United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
A. ROSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for New
Trial. (Doc. No. 83) The motion is fully briefed and ready
for disposition. For the following reasons, the motion will
First Amendment retaliation case was tried to a jury on
January 16, 2018 through January 18, 2018. Plaintiff Bradley
Landwehr claimed he was terminated from his position as
Director of Public Works for the City of Gerald in
retaliation for his support of, or association with, his
brother's mayoral campaign. The jury returned its verdict
in favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff and the Court
entered judgment accordingly. Plaintiff asserts three grounds
for new trial. First, Plaintiff argues the Court erred in
denying his Batson challenge to Defendants'
preemptory strike of Venireperson No. 7, the only African
American juror on the venire panel. Next, Plaintiff argues
the Court erred in excluding evidence of the City's
policies and procedures for terminating City employees.
Finally, Plaintiff contends the Court's conduct during
the trial impacted the fairness of the proceedings.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(A), “[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). A miscarriage of justice does not result
whenever there are inaccuracies or errors at trial; instead,
the party seeking a new trial must demonstrate that there was
prejudicial error. Buchholz v. Rockwell Int'l
Corp., 120 F.3d 146, 148 (8th Cir. 1997). It is almost
entirely within the discretion of the trial court whether to
grant a new trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a);
Orthoarm, Inc. v. Forestadent USA, Inc., No.
4:06-CV-730 CAS, 2008 WL 4681385, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Oct. 21,
2008) (citing Belk v. City of Eldon, 228 F.3d 872,
878 (8th Cir. 2000)). The Court has carefully considered
Plaintiff's arguments with the foregoing standards in
claims the Court erred by permitting Defendants to exercise
one of their preemptory challenges in a discriminatory manner
by striking Venireperson No. 7 because of his race in
violation of Batson. The court uses a three-step
process for evaluating whether the use of a peremptory
challenge was based on purposeful discrimination. First, the
challenging party must make a prima facie case of racial
discrimination. Second, after such a showing is made, the
striking party must suggest a race-neutral explanation for
the use of the strike. Third, after a race-neutral reason is
offered, the court must decide whether the challenging party
has shown purposeful discrimination. Snyder v.
Louisiana, 552 U.S. 472, 476-77 (2008).
voir dire, Venireperson No. 7 stated his belief that
employers should be able to hire and fire whomever they
wanted. When the Court asked for clarification of the
question, Venireperson No. 7 responded that an employer
should be able to hire and fire whomever s/he wants, for any
reason. Plaintiff contends these answers suggested that
Venireperson No. 7 would have been defense-friendly, showing
that Defendants' motivation for striking him was based on
his race. Defendants assert that they struck Venireperson No.
7 because they considered him a “wild card” based
on his answers to the Court's repeated questioning about
his ability to follow the Court's instructions and apply
those instructions to the evidence presented at trial, and
specifically, that he would “try to be fair.” For
the reasons stated on the record, the Court found this to be
a valid race-neutral reason for striking Venireperson No. 7
and that Plaintiff did not meet his burden of showing
purposeful discrimination. See, e.g.,
Weaver v. Bowersox, 241 F.3d 1024 (8th Cir. 2001)
(juror's words and conduct led prosecutor to believe she
was weak; petitioner failed to rebut presumptive correctness
of state court decision that this reason was
Evidentiary ruling on City policies and procedures
claims the Court erred in refusing to permit him to present
evidence of the City's policies and procedures, contained
in its Employee Handbook, for terminating City employees.
Plaintiff argues these policies were not followed when he was
terminated in April of 2015, and that a reasonable jury could
thus infer that the City had an illegal motive for
terminating him, i.e., his association with his brother's
mayoral campaign. This case, as Plaintiff presented it, was a
“direct evidence” case of First Amendment
retaliation based on the testimony of one witness, Rick
Duncan, regarding statements he overheard at the polling
station on Election Day. When direct evidence of
discrimination exists, creating an inference of
discrimination with reasons later given is unnecessary.
Bashara v. Black Hills Corp., 26 F.3d 820, 823 (8th
Cir. 1994). Furthermore, the evidence presented at trial
established that the City's Employee Handbook did not
apply to Department Heads, such as the Public Works Director.
Therefore, the Employee Handbook was not relevant. The
City's Public Works Director is appointed by the Mayor
with approval of the Board of Aldermen.
the jury apparently found the testimony in favor of
Defendants to be more credible and persuasive than the
testimony of Plaintiff's witness. The Court cannot
therefore conclude that exclusion of evidence regarding the
City's policies and procedures was so prejudicial that a
new trial would likely produce a different outcome.