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Yancey v. Carson

March 12, 2008

LORI ANN YANCEY, AS REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN YANCEY, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARTY CARSON, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Varlan/shirley

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This civil action is before the Court on the Defendant's Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, and Motions in the Alternative for New Trial, or In the Alternative for Remittitur [Doc. 132]. The Defendant, Marty Carson, ("Defendant") has filed a brief in support of this motion [Doc. 133], and the Plaintiff, Lori Ann Yancey, ("Plaintiff") has filed a brief in opposition to the motion [Doc. 138]. The matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendant's motion will be DENIED.

In November of 2003, John Yancey ("Yancey") and Defendant were partners in the Scott County Sheriff's Department. During a raid on a suspected methamphetamine lab trailer located in Scott County, Yancey was killed by a single shot fired by Defendant. Plaintiff's claim of a violation of Yancey's substantive due process rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, was tried before a jury on November 5-9, 13-14, 2007. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiff, finding that Defendant violated Yancey's substantive due process rights and awarded $5,000,000.00 in compensatory damages.

I. Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

Defendant has raised two arguments in support of the motion for judgment as a matter of law. [See Docs. 132; 133 at 1-6.] Defendant argues that the Court should enter judgment as a matter of law in his favor because: (1) he did not act under the color of law and (2) the jury's verdict was unreasonable in that no reasonable jury could conclude that Defendant had a motive to intentionally or maliciously or sadistically shoot Yancey or did so under the circumstances of a raid on a high profile drug case.

Plaintiff responds that Defendant is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law because (1) authorities cited in her response to summary judgment support the Court's previous conclusion that Defendant was acting under color of law and (2) the jury reasonably concluded Defendant intentionally shot Yancey. Plaintiff contends that Defendant's motion merely invites the Court to reweigh the evidence and credibility of witnesses.

A motion for judgment as a matter of law may be renewed after entry of judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b). "The motion may be granted only if in viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact for the jury, and reasonable minds could come to but one conclusion, in favor of the moving party." Radvansky v. City of Olmsted Falls, 496 F.3d 609, 614 (6th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). Notably, the Court may not "reweigh the evidence or assess the credibility of witnesses." Id. (citations omitted).

The Court has carefully considered all the evidence presented at trial and the arguments made by the parties. The Defendant's color of law argument was presented and rejected at the summary judgment stage [see Docs. 57, 58], and the trial has not changed the Court's conclusion as to that issue. Thus, the Court adheres to its previous analysis and conclusion that Defendant acted under color of state law. The Court reiterates that even if an act is private in nature, an officer acts under color of state law if he improperly exercises official authority to forward his own interests in personal matters. See Sanchez v. Crump, 184 F. Supp. 2d 649, 655 (E.D. Mich. 2002). Furthermore, based on a review of the record as a whole, the Court does not find that the evidence is so one-sided that reasonable minds could not differ as to the conclusion to be drawn from the evidence. As noted, the Court may not question the credibility of certain witnesses and reweigh the evidence, which is essentially what Defendant asks the Court to do in his renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly, Defendant's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law will be denied.

II. Motion for a New Trial on the Issue of Liability, or in the Alternative, on the Issue of Damages

In the Alternative, Defendant Moves the Court to Conditionally Grant a New Trial on Damages, Subject to Acceptance by Plaintiff of a Remittitur of the Damage Award In the alternative, Defendant argues that the Court should grant a new trial because (1) the Court erroneously granted Plaintiff judgment as a matter of law on the issue of whether Defendant acted under color of law when the issue should have been submitted to the jury; (2) the Court erred in its instructions to the jury in response to the jury's questions during deliberation; (3) the verdict of liability is against the clear weight of the evidence; and (4) the jury's assessment of damages is against the clear weight of the evidence and unreasonable.

In response to Defendant's motion for a new trial, Plaintiff contends that (1) Plaintiff waived his color of law argument by failing to object to the relevant portion of the jury charge; (2) the instructions in response to jury questions properly stated the applicable law; and (3) the jury could reasonably have found Yancey's damagesat $5,000,000.00, particularly in light of his physical pain and mental suffering.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a) provides in part that the "court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues - and to any party . . . after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court."

A. Color of Law

As to the issue of whether the color of law issue should have been submitted to the jury, the Sixth Circuit has recognized that "it is possible to determine the question whether a person acted under color of state law as a matter of law." Layne v. Sampley, 627 F.2d 12, 13 (6th. Cir. 1980). Though the Sixth Circuit has also recognized that there are some instances where "unanswered questions of fact regarding the proper characterization of the actions" are for the jury to decide, those cases cited to by the Defendant in support of his motion are factually distinguishable from the present case. Id. Namely, those cases did not involve an on-duty officer who was carrying out his duty as a police officer at the time of the incident. More specifically, this case involves an officer who was raiding a suspected methamphetamine lab at the time of the incident and who fired a law enforcement issued weapon. See Sanchez, 184 F. Supp. 2d at 655 (recognizing that officers act under color of state law when they have engaged in official conduct, purported to be engaged in official conduct, and/or used a weapon issued to the officer by the law enforcement agency). In the present case, the color of law question was a "legal issue" that involved "legal conclusions to be reached by the court." Neuens v. City of Columbus, 303 F.3d 667, 670 (6th Cir. 2002) (finding a district court erred when it failed to engage in an independent review of whether a plaintiff was acting under ...


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