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Atwood v. UC Health

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

December 17, 2019

Christopher Atwood, et al., Plaintiff,
UC Health, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER


         This matter came for consideration of three motions filed by Defendants Abubakar Atiq Durrani, M.D. and Center for Advanced Spine Technology: Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (Doc. 780); Motion for New Trial (Doc. 781); and Motion to Alter Judgment or Amend the Judgments (Doc. 782). These motions have been fully briefed. (Docs. 812, 813, 814, 836).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs are the former patients of Defendant Dr. Abubakar Atiq Durrani. Six of the plaintiffs proceeded to trial on their claims for negligence; battery; lack of informed consent; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and fraud. On October 12, 2018, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs Rebekah Brady, Robert Houghton, Michael Sander, David Shempert, Richard Allen Stanfield. (Docs. 758, 759, 761, 762, 763). The jury did not find in favor of Plaintiff Hiram McCauley. (Doc. 760).

         On May 30, 2019, the Court held oral argument on the above motions and ruled from the bench on the majority of the issues. (Doc. 856). The Court will now reiterate those rulings and rule upon the remaining issues.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         1. Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) allows a party to bring a motion for judgment as a matter of law “at any time before the case is submitted to the jury.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(2). If the district court denies the motion and the case is submitted to the jury, “the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law” within ten days after the entry of judgment on the verdict. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). “Judgment as a matter of law may only be granted if, when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences, 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.” Barnes v. Cincinnati, 401 F.3d 729, 736 (6th Cir. 2005).

         2. Motion for New Trial

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) provides that a district court may grant a new trial “for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court.” “Generally courts have interpreted this language to mean that a new trial is warranted when a jury has reached a ‘seriously erroneous result' as evidenced by: (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 Massilon, Ohio, 78 F.3d. 1041, 1045-46 (6th Cir. 1996) (citing Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251 (1940)).

         3. Motion to Alter Judgments or Amend the Judgments

         In the alternative, Defendants ask the Court to alter or amend judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). “A Rule 59(e) motion must present newly discovered evidence or clearly establish a manifest error of law.” D.E. v. John Doe, 834 F.3d 723, 728 (6th Cir. 2016); see also Roger Miller Music, Inc. v. Sony/ATV Publ'g, LLC, 477 F.3d 383, 395 (6th Cir. 2007). “A court may grant a Rule 59(e) motion to alter or amend if there is: (1) a clear error of law; (2) newly discovered evidence; (3) an intervening change in controlling law; or (4) a need to prevent manifest injustice.” Intera Corp. v. Henderson, 428 F.3d 605, 620 (6th Cir. 2005).

         Having set forth the applicable standards, the Court now turns to each of the arguments made in Defendants' motions.

         B. Durrani's indictment, flight and speedy trial waivers

         Defendants argue that Durrani was denied a fair trial because the Court informed the jury of Durrani's criminal indictment in this Court and his subsequent flight to Pakistan. Defendants also argue that the Court erred in taking judicial notice the waivers of speedy trial signed by Durrani.

         On the first day of trial during voir dire, the Court informed the potential jurors:

Dr. Durrani, who is the individual defendant in this case, he was indicted on August 7th, 2013, for various counts alleging a scheme to defraud by performing unnecessary surgeries and healthcare fraud.
Sometime after the case was filed, Dr. Durrani fled the jurisdiction to Pakistan. He will not be physically present during the trial. However, when defendants are charged with criminal offenses in this country, they are presumed innocent unless and until a jury unanimously decides otherwise.
At the conclusion of this case, I will be presenting the instructions of law on the various elements, that is the factors that make up the case, as well as instructions on evidentiary considerations. As I said before, often this cannot be determined until the evidence is complete. It is important and, in fact, you will take an oath to this effect, that you will follow the instructions of law presented to you during the case. At that time there will be an instruction as to whether and to what extent, if at all, you could consider Dr. Durrani's absence. Okay?

(Doc. 698, PAGEID# 28025). The Court gave this initial instruction regarding Durrani's absence out of an abundance of caution. Counsel for Durrani had complained of publicity about his client and the Court was concerned that the jury would inadvertently discover information about Durrani's criminal charges during trial. Later, at the close of the evidence, the Court instructed the jury:

Dr. Durrani was indicted August 7, 2013 for various counts. The Indictment alleges a scheme to defraud by performing unnecessary surgeries and healthcare fraud. Sometime after the filing of the Indictment, he fled the jurisdiction to Pakistan. As you know Dr. Durrani, was not physically present in court. You saw his video testimony. The Indictment is not considered evidence, it is the charging document that notifies the defendant of the allegations against him. Dr. Durrani is presumed innocent unless and until a criminal jury would find him unanimously guilty. At the outset of the case, I explained I would give further instructions at the appropriate time. I instruct you that you may not consider Dr. Durrani's act of flight, taken alone, to determine his potential guilt in the criminal matter or his liability in this action because, on the one hand, this conduct may indicate that he thought he was guilty of criminal charges but on the other hand, sometimes an innocent person may flee for some other reason. The defendant has no obligation to prove he had an innocent reason for his flight conduct. Further, defendants in criminal cases have an absolute right not to testify. You have all probably heard “I'm taking the Fifth” and that cannot be considered by a jury in their determination. However, once the defendant waives or gives up that right by choosing to testify, and offers an explanation, then that defendant cannot selectively choose what ...

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