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Odetta A. Todd v. Luzerne County Children and Youth Services and Eugene N. Caprio

March 8, 2011

ODETTA A. TODD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LUZERNE COUNTY CHILDREN AND YOUTH SERVICES AND EUGENE N. CAPRIO DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are Defendant Luzerne County Children and Youth Services's post-trial motions, including a renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50, and a Motion for a New Trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 59, or, in the alternative, a Motion for Remittitur. (Doc. 174.) For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny Defendant's Motions.

BACKGROUND

As the parties have already been through a trial on this matter, it is unnecessary to recount a lengthy factual and procedural history at this point. It is sufficient to state that the instant suit concerned procedural due process claims brought against the two named Defendants by Plaintiff. These claims arose out of Plaintiff's application for Kinship Foster Care payments, which is assistance provided to individuals who care for the children of relatives in lieu of the children being placed in foster care. Plaintiff claimed that even though she went through all the necessary procedures and filled out the required paperwork, she was denied the payments and not advised by the Defendants of her right to appeal. Defendants argued that Plaintiff had not properly filled out all the requisite paperwork to be considered for Kinship Foster Care payments. As a result, Plaintiff's application had been categorized as abandoned, rather than denied, and therefore Plaintiff's procedural due process rights had never been triggered. After a three day trial which commenced on July 19, 2010, the jury found Defendant Luzerne County Children and Youth Services liable, but not Defendant Caprio, and awarded Plaintiff two-hundred and nineteen thousand dollars ($219,000). Defendant Luzerne County Children and Youth Services then filed its post-trial motions on August 17, 2010. (Doc. 174.)

LEGAL STANDARDS

I. Rule 50(b)

Under Rule 50(b), a party may renew its request for a motion for judgment as a matter of law by filing a motion no more than twenty-eight (28) days after judgment is entered. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b). In the present case, Defendants' Rule 50(b) motion was timely filed. (Doc. 174.) Judgment notwithstanding the verdict should be granted sparingly. Walter v. Holiday Inns, Inc., 985 F.2d 1232, 1238 (3d Cir. 1993). In deciding whether to grant a Rule 50(b) motion: the trial court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and determine whether the record contains "the minimum quantum of evidence from which a jury might reasonably afford relief." The court may not weigh evidence, determine the credibility of witnesses or substitute its version of the facts for that of the jury. The court may, however, enter judgment notwithstanding the verdict if upon review of the record, it can be said as a matter of law that the verdict is not supported by legally sufficient evidence.

Parkway Garage, Inc. v. City of Philadelphia, 5 F.3d 685, 691-92 (3d Cir. 1993), abrogation on other grounds recognized by United Artists Theatre Circuit, Inc. v. Twp. of Warrington, Pa., 316 F.3d 392 (3d Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). A Rule 50 motion will be granted "only if, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and giving [the non-movant] the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference, there is insufficient evidence from which a jury reasonably could find liability." Lightning Lube v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1166 (3d Cir.1993). The question is not whether there is literally no evidence supporting the non-moving party, but whether there is evidence upon which the jury could properly find for the non-moving party. See Walter, 985 F.2d at 1238(citing Patzig v. O'Neil, 577 F.2d 841, 846 (3d Cir. 1978)).

II. Rule 59(a)

Under Rule 59(a), motions for a new trial must be filed within twenty-eight (28) days of the date the judgment was entered. Fed. R. Civ. P. 59. Defendants' motion for a new trial was timely filed. (Doc. 174.) 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 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13823, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 19, 1995), aff'd 91 F.3d 122 (3d Cir. 1996), cert. denied 519 U.S. 953 (1996). 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. 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). Where the evidence is in conflict, and subject to two (2) or more interpretations, the trial judge should be reluctant to grant a new trial. Klein v. Hollings, 992 F.2d 1285, 1295 (3d Cir. 1993).

DISCUSSION

I. Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

Defendant's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law will be denied. Defendant offers two grounds in support of its Rule 59(b) motion: (1) that the trial record does not contain sufficient evidence that Plaintiff sustained her procedural due process claim; and (2) that since the jury found Mr. Caprio not liable, Defendant cannot be held liable for violating Plaintiff's procedural due process rights under § 1983.

Concerning Defendant's first argument, to establish a prima facie case of a procedural due process violation, a plaintiff must establish (1) the existence of a liberty or property interest (2) that the state deprived the person of and (3) that the deprivation was accomplished without procedural protections of notice and an opportunity to be heard. See Rusnak v. Williams, 44 Fed.Appx. 555, 558 (3d Cir.2002) ( "Procedural due process claims, to be valid, must allege state-sponsored deprivation of a protected interest in life, liberty or property. If such an interest has been or will be deprived, procedural due process requires that the governmental unit provide the individual with notice and a reasonable opportunity to be heard.") (citation omitted). Furthermore: "[i]f there is a process on the books that appears to provide due process, the plaintiff cannot skip that process and use the federal courts as a means to get back what he wants." Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F. 3d 107, 116 (3d ...


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