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Taylor v. Bailey

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

August 25, 2016

SAMUEL LEWIS TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
UNKNOWN BAILEY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

         This 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.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff 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[1] 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.

         Defendant 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.

         II. Discussion

         A. Defendant's Motion for New Trial

         Defendant 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.

         It is 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.

         For the 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. 2008)).

         In a 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).

         In the 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 suffer prejudice.

         Defendant 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         What is 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.

         B. Defendant's Motion to ...


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