United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
matter is before the Court on defendant Gwenn Botkin's
motion for new trial or, in the alternative, to amend the
judgment. Plaintiff opposes the motion, which is fully
briefed and ripe for review. Also before the Court is
plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees and costs,
which is also briefed and ready for disposition. For the
following reasons, the Court will deny defendant's motion
for new trial, grant defendant's alternative motion to
amend the judgment, and grant in part and deny in part
plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees and costs.
Samuel Lewis Taylor is an offender in the custody of the
Missouri Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). He
originally brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for
monetary damages against Unknown Botkins and a number of
other defendants, who have since been dismissed. The
allegations against defendant Botkin arose from an incident
in the prison library, where plaintiff worked, that occurred
sometime in January 2011. Plaintiff claimed that defendant
Botkin retaliated against him for filing suit against other
MDOC officials and had him placed in administrative
segregation. He also alleged that he lost his job in the
prison library. The Court denied defendant Botkin's
motion for summary judgment, appointed counsel for plaintiff,
and after a two-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in
favor of plaintiff and awarded him $1, 000.00.
Botkin now moves for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 59. Botkin asserts that she is entitled to a
new trial because she should have been permitted to introduce
evidence regarding plaintiff's prior convictions and his
conduct violations while in prison. In the alternative,
defendant Botkin argues that the damages the jury awarded are
not supported by the evidence and should be reduced.
Plaintiff opposes these motions and argues that as the
prevailing party he is entitled to an award of attorneys'
fees and costs.
Defendant's Motion for New Trial
Botkin moves for a new trial based on two evidentiary ruling.
Botkin contends that she should have been able to question
plaintiff about his prior convictions, which she argues were
relevant as to his credibility. Defendant also argues that
she should have been allowed to introduce evidence concerning
plaintiff's other conduct violations.
almost entirely within the discretion of the trial court
whether to grant a new trial. See Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 59(a); Belk v. City of Eldon, 228
F.3d 872, 878 (8th Cir. 2000). “A new trial is
appropriate when the first trial, through a verdict against
the weight of the evidence, an excessive damage award, or
legal errors at trial, resulted in a miscarriage of
justice.” Gray v. Bicknell, 86 F.3d 1472, 1480
(8th Cir. 1996). The key question is whether a new trial is
required to avoid a miscarriage of justice. Belk,
228 F.3d at 878.
Court to order a new trial, the requesting party must have
suffered prejudice, meaning that the result at trial would
have been different, if not for the district court's
error. See First Nat'l Bank in Sioux Falls v. First
Nat'l Bank S.D., 679 F.3d 763, 769 (8th Cir. 2012)
(courts should only grant a new trial or set aside a verdict
“where the error prejudicially influences the
outcome.”) (quotations omitted); see also Diesel
Mach., Inc. v. B.R. Lee Indus., Inc., 418 F.3d 820, 833
(8th Cir. 2005). “Where the motion is based on the
exclusion of evidence, ‘[we] will reverse only if the
district court's ruling was based on an erroneous view of
the law or a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence and
affirmance would result in fundamental
unfairness.'” Amplatz v. Country Mut. Ins.
Co., 823 F.3d 1167, 1172 (8th Cir. 2016) (quoting
Wegener v. Johnson, 527 F.3d 687, 690 (8th Cir.
pretrial motion in limine, plaintiff moved to exclude
reference to his convictions, other than the fact that he is
incarcerated due to a felony conviction. Felony convictions
are admissible in a civil case for the “purposes of
attacking the character for truthfulness of the
witness.” Fed.R.Evid. 609. In his motion in limine,
plaintiff argued that the jury would know that he was a
convicted felon, but they need not know the specifics of the
convictions and the length of his sentence. He argued that
information regarding the nature of his convictions, which
were for rape, and the length of his sentence was irrelevant
to the facts at issue in this case, and it should be excluded
as unduly prejudicial under Federal Rule of Evidence 403.
After giving the parties an opportunity to be heard at a
hearing, the Court granted plaintiff's motion, and the
jury was instructed that plaintiff was a convicted felon
currently in the custody of the MDOC. Foulk v.
Charrier, 262 F.3d 687, 700 (8th Cir. 2001) (the
district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding
evidence, pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 403, regarding the nature
of plaintiff's prior felonies).
motion presently before the Court, defendant argues that she
should have been allowed to question plaintiff about the
nature of his convictions, but she adds nothing new to the
arguments she made in opposing plaintiff's motion in
limine. The Court declines to grant a new trial on this
basis, because there was no error and defendant did not
also argues in her motion that she should have been allowed
to introduce evidence of plaintiff's other conduct
violations in prison. In a pretrial motion in limine,
plaintiff moved to exclude any reference to his prison
disciplinary records, with the exception of reports from
early 2011 that were related to his retaliation claim.
Defendant responded: “Defendant generally has no
objection to this motion, with the exception that, if
Plaintiff considers the Temporary Administrative Segregation
Confinement records that are part of Plaintiff's
grievance on the incident in his complaint to be disciplinary
records, Defendant would object. Those documents are relevant
to the Plaintiff's allegations and any prejudice is
outweighed by their probative value.” Doc. 95 at 2.
represented that he did not object to the introduction of the
Temporary Administrative Segregation Confinement records, and
at the hearing on the motion the Court denied the motion in
limine as moot because defendant represented that she did not
intend to introduce other disciplinary records. Now defendant
Bothkin argues that it was error to have excluded this
evidence. She points out that it was plaintiff who opened the
door to the evidence when he testified that there was no
other reason for defendant's refusal to rehire him in the
library. The Court does not agree that plaintiff opened the
door at trial. Defendant has known all along that plaintiff
was claiming she had him placed in administration segregation
and did not hire him back in the library because he filed
suit against other prison officials. This has been
plaintiff's contention from the beginning of this case.
If defendant believed that evidence of plaintiff's other
conduct violations was relevant to her decision not to rehire
plaintiff in the library, she should have made this argument
in response to plaintiff's motion in limine.
more, defendant has not shown how the outcome of the trial
would have been different. Defendant asserts in her present
motion that the job of library clerk is a
“premium” job, and a prisoner with several
conduct violations would not be a candidate for the library
position. But plaintiff did work in the library, despite
having conduct violations, and she fails to detail in her
motion what conduct violations plaintiff subsequently
incurred that would have disqualified him for the position.
She also has not shown how defendant's record differed in
comparison to other inmates who worked in the library.
Defendant has not met her burden to show that she is entitled
to a new trial based on the exclusion of this evidence. In
sum, there has been no miscarriage of justice resulting from
evidentiary rulings, and defendant is not entitled to a new
trial. See Belk, 228 F.3d at 878.
Defendant's Motion to ...