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Dee v. Borough of Dunmore

April 21, 2010

ROBERT K. DEE, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOROUGH OF DUNMORE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are two post-trial motions by Defendants: (1) Defendants' Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, Motion for a New Trial, and Motion to Alter Judgment. (Doc. 100); and (2) Defendants' Motion to Stay Proceedings to Enforce Judgment Pending Disposition of Post Trial Motions (Doc. 101). For the reasons discussed below, the Defendants' motions will be granted in part and denied in part. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

BACKGROUND

I. Factual Background*fn1

In June 2005, Plaintiff Robert Dee ("Dee") was employed by Dunmore Borough as the Assistant Fire Chief. (Trial Tr. vol. 3, 35:21-23.) Defendant Dunmore Borough is a Pennsylvania municipality. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 2; Answer ¶ 2.) Defendants Michael Cummings, Joseph Talutto, Frank Padula, Leonard Verrastro, and Tom Hennigan were at all relevant times members of the Dunmore Borough Council. (Amend. Compl. ¶¶ 5-9; Answer ¶¶ 5-9.) Defendant Joseph Loftus ("Loftus") was at all relevant times Borough Manager for the Dunmore. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 4; Answer ¶ 4.)

In 2005, Loftus began an investigation into the credentials and training of the employees of Dunmore for the purpose of obtaining a discount on insurance premiums. (Trial Tr. vol. 4, 162:25-163:11.) During that investigation, it was discovered that Dee did not have training as an emergency medical technician ("EMT"). (Trial Tr. vol. 4, 174:8-19.) Loftus believed that Dee's failure to be certified as an EMT meant that he did not comply with the training requirements for a fireman under Dunmore's Collective Bargaining Agreement. (Trial Tr. vol 4, 195:13-23.) Loftus had no authority to suspend or remove Dee from the schedule. (Trial Tr. vol. 4, 196:3-13.) On June 27, 2005, Loftus presented the information he had gathered to the Borough Council and the council voted to suspend Dee with pay without first having a hearing. (Trial Tr. vol. 4, 177:4-18.) Defendants presented evidence at trial that the immediate suspension was necessary as an emergency. (Trial Tr. vol. 2, 9:7-8; Trial Tr. vol. 4, 178:21-179:2.)

Information about Dee's suspension, which should have been a confidential personnel matter, was published by the Scranton Times newspaper. (Trial Tr. vol. 3, 43:1-9.) Defendants denied leaking the information to the press. (Trial Tr. vol. 2, 11:16-22; Trial Tr. vol. 4, 180:3-5.) Ultimately after a hearing held on July 6, with Dee present, the Defendants determined that EMT training was not required for a fireman like Dee hired in before 1990. (Trial Tr. vol. 2, 9:4-6.) Dee was reinstated and did not suffer any losses of pay or benefits. (Trial Tr. vol. 3, 63:2-12, 66:14-16.) Dee asserted that as a result of the suspension he suffered anxiety and humiliation. (Trial Tr. vol. 3, 38:5-13.)

II. Procedural Background

Dee filed the present action on July 5, 2005. (Doc. 1.) The action proceeded to trial before a jury, beginning on January 4, 2010. (Doc. 98.) The jury awarded $150,000 in compensatory damages against Dunmore Borough for the violation of his procedural due process rights. (Doc. 95.) The jury also awarded punitive damages in the amount of $1,000 against each of the individual defendants. (Doc. 95.) Defendants filed the present motions on February 3, 2010. (Docs. 100, 101.) These motions have been fully briefed by both sides and are now ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

I. Renewed Judgment as a Matter of Law (Rule 50)

Rule 50(b) provides:

If the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motions. No later than 28 days after the entry of judgment . . . the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and may include an alternative or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59.

FED. R. CIV. P. 50(b). "In order to prevail, the moving party must show that the jury's findings, presumed or expressed, are not supported by substantive evidence, or if they [are], that the legal conclusions implied [by] the jury's verdict cannot in law be supported by the findings." Moore v. Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, No. 1:02-cv- 0535, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45023, *7 (M.D.Pa. Sept. 30, 2005) (citing Valentti v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F. Supp. 2d 221, 223 (M.D.Pa. 2003)).

In considering whether the evidence at trial was sufficient to sustain the jury's verdict, the court may not weigh the evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses, or substitute its version of the facts for the jury's version. Although judgment as a matter of law should not be granted liberally, a mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient to sustain a verdict of liability. The Court is not to ask whether there is literally no evidence supporting the verdict, but instead whether there is evidence upon which the jury could properly find a verdict for the prevailing party. Accordingly, if the evidence of record is insufficient to support the jury's verdict, then motion for judgment as a matter of law should be granted.

Id. at *8 (citations omitted).A motion for judgment as a matter of law should be granted if, "viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and giving it the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference, there is insufficient evidence from which a jury reasonably could find liability." Ambrose v. Township of Robinson, 303 F.3d 488, 492 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Lightning Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1166 (3d Cir. 1993)).

II. New Trial (Rule 59)

Under Rule 59(b), motions for a new trial must be filed within twenty-eight (28) days of the date the judgment was entered. SeeFED. R. CIV. P. 59(b). After a jury trial, and new trial may be granted "for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." Id. 59(a)(1)(A). Courts have granted motions for a new trial where: (1) there is a significant error of law, to the prejudice of the moving party; (2) the verdict is against the weight of the evidence; (3) the size of the verdict is against the weight of the evidence; or (4) counsel engaged in improper conduct that had a prejudicial effect on the jury. See Maylie v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 791 F. Supp. 477, 480 (E.D. Pa.), aff'd 983 F.2d 1051 (3d Cir. 1992). The decision to grant a new trial is left to the sound discretion of the trial judge. See Blackiston v. Johnson, No. 91-5111, 1995 WL 563834, at *1 (E.D. Pa. 1995), aff'd 91 F.3d 122 (3d ...


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