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Barrow v. City of Cleveland

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

June 15, 2018

JEROME BARROW. Plaintiff.
v.
CITY OF CLEVELAND, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DONALD C. NUGENT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion of Defendant City of Cleveland ("City") for Judgment as a Matter of Law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 5O((b), or in the alternative, to Amend the Jury Verdict Stay Execution of Judgment, and For a New Trial pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a) and (e)[1]. (ECF #75)

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jerome Barrow, who is African-American, filed this action while he was employed as a lieutenant in the City's Police Department.[2] He filed this action against the City of Cleveland; Patrick Stephens, a district commander with the Police Department and Plaintiffs superior officer: Martin Flask, the Director of Safety and Assistant Director of Safety with the City of Cleveland; and Michael McGrath, the Director of Safety and former Chief of Police in Cleveland. Plaintiff asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and § 1983. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Ohio Revised Code §§ 4112.01, et seq. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that he was subjected to racial discrimination and retaliation. On the first day of trial Plaintiff abandoned his claims of discrimination over the promotional exam and all claims pursuant to Sections 1981 and 1983. Trial proceeded on Plaintiffs claim of retaliation pursuant to Title VII and Ohio Rev. Code § 4112. At the close of Plaintiff s case the Court granted Defendants' Motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 50 for judgment as a matter of law as to the claims against the individual Defendants Martin Flask. Michael McGrath and Patrick Stephens as well as to Plaintiffs claim for punitive damages. At the conclusion of the trial the jury answered three interrogatories in favor of Plaintiff, and returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff on his retaliation claim against the City of Cleveland, awarding Plaintiff compensatory damages in the amount of $59, 900.

         APPLICABLE LAW

         Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a court to grant judgment as a matter of law when "a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). "The Court is not free to weigh the parties' evidence or to pass upon the credibility of witnesses. Nor may the Court substitute its own judgment for that of the jury ... When the evidence would permit reasonable minds to differ on the issues decided, a motion for judgment as a matter of law must be denied. In short, every effort must be made to uphold the verdict if reasonably possible." In re Scrap Metal Antitrust Litigation, No. 1:02 CV 0844, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75873, at *34-35 (N.D. Ohio Sept. 30, 2OO6)(intemal citations omitted).

         Likewise, when reviewing a motion for a new trial brought pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59. a court "should indulge all presumptions in favor of the validity of the jury's verdict." Brooks v. Toyotomi Co.. 86 F.3d 582. 588 (6th Cir 1996)(quoting Ragnar Benson. Inc. v. Kassab, 325 F.2d 591. 594 (3rd Cir. 1963)). "A new trial should only be granted when the jury reaches a 'seriously erroneous result as evidenced by (1) the verdict being against the [clear] 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.*'" Decker v. GE Healthcare Inc., 770 F.3d 378. 394-95 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Cummins v. B1C USA. Inc.. 727 F.3d 506, 509 (6th Cir. Ky. 2013)). "[N]ew trials are not to be granted on the grounds that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence 'unless that verdict was unreasonable/" Id. (quoting Barnes v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 201 F.3d 815, 820-21 (6th Cir. 2000)). Further, absent proof of prejudice, procedural errors - such as a mistake regarding the admission or exclusion of evidence or an error made in instructing the jury - cannot be the basis for ordering a new trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 61: Tompkin v. Philip Morris USA. Inc., 362 F.3d 882, 891 (6th Cir. 2OO4)(citing Erskine v. Consol. Rail Corp.. 814 F.2d 266, 272 (6th Cir. 1987)).

         DISCUSSION

         1. The City's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         The City argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiffs retaliation claim. Specifically, the City contends that Plaintiff did not satisfy three of the four elements of a retaliation claim under Title VII. The City complains that there was insufficient evidence submitted to the jury for it to find (1) that Plaintiffs exercise of his protected activity-the filing of his claim with the EEOC- was known by Defendant; (2) that Plaintiff suffered a material adverse action; or (3) a causal connection between Plaintiffs filing of the charge and the alleged retaliatory conduct.

         After listening to three days of trial testimony from seven witnesses with accompanying exhibits, the Jury returned the following Interrogatory Answers and Verdict:

INTERROGATORY NO. 1
Do you find by a preponderance of the evidence that Plaintiff has proven that an employee of Defendant City of Cleveland with managerial authority was aware of Plaintiff s EEOC charge filed in April 2012 prior to the alleged adverse ...

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