United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT CUPP'S RENEWED MOTION
FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW RE: DKT. NO. 214 RE: DKT. NO.
HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is Defendant Sergeant Scott Cupp's
renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, following a
jury trial in two related matters, Cisneros v.
Vangilder, No. 16-cv-0735-HSG, and Manriquez v.
Vangilder, No. 16-cv-1320-HSG. The Court held a hearing
on the motion on December 11, 2019. See Cisneros,
No. 16-cv-0735-HSG, Dkt. No. 219. For the reasons detailed
below, the Court GRANTS the motion, finding
that Defendant Cupp is entitled to qualified immunity.
case arises out of an incident that occurred on June 4, 2015,
in the Pelican Bay State Prison. At the time of the incident,
Plaintiffs Daniel Cisneros and Daniel Manriquez were
prisoners being housed at Pelican Bay, while Defendants were
Pelican Bay corrections officers with various
responsibilities regarding the supervision of Plaintiffs and
Plaintiffs' housing unit, including: Defendant Justin
Vangilder (the unit's control booth officer), Defendant
Juan Vasquez (the unit's floor officer), and Defendant
Scott Cupp (a sergeant, who had primary supervisory
responsibility for the unit). See, e.g.,
Cisneros, No. 16-cv-0735-HSG, Dkt. No. 202 at 17-18;
Dkt. No. 208 at 44:3-18, 50:22-53:6; 215:18-20; 217:12-218:8;
241:7-19. On the date of the incident, at approximately 5:00
p.m., while Plaintiffs were in their cells, a chemical
grenade discharged in the control booth of the housing unit.
on these facts, Plaintiffs brought a claim against Defendants
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants
violated Plaintiffs' rights under the Eighth Amendment to
be free from cruel and unusual punishment when Defendants
were deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of
serious harm to, and/or a serious medical need of Plaintiffs.
See Cisneros, No. 16-cv-0735-HSG, Dkt. No. 55 at
¶¶ 50-55. Plaintiffs also alleged that Defendants
Vangilder and Vazquez were negligent, and that their
negligence was a substantial factor in causing Plaintiffs
harm. Id. at ¶¶ 38-41. A jury trial was
held on these claims beginning on June 19, 2019. See
id., Dkt. Nos. 203, 204.
trial, Plaintiffs testified that vapors from a T-16 oleoresin
capsicum chemical grenade, which Defendant Vangilder had
discharged in the control booth, entered their cells, causing
them pain and suffering. Plaintiff Cisneros testified that he
experienced myriad symptoms, including difficulty breathing,
coughing, gagging, and a burning sensation in his eyes, nose,
and throat. See, e.g., id., Dkt. No. 211 at
217:12-218:8. Similarly, Plaintiff Manriquez testified that
he couldn't breathe, was “gagging, coughing,
choking, ” and was panicking because he felt a burning
sensation in his nose and throat and he couldn't breathe.
Id., Dkt. No. 208 at 52:6-53:15. Plaintiffs and
their witnesses testified that the prisoners were yelling
“man down, ” a term used in the prison to solicit
help from the guards. See, e.g., id. at
220:3-20. Plaintiffs and their witnesses further testified
that, after feeling the effects of the chemical agent, they
and other prisoners repeatedly requested medical attention
and the opportunity to exit their cells and decontaminate,
but Defendants ignored their requests. See, e.g.,
id., Dkt. No. 208 at 54:12-57:10; Dkt. No. 211 at
221:1-224:9. Defendants denied that Plaintiffs (or any other
prisoners) requested any medical attention or the opportunity
to exit their cells and decontaminate. See id., Dkt.
No. 209 at 380:9-381:9, 401:1-13; 430:10-17.
testimony further established that after Defendant Vangilder
discharged the T-16 chemical grenade, he called his
supervisor, Defendant Cupp. See Cisneros, No.
16-cv-0735-HSG, Dkt. No. 209 at 374:18-375:17; 413:4-414:6.
He told Defendant Cupp that the T-16 canister malfunctioned
and deployed. Id. Defendant Cupp told Defendant
Vangilder to see a nurse for a medical check. See
Id. at 379:9-17. Defendant Cupp also took the T-16
canister from Defendant Vangilder, who by that point had put
it inside a bag. See Id. at 374:2-25; 465:23-466:16.
Defendant Cupp took the bag containing the chemical grenade
outside because Defendant Vangilder had told him it only
partially deployed. See Id. at 466:17-467:14. Once
outside, Defendant Cupp removed the pin and released the
spoon from the chemical grenade to fully deploy it. See
Id. at 431:1-9, 466:17-467:14. Defendant Cupp testified
that he was present for approximately five to ten minutes.
See Id. at 467:15-18. He then left and took the
spent canister to the prison's armory, which disposed of
the spent canister and replaced it with a new one. See
Id. at 469:15-470:22. He did not check on the prisoners,
and testified that he did not hear anyone coughing or needing
assistance. See Id. at 467:19-468:19; 482:13-486:10.
Nor did Defendant Cupp ask the other officers to check on the
prisoners in the housing unit to determine if they needed any
medical attention. See id.; see also id.,
Dkt. No. 208 at 249:2-25.
end of Plaintiffs' case-in-chief, Defendant Cupp moved
for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a) on qualified
immunity grounds. See id., Dkt. No. 211 at
274:18-23, 289:17- 298:10. The Court took the Rule 50(a)
motion under submission. See Id. In deferring ruling
on the motion, the Court instructed the parties to submit
special interrogatories for the jury to resolve certain facts
relevant to the issue of whether Defendant Cupp was entitled
to qualified immunity. Id.
21, 2019, the jury returned a verdict in favor of both
Plaintiffs. See id., Dkt. No. 206; see also
Manriquez, No. 16-cv-1320-HSG, Dkt. No. 209. The jury:
(1) found Defendant Vangilder was negligent, and awarded
Plaintiff $1, 000 each in damages to compensate Plaintiffs
for their claims against him; (2) found Defendant Vazquez was
both negligent and deliberately indifferent, and awarded
Plaintiffs $1, 500 each in damages to compensate Plaintiffs
for their claims against him; and (3) found Defendant Cupp
was deliberately indifferent, and awarded Plaintiffs $2, 500
each in damages to compensate Plaintiffs for their claims
against him. See Id. Thus, in total, the jury
awarded Plaintiffs $5, 000 each. Id. However, in
response to the special interrogatories included on the
verdict form, the jury found that Defendant Cupp was neither
aware that Plaintiffs suffered harmful effects from exposure
to the chemical grenade, nor did he know that Defendants'
ventilation efforts were inadequate. See Id. at 4,
6. It is on the basis of these responses that Defendant Cupp
now moves the Court for judgment as a matter of law pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b), and in the
alternative, for judgment notwithstanding the verdict under
Rule 49(b)(3)(C). See Cisneros, No. 16-cv-0735-HSG,
Dkt. No. 214.
party must make a Rule 50(a) motion for judgment as a matter
of law before a case is submitted to the jury. If the judge
denies or defers ruling on the motion, and if the jury then
returns a verdict against the moving party, the party may
renew its motion under Rule 50(b).” Equal Emp't
Opportunity Comm'n v. Go Daddy Software, Inc., 581
F.3d 951, 961 (9th Cir. 2009). In considering a Rule 50(b)
motion that reasserts arguments presented in a Rule 50(a)
motion, a court must uphold the jury's verdict if
“substantial evidence” supports the jury's
conclusion. Castro v. Cty of L.A., 833 F.3d 1060,
1066 (9th Cir. 2016). Substantial evidence means
“evidence adequate to support the jury's
conclusion, even if it is also possible to draw a contrary
conclusion” from the same evidence. Id.
(quotations omitted). A court should only grant a Rule 50(b)
motion if, after construing all evidence in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party, the record “permits
only one reasonable conclusion, and that conclusion is
contrary to the jury's verdict.” Id.
Cupp renews his Rule 50 motion, again contending that he is
entitled to qualified immunity. Defendant urges that,
although the jury found him deliberately indifferent to
Plaintiffs' serious medical needs following exposure to
the T-16 chemical grenade, the jury also specifically found
that he (1) was not aware that Plaintiffs suffered harmful
effects from the exposure to the chemical grenade and (2) did
not know that Defendants' ventilation efforts were
inadequate. The Court first addresses Defendant Cupp's
qualified immunity argument, then addresses what
implications, if any, this has for the damages award to each