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William Victor v. R.M. Lawler

June 12, 2012

WILLIAM VICTOR, PLAINTIFF
v.
R.M. LAWLER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Carlson

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The above-captioned action was commenced nearly four years ago, on July 21, 2008, by William Victor, an inmate who was formerly confined in the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon ("SCI-Huntingdon"). In his complaint, Victor, who proceeded pro se,*fn1 initially named 29 defendants, including the prison superintendent and other employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections at SCI-Huntingdon.

Victor's complaints in this litigation were, in some respects, far-reaching and embraced a host of seemingly disparate actors and events. At the heart of this complaint, however, rested a singular, significant incident: Victor alleged that on June 28, 2008, he was assaulted by Corrections Officers while being moved between cells in the Restricted Housing Unit ("RHU") at SCI-Huntingdon. There is no dispute that Victor's jaw was broken at some point during this incident, and required medical treatment outside the prison. Victor alleged that some of the correctional staff endeavored to cover up and conceal the true facts surrounding this episode, and that the incident was staged in retaliation for Victor having been a troublesome inmate who had filed a number of grievances or civil actions against corrections officers or employees.

Following amended pleadings, extensive litigation, and the resolution of dispositive motions, the Court found that four of Victor's claims against nine defendants should be permitted to proceed to trial.*fn2 In summary, the Court found that genuine disputed issues of fact existed with respect to Victor's claims against seven corrections officers, one former lieutenant, and one prison nurse for violations of the First and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and for civil conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Accordingly, from May 21, 2012, through Tuesday, May 29, 2012, the Court presided over a jury trial held in Scranton, Pennsylvania in which Victor presented his claims that corrections staff conspired to subject him to cruel and unusual punishment, and deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, as well as claims that these Defendants subjected him to this treatment in retaliation for Victor's exercise of First Amendment protected activity.

Following jury selection and five days of evidence, the jury was brought back to the Court on Tuesday, May 29, 2012, following the Memorial Day holiday. On that day the jury heard closing arguments, was instructed on the law, and was thereafter released to deliberate. After several hours of deliberation, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of the Defendants on all claims. (Doc. 570) Judgment was accordingly entered in favor of Defendants Goodman, Pyle, Snyder, Eberling, Plummer, Grove, Lehman, Diffin, and Ritchey on May 29, 2012. (Doc. 571)

On June 1, 2012, Mr. Victor filed a notice of appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. On the same day, Victor filed a motion to stay the appeal proceedings in order to give him an opportunity to scrutinize the records taken during certain pretrial hearings so that he could present the Third Circuit with a cogent and comprehensive argument in support of his view that he was unfairly prejudiced during the trial in this action. (Doc. 573) On the same day, the Court denied Victor's motion to stay his appeal, finding it inappropriate to enter an order affecting proceedings that had been commenced within the Court of Appeals, and we encouraged Victor to request a stay of his appellate proceedings directly from the Third Circuit. (Doc. 576)

On June 7, 2012, Victor filed a motion with this Court seeking to set aside the verdict and to be granted a new trial on his claims. (Doc. 577) In his brief filed in support of the motion, Mr. Victor asserts that the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence, and that the jury's verdict somehow was reached "with prejudicial clarity." (Doc. 578) In addition, Mr. Victor contends that the jury did not properly and fairly apply the law in accordance with the instructions that the Court provided, and that a new trial should therefore be granted in the interest of justice. (Id.)

Upon consideration of Mr. Victor's motion for a new trial, we find no merit to his assertions that the trial proceedings or the jury's verdict were manifestly unfair, or so unreasonable as to shock the conscience. To the contrary, the Court finds -- and the record will attest -- that the litigation in this case, and the trial that marked its conclusion, were conducted fairly and appropriately, and the jury's verdict was a product of this fair and appropriate process. There being no basis to set aside the jury's verdict and to order a new trial in this matter, the motion will be denied.

II. DISCUSSION

Victor argues that a jury's unanimous verdict against him on all claims should be discarded, and a new trial ordered, on the basis of his view that the verdict reached was against the weight of the evidence, and because the trial proceedings and the jury's verdict were erroneous or infected with prejudicial error. We disagree.

Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

(a) In General.

(1) Grounds for a New Trial. The court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues -- and to any party -- as follows:

(A) after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial was heretofore been granted in an action in federal court . . . Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a). Although a court may set aside a jury's verdict on the grounds that it was against the weight of the evidence, "the court's power to overturn the jury's [decision for this reason] is severely circumscribed." Henry v. Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp., 163 F.R.D. 237, 242 (D.V.I. 1995). Thus, "'[n]ew trials because the verdict is against the weight of the evidence are proper only when the record shows that the jury's verdict resulted in a miscarriage of justice or where the verdict, on the record, cries out to be overturned or shocks our conscience.'" Greenleaf v. Garlock, Inc., 174 F.3d 352, 366 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Williamson v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 1344, 1353 (3d Cir. 1991)). In general, a "new trial must be necessary to avoid a miscarriage of justice." Shanno v. Magee Indus. Enterprises, Inc., 856 ...


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