United States District Court, E.D. California
parties' post-trial motions are before the court.
Plaintiffs move for attorney's fees after a partially
favorable jury verdict, Mot. for Fees, ECF No. 229;
defendants move to amend the judgment, for a new trial and to
stay the judgment pending resolution of these post-trial
motions, Post-Trial Mot., ECF No. 233-1. On July 12, 2019,
the court heard oral argument on the motions. After
consideration of the parties' briefing and arguments at
hearing, and good cause showing, the court GRANTS
defendants' motion in part. The jury verdict, and
corresponding judgment, are VACATED and the court will set
this matter for retrial of all issues, if the case does not
settle following the court's holding of a settlement
conference as agreed to by the parties.
facts of this case are set forth in the court's summary
judgment order. See MSJ Order, ECF No. 155. The
court summarizes key facts here as relevant for context,
citing to the summary judgment order for efficiency's
sake, to the extent the summary judgment record is consistent
with the evidence elicited at trial.
case involves a custody battle over minor plaintiff, N.D.,
who at all relevant times, was a three-year-old boy living
with his mother, plaintiff Rachael Akey, and his stepfather
Ryan Cornacchioli. MSJ Order at 2. On September 12, 2013,
N.D.'s school reported to Placer County Child Protective
Services (“CPS”) an alleged choking incident that
N.D. reported one day prior. Id. CPS Officer Gloria
Sutton was first to investigate. Id. After her
investigation, Officer Sutton produced a report concluding
the choking allegations were “substantiated.”
Id. at 4. In the interim, prior to releasing her
report, and aware of the tumultuous child custody proceedings
surrounding N.D., Sutton devised a “safety plan,
” which temporarily modified a recently issued custody
order and provided for N.D. to stay with his father, Cameron
Dupree, during the pendency of a full investigation.
Id. Sutton phoned Akey seeking her consent to the
plan, but Akey refused. Id. Sutton's supervisor,
Scott Myers, also spoke with Akey attempting to obtain her
consent to the safety plan. Id. The parties disputed
whether Akey, at some point, affirmatively consented to the
safety plan, and this issue was tried to the jury. Myers and
Sutton, believing Akey had given her consent, abstained from
creating a formal, written “exigency”
determination, a formality required when removing a child
without parental consent. Id.
N.D. in his care under the safety plan, Dupree filed an ex
parte application in family court to obtain sole custody
during the pendency of the investigation. Id. at 5.
On September 20, 2013, the family court granted Dupree's
application and temporarily awarded him sole custody.
Id. On October 2, 2013, the family court conducted a
full evidentiary hearing, and, in March 2014, that court
issued its final determination that “no abuse”
had occurred. Id. The family court then reinstated
the prior custody arrangement under which Akey had primary
custody over N.D. Id.
operative fourth amended complaint made out twenty-six claims
against defendants. See generally Compl., ECF No.
109. On August 14, 2018, the court denied plaintiffs'
motion for summary judgment, but and granted defendants'
motion in part while also denying it in part, leaving the
following six claims based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to
proceed to trial: claims 1 and 7 (Monell claims),
and claims 3, 5, 9 and 11 (procedural due process claims).
MSJ Order at 25; see also Final Pretrial Order, ECF
No. 174, at 7-8.
ten-day jury trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in
plaintiffs' favor on five of the six claims. Verdict, ECF
No. 221. The jury awarded Akey $145, 000 in compensatory
damages on her Monell claim, $1.00 in nominal
damages on her procedural due process claim against Sutton
and $500 on her procedural due process claim against Myers.
Id. at 2, 6, 8. As to N.D., the jury awarded $50,
000 in compensatory damages and $500, 000 in punitive damages
on his Monell claim, as well as $500 in compensatory
damages on his procedural due process claim against Myers.
Id. at 4-5, 12. The court entered judgment
accordingly. ECF No. 224.
21, 2019, plaintiffs moved for attorney's fees under 42
U.S.C. § 1988(b) in light of the favorable verdict. Mot.
for Fees at 3-11. Defendants oppose the motion, Fees
Opp'n, ECF No. 240, and plaintiffs have replied, Fees
Reply, ECF No. 242.
31, 2019, defendants moved to amend the judgment, arguing it
was manifest error for the court allow punitive damages on
N.D.'s Monell claim. Post-Trial Mot. at 3-5.
Defendants also move for a new trial based on the purported
error, which they argue produced an inconsistent verdict.
Id. at 5-6. Finally, defendants ask the court to
stay the judgment pending resolution of the underlying
motions and any forthcoming appeal. Id. at 6-7.
Plaintiffs have opposed, Post-Trial Opp'n, ECF No. 239,
and defendants have replied, Post-Trial Reply, ECF No. 243.
Given the need for retrial, the court need only address the
motions to the extent they require such a result.
Defendants' Motion to Amend the Judgment
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), a party may move to
alter or amend a judgment within 28 days after entry of
judgment. Because the language of Rule 59(e) is sparse, the
Ninth Circuit has taken this to mean “the district
court enjoys considerable discretion in granting or denying
the motion.” Allstate Ins. Co. v. Herron, 634
F.3d 1101, 1111 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting McDowell v.
Calderon, 197 F.3d 1253, 1255 n.1 (9th Cir. 1999) (en
banc) (per curiam)). However, ...