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Bolden v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Authority

filed: April 7, 1994.

RUSSELL BOLDEN
v.
SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF V. TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF PHILADELPHIA, LOCAL 234, TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF AMERICA/AFL-CIO, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, APPELLANT



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA. (D.C. Civil No. 88-09156).

Before: Stapleton, Roth and Lewis, Circuit Judges.

Author: Lewis

Opinion OF THE COURT

LEWIS, Circuit Judge.

We revisit a case which had come before us in banc and which we had remanded for a new trial on damages. Now, after the trial on remand, we confront a contention that the jury verdict was inconsistent with the law of the case as established by our in banc opinion in the first appeal. We conclude that the jury's verdict can be reconciled with our prior ruling, and that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the jury's award. We must also decide whether expert medical testimony is required to prove emotional distress damages in a case brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in this circuit. Our Conclusion that such testimony is not required leads inexorably to affirmance of the district court.

I.

Plaintiff/appellee Russell Bolden was a maintenance custodian for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority ("SEPTA") from 1981 to 1986. This case, in which Bolden asserts a section 1983 claim against SEPTA, arises from his discharge for suspected drug use. The facts surrounding his employment with SEPTA and his claims are set forth in detail in our in banc opinion, see Bolden v. SEPTA, 953 F.2d 807 (3d Cir. 1991) (in banc) (Bolden I), and we need not recite them here.

In Bolden I, we affirmed the district court's entry of judgment after a jury verdict for Bolden, holding that SEPTA had violated Bolden's rights by requiring him to undergo an unconstitutional drug test. We reversed the damage award, however, and limited the damages Bolden could recover on remand in light of an agreement settling a grievance he had asserted against SEPTA. See Bolden I, 953 F.2d at 829. Pursuant to that settlement, Bolden was to return to work in exchange for partial back pay on condition that he submit to future drug testing. Although that settlement did not have a res judicata or collateral estoppel effect on Bolden's section 1983 claim against SEPTA, id. at 825-26, we determined that Bolden was bound to it because the union had consented to it on his behalf. Because the settlement "had the same effect . . . as if Bolden himself had consented to future drug testing," id. at 829, his subsequent refusal to return to work under the condition that he undergo further drug testing "cut off his right to damages for lost wages following that date." Id. (Emphasis added.) Because it was impossible to determine "how much of the jury verdict was based on lost wages and emotional distress occurring after this settlement," we reversed the award of damages and remanded for a new trial on that issue. Id. (Emphasis added.) In concluding our opinion, we reiterated "that SEPTA is not liable for wages lost by Bolden after the settlement between SEPTA and his union." Id. at 831 (emphasis added).

On remand, SEPTA argued that our in banc opinion mandated that Bolden be treated as if he had returned to work pursuant to the settlement agreement. SEPTA reasoned that if Bolden had returned to work, he would be able to show neither wage loss nor damages for emotional distress and harm to reputation suffered after the settlement date. Therefore, it first argued that the settlement entirely foreclosed recovery of those types of damages attributable to the period after the effective date of the settlement. SEPTA argued in the alternative that even if recovery of damages for emotional distress and harm to reputation incurred after the effective date of the settlement were not entirely precluded, our in banc decision mandated that Bolden be precluded from receiving damages for emotional distress and injury to reputation which stemmed from his being unemployed and from his discharge having rendered him "unemployable" after he rejected the opportunity to return to work provided by the settlement.

The district court refused SEPTA's proposed jury instructions to this effect; instead, it first submitted a general interrogatory to the jury, asking: "What amount of money damages, if any, is Russell Bolden entitled to receive from SEPTA for emotional distress and harm to his reputation alleged to have been sustained by him as the result of SEPTA's violation of his constitutional rights?" The jury answered "$250,001." App. at 207. The court then submitted a more specific set of interrogatories, asking the jury to delineate which portion of the $250,001 represented "damages sustained by [Bolden] before June 1, 1988" (the effective date of the settlement agreement) and which portion represented "damages sustained by him on or after June 1, 1988." The jury allocated $1.00 of the damages to the pre-June 1, 1988 period and $250,000 to the period on or after that date. App. at 208.

The district court denied SEPTA's post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law, a remittitur or a new trial. Bolden v. SEPTA, 820 F. Supp. 949 (E.D. Pa. 1993) (Bolden II). SEPTA appeals, arguing that the district court erred in not accepting its reading of our in banc opinion. The district court had jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343, and we exercise jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

II.

We agree with the district court that the jury's allocation of the verdict "produced a peculiar and seemingly inconsistent result." Bolden II, 820 F. Supp. at 956. Whether this peculiar result should stand, however, depends upon whether, as a matter of law, Bolden can recover damages for post-settlement emotional distress and injury to reputation related to unemployment and unemployability in the wake of our in banc ruling that he was bound by the settlement. We apply a plenary standard of review to this determination. Feather v. United Mine Workers of America, 903 F.2d 961, 964 (3d Cir. 1990).

Clearly, our in banc opinion was not intended to prohibit Bolden from recovering damages for all post-settlement emotional distress and injury to reputation. Our ruling that his settlement did not have a res judicata or collateral estoppel effect on his section 1983 case necessarily implied that his union had not resolved his section 1983 case by agreeing to that settlement. Instead, the union, acting pursuant to the Pennsylvania Public Employees Relations Act ("PERA"), Pa. Stat. tit. 43 ยง 1101.606, settled only Bolden's discharge grievance with SEPTA, leaving his claims for damages ...


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