United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
JOSEPH J. WATLEY, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL FELSMAN, DANIEL NILON, and JAMES SOHNS, Defendants.
Richard Caputo, United States District Judge
before me is a Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment (Doc. 104)
filed by Defendants Michael Felsman (“Corporal
Felsman”) and Daniel Nilon (“Corporal
Nilon”) (together, “Corporals” or
“Defendants”) and Plaintiff Joseph Watley's
Motion to Strike (Doc. 118) and Motion for Attorney's
Fees and Costs (Doc. 98). For the reasons below, all three
motions will be denied.
parties have already been through trial, only a brief summary
of the facts will be provided.
a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 stemming from a series of encounters between Watley and
the Corporals following a traffic stop on May 11, 2016. On
May 11, 2016, Corporal Felsman pulled Watley over on
Interstate 84 in Blooming Grove Township for impeding the
flow of traffic, tinted windows, and a broken tail light.
(Trial Tr., Oct. 15, 2018, at 25-29, 138; Trial Tr. Oct. 16,
2018, at 99). Prior to the traffic stop, Watley was driving
home to Connecticut after purchasing a black Chevrolet Monte
Carlo in Indiana. (Trial Tr., Oct. 15, 2018, at 67-68).
Corporal Felsman was unable to pull up information on the
license plate of the Monte Carlo driven by Watley and
approached the vehicle on the passenger side. (Id.
at 145-48, 151, 155). After repeatedly asking Watley to lower
his windows because he could not see through the tint,
Corporal Felsman called for backup. (Id. at 85,
156-58). In the meantime, Watley held up a sign saying
“I remain silent. No. searches. I want my lawyer. Place
any tickets under the wiper blade.” (Trial Tr., Oct.
16, 2018, at 44).
after other police officers arrived on the scene, Watley
lowered his window slightly, just enough to hand over his
driver's license and vehicle registration. (Id.
at 45-47). Corporal Felsman returned to his patrol vehicle to
run the license and registration and learned both that Watley
had a criminal history and that the Monte Carlo was
registered to Cheyenna Blake Lawson. (Id. at 48, 54;
Trial Tr., Oct. 15, 2018, at 53). Trooper Schochin then tried
to approach the vehicle to see if the photo on the license
looked like driver of the car. (Trial Tr., Oct. 16, 2018, at
51). As Watley still had not exited the vehicle, the police
officers on the scene contacted a supervisor, Corporal
Romanchick, who told them he would come to the scene to
assist them. (Id. at 68).
Corporal Romanchick, along with Sergeant Kennedy, arrived at
the scene, the officers tried to maneuver their cars around
the Monte Carlo to prevent Watley from fleeing. (Id.
at 69, 73). Corporal Romanchick ordered Watley to exit the
Monte Carlo, which he failed to do. (Id. at 74).
Simultaneously, Corporal Felsman took out his
department-issued baton and told Trooper Stanco to take out
his gun in the event Watley was armed, and Corporal Nilon
drew his department-issued taser. (Id. at 74-75).
Shortly thereafter, Watley opened the door to his vehicle and
was handcuffed. (Id. at 75-76). Watley was arrested
because the officers at the time believed he would not return
to Pennsylvania to face the traffic citations. (Trial Tr.,
Oct. 15, 2018, at 44, 61). Corporal Felsman then put leg
shackles on Watley and placed him in the front seat of his
vehicle to take him to the magistrate judge. (Trial Tr., Oct.
16, 2018, at 83, 87). During this time, Corporal Nilon and
Trooper Sohns performed a search of Watley's vehicle,
purportedly for valuables, before the car was taken to the
lot at Lords Valley Towing. (Id. at 99, 146-150).
The officers claimed they did not find any valuables in the
vehicle apart from Watley's camera phone, which was given
to Corporal Felsman. (Id. at 87, 161).
that day, Corporal Felsman brought Watley before Magistrate
Judge Cooper. Watley requested a lawyer and Magistrate Judge
Cooper informed Watley he could not get a lawyer at that
time. (Id. at 91). When Watley refused to plead
guilty or not guilty, Magistrate Judge Cooper told Corporal
Felsman to take Watley to Pike County Prison in lieu of
collateral and issued a commitment order. (Id. at
92-93). Corporal Felsman then drove Watley to Pike County
Prison in the same restraints as before. (Id. at
next morning, Corporal Felsman, along with Sergeant Kennedy,
arrived at the prison and drove Watley, who was once again
placed in restrains, to appear before Magistrate Judge
Cooper. (Id. at 96-97; Trial Tr., Oct. 15, 2018 1 at
34). Early in the proceeding, Magistrate Judge Cooper noted
that the summary trial should have been brought before
Magistrate Judge Muir rather than himself because the traffic
stop occurred in Blooming Grove Township. (Trial Tr., Oct.
16, 2018, at 99). Magistrate Judge Cooper released Watley on
his own recognizance and instructed Corporal Felsman to drive
Watley to the tow lot. (Id. at 99-101, 134; Trial
Tr., Oct. 15, 2018, at 50).
Felsman informed Watley that he was no longer in custody at
this time and that if he wanted to be driven to the tow lot,
he would need to be placed in restraints. (Trial Tr., Oct.
15, 2018, at 36, 78; Trial Tr., Oct. 16, 2018, at 11, 101).
Watley did not respond to Corporal Felsman and walked toward
Corporal Felsman's patrol vehicle and got in. (Trial Tr.,
Oct. 15, 2018, at 80; Trial Tr., Oct. 16, 2018, at 11, 101).
Corporal Felsman handcuffed Watley tightly and shackled his
legs with his personal leg restraints that were not the
property of the state police. (Trial Tr., Oct. 15, 2018, at
35, 77-78). Upon arriving at the tow lot, Corporal Felsman
removed the restraints and told Watley he was free to go.
(Trial Tr., Oct. 16, 2018, at 101). Watley then went over to
speak with the owner of the lot and eventually headed back
home. (Trial Tr., Oct. 17, 2018, at 17).
October 13, 2016, Plaintiff filed a complaint in connection
with the above events. (Doc. 1). On October 25, 2017,
Plaintiff filed an amended complaint alleging unlawful search
and seizure, excessive force, First Amendment retaliation,
assault and battery, false arrest/false imprisonment,
malicious prosecution, and abuse of process against
Defendants. (See Doc. 23 generally). The
parties then filed cross motions for summary judgment. (Doc.
28; Doc. 40). On March 29, 2018, I granted summary judgment
in favor of Plaintiff as to liability for his seizure on May
12, 2016 (Count I, in part) and in favor of Defendants on the
following claims: seizure and search of Watley's person
by Trooper Felsman on May 11, 2016 (Count I, in part);
excessive force as to the events of May 11, 2016 (Count II,
in part); First Amendment retaliation (Count III); assault
and battery as to the events of May 11, 2016; false
arrest/false imprisonment (Count V), malicious prosecution
(Count VI), abuse of process (Count II); the search and
seizure of Watley by Trooper Nilon on May 11, 2016 (Count
VIII). (Doc. 48). Trial began on October 15, 2018 and
concluded on October 17, 2018.
trial, after the presentation of Plaintiff's
case-in-chief and again prior to Plaintiff's rebuttal,
Defendants moved pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
50(a) for judgment as a matter of law, arguing judgment
should be entered on behalf of Defendants on the search,
assault and battery, excessive force, and seizure
claimsbecause Watley did not meet his burden and
the Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. (Trial
Tr., Oct. 15, 2018, at 107-17; Trial Tr., Oct. 16, 2018, at
166-173). I denied this motion on both occasions. (Trial Tr.,
Oct. 15, 2018, at 116-17; Trial Tr., Oct. 16, 2018, at
172-73). Ultimately, the jury found that Corporal Nilon
violated Watley's Fourth Amendment right to be free from
unreasonable searches and seizures and that Corporal Felsman
violated Watley's Fourth Amendment right to be free from
the use of excessive force, but that Watley did not suffer
injuries from these violations or the seizure on May 12,
2016. (Doc. 95). As such, the jury awarded Watley $3.00 in
parties have filed post-trial motions. Plaintiff has filed a
Motion for Attorney Fees and a Motion to Strike. (Doc. 98;
Doc. 118). Defendants Felsman and Nilon have filed a Motion
to Alter Judgment. (Doc. 104). All three (3) motions are ripe
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) and 50(b)
Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) authorizes the entry of
judgment as a matter of law. A motion for relief under this
Rule may be made at any time before the case is submitted to
the jury. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(2). Where, as here, a court
denies a party's Rule 50(a) motion, “the court is
considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject
to the courts later deciding the legal questions raised by
the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). In the event an
adverse judgment is entered, the movant may renew the motion
for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b), which
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.
Id. To prevail, the moving party “must show
that the jury's findings, presumed or expressed, are not
supported by substantial evidence, or if they (are), that the
legal conclusions implied (by) the jury's verdict cannot
in law be supported by those findings.” LifeScan,
Inc. v. Home Diagnostics, Inc., 103 F.Supp.2d 345, 350
(D. Del.2000); see also Valenti 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 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
of law should be granted.
Moore v. Susquehanna Area Reg'l Airport Auth.,
No. Civ A. 1:02-CV-0535, 2005 WL 2430790, at *3 (M.D. Pa.
Sept. 30, 2005) (citations omitted).
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 every advantage of every fair and
reasonable inference, there is insufficient evidence from
which a jury could reasonably find liability.”
Ambrose v. Twp. of Robinson, 303 F.3d 488, 492 (3d
Cir. 2002); see also Toledo Mack Sales & Serv., Inc.
v. Mack Trucks, Inc., 530 F.3d 204, 209 (3d Cir. 2008).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e)
59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party
to move to alter or amend a judgment within twenty-eight days
of its entry. A judgment may be altered or amended if the
party seeking reconsideration establishes at least one of the
following grounds: “(1) an intervening change in
controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that
was not available when the court granted the motion ; or
(3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to
prevent manifest injustice.” Max's Seafood
Café, by Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d
669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). “A motion for reconsideration
is not to be used as a means to reargue matters already
argued and disposed of.” Odgen v. Keystone
Residence, 226 F.Supp.2d 588, 606 (M.D. Pa. 2002).
“[R]econsideration motions may not be used to raise new
arguments or present evidence that could have been raised
prior to the entry of judgment.” Hill v. Tammac
Corp., Civ. A. No. 05-1148, 2006 WL 529044, at *2 (M.D.
Pa. Mar. 3, 2006). The reconsideration of a judgment is an
extraordinary remedy, and such motions should be granted
sparingly. D'Angio v. Borough of Nescopeck, 56
F.Supp.2d 502, 504 (M.D. Pa. 1999).
has provided that “[i]n any action or proceeding to
enforce a provision of section . . . 1983, . . . of this
title, . . . the court, in its discretion, may allow the
prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable
attorney's fee as part of the costs.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 1988. “[T]o qualify as a prevailing party, a
civil rights plaintiff must obtain at least some relief on
the merits of his claim and [t]he plaintiff must obtain an
enforceable judgment against the defendant for whom fees are
sought. . .[.]” Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103,
111, 113 S.Ct. 566 (1992) (citing Hewitt v. Helms,
482 U.S. 755, 760, 107 S.Ct. 2672, 2675 (1987)).
Discussion A. Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment
to Rules 50 and 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
Defendants move to alter or amend the October 17, 2018
judgment on the seizure and excessive force claims based on
the drive back to the tow lot against Corporal Felsman and
the unreasonable search claim against Corporal Nilon based on
the May 11, 2016 search of Watley's vehicle. For the
reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion will be denied.
Felsman asserts the unreasonable seizure finding against him
was improper and raises three (3) arguments in support of his
motion to alter or amend this portion of the judgment: (1) my
summary judgment finding that Watley was seized on May 12,
2016 on the ride to the tow lot was improper; (2) the facts
presented at trial do not support a finding that a seizure
occurred in this incident; and (3) Corporal Felsman is
entitled to qualified immunity on this issue. Despite framing
the first two arguments in the alternative of the other,
Corporal Felsman appears to challenge my summary ...