United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, St. Joseph Division
NANETTE K. LAUGHREY United States District Judge
entry of a jury verdict against them, [Doc. 171], Defendants
Denney, Pash, Prudden, and Richey renew their request for
judgment as a matter of law, and in the alternative, they
request a new trial. [Doc. 180');">180]. For the following reasons,
the motion is denied.
Ecclesiastical Denzel Washington brought this case for
violation of his Eighth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 against various officials at Crossroads
Correctional Center where he has been confined since 2010.
Washington alleged that these officials were deliberately
indifferent to his serious medical needs by failing to take
reasonable steps to abate the risk of harm that secondhand
smoke poses to him. Washington alleged that his long history
of asthma and other respiratory conditions exacerbates these
trial, Washington presented evidence about his medical
conditions, as well as evidence that he is regularly exposed
to tobacco smoke due to smoking inside Crossroads despite an
official policy prohibiting smoking inside the prison;
Crossroads' repeated refusal to permit Washington to use
a medically prescribed mask; and Crossroads' refusal to
assign him a nonsmoking cellmate. After a three-day jury
trial, the jury found in Washington's favor and against
four of the five defendants: Larry Denney, Ronda Pash, Cyndi
Prudden, and Cheryl Richey. The jury awarded $40, 000 in
compensatory damages and imposed a total of $71, 000 in
punitive damages as follows: $20, 000 against Denney; $25,
000 against Pash; $25, 000 against Prudden; and $1, 000
against Richey. [Doc. 171].
Judgment as a Matter of Law
argue they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law
because there was insufficient evidence to support the
as a matter of law is appropriate if there is no legally
sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find
for the non-moving party.” Equal Employment
Opportunity Com'n v. Kohler Co., 335 F.3d
766, 772 (8th Cir. 2003) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1))
(internal quotation marks omitted). “[T]he law places a
high standard on overturning a jury verdict because of the
danger that the jury's rightful province will be invaded
when judgment as a matter of law is misused.” Hunt
v. Neb. Public Power Dist., 282 F.3d 1021, 1029 (8th
Cir. 2002) (internal citations omitted). “Where
conflicting inferences reasonably can be drawn from the
evidence, it is the role of the jury, not the court, to
determine which inference shall be drawn.” Id.
The Eighth Circuit describes the district court's task on
such a motion as requiring the court to:
(1) consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the
prevailing party, (2) assume that all conflicts in the
evidence were resolved in favor of the prevailing party, (3)
assume as proved all facts that the prevailing party's
evidence tended to prove, (4) give the prevailing party the
benefit of all favorable inferences that may be reasonably
drawn from the facts provided. That done, the court must then
deny the motion if reasonable persons could differ as to the
conclusions to be drawn from the evidence.
E.E.O.C., 335 F.3d at 772 (internal quotation marks
omitted). “[I]t is improper to overturn a jury verdict
unless, after giving the nonmoving party the benefit of all
reasonable inferences and resolving all conflicts in the
evidence in the nonmoving party's favor, there still
exists a complete absence of probative
facts to support the conclusion reached so that no
reasonable juror could have found for the moving
party.” Hunt, 282 F.2d at 1029.
The 1983 Verdict
Eighth Amendment claim required him to prove that (1) he
suffered from an objectively serious medical need, and (2)
that Defendants knew of the need but deliberately disregarded
it. Johnson v. Hamilton, 452 F.3d 967, 972-73 (8th
Cir. 2006) (citing Dulany v. Carnahan, 132 F.3d
1234, 1239 (8th Cir. 1997)). The deliberate indifference
prong requires that the defendant knew of and disregarded
“an excessive risk to inmate health or safety”
and knew that his “conduct was inappropriate in light
of that risk.” Letterman v. Does, 789 F.3d
856, 861 (8th Cir. 2015). The plaintiff “need not
necessarily show that the actor actually knew of the
substantial risk of harm to an inmate; the district court can
infer knowledge if the risk was obvious.” Id.
For instance, “the obvious inadequacy of a response . .
. may support an inference that the officer recognized the
inappropriateness of his conduct.” Krout v.
Goemmer, 583 F.3d 557 (8th Cir. 2009). “For a
claim of deliberate indifference, ‘the prisoner must
show more than negligence, more even than gross negligence,
and mere disagreement with treatment decisions does not rise
to the level of a constitutional violation.”
Popoalii v. Crandell, 56 F.3d 35, 37 (8th Cir.
argue that the only evidence Washington offered “was
that he believed they were deliberately indifferent, ”
and his mere belief is not sufficient evidence. [Doc. 180');">180, p.
3]. The Court rejects this argument because the evidence
offered at trial shows otherwise. At trial, Washington
presented evidence that he has filed at least eight informal
resolution requests and grievance appeals related to his
respiratory condition and secondhand smoke. Documents
attached to those requests and appeals showed how smoke
affects Washington's asthma, leading to attacks that were
greater in frequency and severity. Defendants admitted at
trial that they knew about Washington's asthma and
smoke's effects on it. See Trial Tr. [Doc. 183,
p. 139:19-21; p. 148:25-149:2 (Defendant Pash admitting that
Washington made known his concerns about secondhand smoke
through grievances)]; [Doc. 184, p. 230:9-16 (Defendant
Denney admitting that he knew about Washington's smoke
concerns and asthma based on his written reports)]; [Doc.
184, p. 292:8-21 (Defendant Prudden admitting she has seen
documents showing Washington's respiratory conditions and
smoke concerns)]; [Doc. 185, p. 384:24-385:3; 386:12-387:17
(Defendant Richey ...