-the jury took the complaints as true and that formed the basis for the determination that Defendants had legal grounds to terminate Patton's lease; (6) several of the jurors agreed that Patton should win the case, but only be awarded nominal damages because they did not want to support a “money grab”; and (7) the jury discussed two matters that were not presented at trial-that Patton would receive services from the government and that since he was registered as a tribal member, he collects casino money-both of these statements were given “significant consideration” by the jury. (Doc. No. 166-2 at 2-3.) Federal Rule of Evidence 606 states that

During an inquiry into the validity of a verdict or indictment, a juror may not testify about any statement made or incident that occurred during the jury's deliberations; the effect of anything on that juror's or another juror's vote; or any juror's mental processes concerning the verdict or indictment. The court may not receive a juror's affidavit or evidence of a juror's statement on these matters.

Fed. R. Evid. 606(b)(1). Three exceptions to Rule 606 exist that allow a juror to testify about the validity of a verdict: (1) “extraneous prejudicial information was improperly brought to the jury's attention”; (2) “an outside influence was improperly brought to bear on any juror”; or (3) “a mistake was made in entering the verdict on the verdict form.” Fed.R.Evid. 606(b)(2).

         Fundamental to our judicial system's administration of justice is a fair and impartial jury. United States v. Bagnariol, 665 F.2d 877, 884 (9th Cir. 1981). A jury should reach a verdict that is based solely upon the evidence admitted at trial, “unaffected by extrinsic facts.” Id. A juror's communication of extraneous information implicates the Confrontation Clause. Sassounian v. Roe, 230 F.3d 1097, 1108 (9th Cir. 2000). If a court determines that a juror has improperly brought extraneous information to the jury's attention, the inquiry must then focus on whether “there is a reasonable possibility that the extrinsic material could have affected the verdict.” United States v. Keating, 147 F.3d 895, 900 (1988) (citing Dickson v. Sullivan, 849 F.2d 403, 405 (9th Cir. 1988)).

         Given the clear language of the rule, the Court finds that Ms. Durana's affidavit represents exactly what Rule 606 seeks to exclude. Patton's motion for new trial based on the affidavit at issue seeks to demonstrate that the jurors found for Defendants as they took the complaints for the truth of the matter asserted and believed that Patton would receive casino money or financial assistance from the government. However, “parsing how jurors considered the evidence or their mental states while hearing testimony is exactly what . . . the plain text of Rule 606(b) seek to prevent.” United States v. Leung, 796 F.3d 1032, 1036 (9th Cir. 2015); see also United States v. Davis, 960 F.2d 820, 828 (9th Cir. 1992) (describing as “meritless” a motion for a new trial based on a juror's statement in an interview that “[f]rom the first day I knew [the defendant] was guilty”).

         Thus, as the various statements in Ms. Durana's affidavit very clearly fit within the confines of Rule 606's exclusionary rule, the central issue hinges on whether the affidavit is subject to Rule 606's various exceptions. Patton steadfastly argues that the affidavit should be accepted as Ms. Durana is seeking to testify to external matters that tainted the verdict. (Doc. No. 177 at 2.) Specifically, Patton argues that the statements that Patton would receive governmental assistance and casino money are plain objective facts that are extraneous prejudicial information. (Id. at 4-5.) The Court disagrees with Patton.

         For purposes of this Order, our analysis of Rule 606(b) is guided by the Supreme Court case: Tanner v. United States, 483 U.S. 107 (1987). In Tanner, the Court addressed the admissibility of a juror affidavit that argued that jurors drank alcohol, smoked marijuana, conducted drug deals, slept throughout the trial, and ingested cocaine. Id. at 115-16. The Supreme Court highlighted that “the near-universal and firmly established common-law rule in the United States flatly prohibited the admission of juror testimony to impeach a jury verdict.” Id. at 117. The Court then listed several cases that embodied the “extraneous influence” exception. In Mattox v. United States, 146 U.S. 140, 148-49 (1892), the Supreme Court held admissible the testimony of jurors describing how they heard and read prejudicial information not admitted into evidence. Additionally, in Parker v. Gladden, 385 U.S. 363, 365 (1966), the court allowed juror testimony about various comments a bailiff made about the defendant to a juror. Further, in Remmer v. United States, 347 U.S. 227, 228-30 (1954), the court concluded that a bribe offered to a juror was extraneous ...


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