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Sublett v. Green

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah

December 4, 2019

DAMIEN A. SUBLETT PLAINTIFF
v.
LINDA S. GREEN, CHRIS HATTON, JON TANGROSE DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          THOMAS B. RUSSELL, SENIOR JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court upon a motion and supplemental motion filed by the Plaintiff, Damien A. Sublett, seeking a new trial. (DN 79; DN 80). The Defendants, Chris Hatton, Jon Tangerose, and Linda S. Green, have responded (DN 82) and the Plaintiff has filed a reply (DN 83). Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for review and for the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion for a new trial is DENIED.

         Background

         Damien A. Sublett is a prolific filer. This particular case involved a series of complaints, supplements to complaints, and amended complaints by Sublett where many of the parties changed and the claims brought by Sublett also changed over the action's lifespan. Plaintiff originated this action on August 3, 2017, when he filed his first complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that the Defendants violated several of his constitutional rights. Plaintiff had at least six civil actions against prison officials working their way through the courts during the period in which his rights were allegedly violated. Plaintiff alleged that the Defendants in this case took adverse action against him in retaliation for these civil actions and grievances against prison officials. More specifically, Plaintiff claimed that the Defendants unlawfully limited his access to legal resources and that a grievance against a prison official was wrongfully rejected.

         On January 18, 2019, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's claim that his “original grievance” #8479 was not returned to him when he was released from the Restrictive Housing Unit into the general population, that Defendant Tangerose wrongfully rejected his “original grievance” #8479, and that Plaintiff's affidavits were never returned to him. (DN 40 at 13). Plaintiff then had two remaining claims: (1) that Green, Tangerose, and Hatton denied him access to the legal library and use of the LexisNexis computer; and (2) that Green directed prison officials to enter Plaintiff's cell and confiscate all of his legal materials. The action proceeded to trial on these two claims.

         On June 3 and June 4, 2019, a jury found in favor of the Plaintiff on his claims that Defendant Green retaliated against the Plaintiff, in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution by directing prison officials to enter his cell and confiscate all of his legal materials and awarded the Plaintiff nominal damages of $1.00. (DN 77). The jury found in favor of Defendants Green, Hatton, and Tangerose on the claims that they retaliated against the Plaintiff in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution by denying the Plaintiff access to the legal library and/or use of the Lexis Nexis computer.

         Plaintiff now moves the Court to set aside the judgment and grant him a new trial on his claims that Hatton, Green, and Tangerose denied him legal materials and/or access to the Lexis Nexis computer and a new trial on the issue of damages against Green arising out of the jury's finding that she confiscated all of his legal materials in violation of the First Amendment. Plaintiff argues that “[t]he Jury's determination that Hatton, Tangerose and Green did not deny Sublett access to legal material was a ‘seriously erroneous result'” and that the verdict on that claim was against the weight of the evidence. (DN 83 at 3). Plaintiff also argues that “[t]he damage against Linda S. Green where inadequate awarded in an amount substantially less than unquestionably proven as there was no evidence submitted by Green that Sublett had 5 inches more in violation of the policy and RHU Rule.” (DN 79-1 at 11). Finally, Plaintiff argues that “[t]he court gave an incorrect compensatory Damages Instruction; INSTRUCTION NO. 5.” Id. at 14.

         Standard

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), “[t]he court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues … (a) after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court.” Additionally, district courts may grant a new trial where “it is quite clear that the jury has reached a seriously erroneous result.” Gasperini v. Ctr. For Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 468 (1995). Any such motion “must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(b). “[C]ourts have interpreted th[e] language [of Rule 59(a)] to mean that a new trial is warranted when a jury has reached a ‘seriously erroneous result' as evidenced by” one of three things: “(1) the verdict being against the weight of the evidence; (2) the damages being excessive; or (3) the trial being unfair to the moving party in some fashion, i.e., the proceedings being influenced by prejudice or bias.” Holmes v. City of Massillon, Ohio, 78 F.3d 1041, 1045-46 (6th Cir. 1996) (citing Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251 (1940), Cygnar v. City of Chicago, 865 F.2d 827, 835 (7th Cir. 1989), and Mallis v. Bankers Trust Co., 717 F.2d 683, 691 (2d Cir. 1983)). The decision to grant or deny a motion for a new trial is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Id. at 1045.

         Discussion

         (1) The Jury's determination that Hatton, Tangerose, and Green did not deny the Plaintiff access to legal material was not a “seriously erroneous result, ” and does not warrant a new trial.

         Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to a new trial on his claim that the Defendants denied him access to legal material because “[t]he jury's determination that Hatton, Tangerose and Green did not deny Sublett access to legal material was a ‘seriously erroneous result.'” (DN 83 at 3). Plaintiff argues-without citing to any evidence presented at trial-that the weight of the evidence presented at trial clearly weighs in favor of finding that the Defendants denied Plaintiff access to legal resources in retaliation for his filing of grievances and/or civil actions. Defendants respond to Plaintiff's arguments as follows:

At trial, the parties presented their arguments on this issue ad nauseum. Sublett repeated his argument again and again that Hatton, Tangerose, and Green had denied him access to legal materials from the library. And Hatton, Tangerose, and Green steadfastly denied those allegations. It was the jury's job to decide whom to believe. And after hearing the testimony, seeing the documentary evidence the parties presented, and deliberating the matter, the jury found Hatton, Tangerose, and Green's arguments to be more credible and rendered a verdict in their favor.

(DN 82 at 3). The Defendants' argument is persuasive. Plaintiff has failed to identify evidence that the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence or that the jury reached a “seriously erroneous result.” Plaintiff's argument might be more persuasive if he cited to specific pieces of documentary evidence and portions of the trial transcript to support his claim that the jury reached an erroneous verdict. But the Plaintiff does not cite to any such evidence. Instead, the Plaintiff relies on his own self-serving statements that “(1) Hatton testified that the computer in the officer cage connected to the copy machine has a linke to the lexis Nexis Computer and is accessible to the legal library officer for copies (2) The E-mail via Hatton Stated “Need a “(Second)” lexis Nexis Terminal on the Compound” Meaning there was a lexis Nexis terminal on the compound (3) Testimony of Linda S. Green, that the lexis Nexis was not out of Service from April 24th 2017 through August 4th 2017 as “this would interfere with the function of the legal library.” (DN 83 at 4). Plaintiff does not provide the Court with evidence of what Hatton actually said on the stand, the email he alludes to, or the testimony of Defendant Green. The Court will not overturn a ...


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