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Martin v. County of Milwaukee

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 28, 2017




         1. INTRODUCTION

         This matter was tried to a jury and a verdict was rendered on June 7, 2017. (Docket #259). The jury found in favor of Plaintiff and awarded her $6.7 million in damages. Id. A myriad of post-trial motions filed on behalf of Defendant County of Milwaukee (the “County”) and its insurer followed. One, seeking judgment as a matter of law or a new trial pursuant Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) 50(b) and 59, was filed by its trial counsel. (Docket #275). The others, raising insurance coverage issues, were submitted by new counsel. (Docket #270, #271, #272, #273, #288). Each of the motions will be denied.[1]

         2. ANALYSIS

         2.1 Insurance Dispute Motions

         On July 26, 2017, the County filed a number of motions seeking to address its concerns with insurance coverage provided by Wisconsin County Mutual Insurance Corporation (“WCMIC”), a former intervenor in this matter, related to the claims asserted in this case. Id. The motions are lengthy but easily summarized. WCMIC has informed the County that it will not pay the jury's $6.7 million damage award. The County believes, for various reasons, that it should be afforded coverage. The County wishes to stay further proceedings on the substantive aspects of this case, namely any post-trial motions or appeals, until this insurance coverage dispute is resolved.

         The Court must deny the County its requested relief. This case, now well past its third birthday, is about what happened to Plaintiff while she was in the custody of the Milwaukee County Jail. All of those issues have been decided either by the Court's prior rulings or by the jury trial held in early June. Now, more than a month after that trial, the County wishes to hijack this litigation to resolve its insurance coverage dispute. It attempts to start what is in essence an entirely new action against WCMIC, raising solely state-law causes of action. Indeed, the only basis for federal jurisdiction over the County's claims is supplemental jurisdiction under 28 A similar issue arises from the Doe defendants. Plaintiff “dismissed” them via a footnote in the final pretrial report. (Docket #223 at 2 n.1). This request for dismissal was never ruled upon. The Court now grants it. Finally, on March 20, 2017, Plaintiff withdrew her request for class certification as to her shackling claim. (Docket #172). The Court will formally dismiss the class action portion of that claim. U.S.C. § 1367(a) premised on Plaintiffs underlying claims. See (Docket 271-1 at 3, 18-30).[2]

         As the County correctly notes, the question of whether to permit its proposed cross-claims is governed by FRCP 15(a)(2). Tragarz v. Keene Corp., 980 F.2d 411, 431-32 (7th Cir. 1992). This Rule allows amendment of pleadings only “when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Justice does not require the Court to permit the County leave to join its cross-claims, and it would in fact be offended if leave was granted. The prejudice to Plaintiff-having her case taken over (and put on hold indefinitely) to resolve a fight as to who must pay her-is undeniable. Little, if any, judicial economy would be served, as the subject of the cross-claim is almost entirely independent of the substantive motion practice which has already been completed.[3] This Court is no better equipped than any other to adjudicate the County's insurance quarrel.

         Finally, the County's invocation of FRCP 13(g) is improper. Cross-claims are permitted under this Rule only when the cross-claim “arises out of the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter of the original action or of a counterclaim, or if the claim relates to any property that is the subject matter of the original action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 13(g). Neither of those criteria are satisfied here; the County's insurance dispute has nothing to do with whether Plaintiff was sexually assaulted by Thicklen or whether she was restrained to a hospital bed during childbirth. Without proper joinder under FRCP 13(g) (which in turn implicates the Court's supplemental jurisdiction), the County's claims must have an independent basis for federal subject-matter jurisdiction. Am. Nat. Bank and Trust Co. of Chicago v. Bailey, 750 F.2d 577, 581-82 (7th Cir. 1984). As explained above, they do not.

         For all of these reasons, the County's motions for leave to file a cross-claim, (Docket #271), to vacate the Court's prior judgment in favor of WCMIC, (Docket #272), and to stay post-trial proceedings in this matter, (Docket #273), must be denied. Each motion will be denied without prejudice to the extent this ensures that the arguments therein are preserved for a potential state court action filed by the County. The Court will also deny the County's motions for leave to file attorney appearances because they are unnecessary. (Docket #270 and #288).[4] The Court does not involve itself in the parties' selection of counsel, and the County may have any lawyer it chooses enter an appearance on its behalf.

         2.2 Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law or a New Trial

         The Court now turns to the County's post-trial motion made pursuant to FRCP 50(b) and 59. (Docket #275). The vast majority of the County's argument is directed at whether Xaiver Thicklen (“Thicklen”) was acting within the scope of his employment when he assaulted Plaintiff. The Court ruled on summary judgment that the County was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on this point, and the evidence adduced at trial was not materially different than that presented at the dispositive motion stage.[5] In essence, then, the County seeks reconsideration of the summary judgment decision. The Court has already provided to the parties all of the wisdom it can offer on this point. If the County desires a different outcome, it must seek it in the Court of Appeals. This is true not only for the County's request for judgment notwithstanding the verdict under FRCP 50(b), but also its claim of instructional error under FRCP 59. The jury instructions were crafted in accordance with the Court's view, consistent throughout this case, of the state of the law on the scope of employment issue. The County's FRCP 50(b) motion will be denied in its entirety, and the FRCP 59 motion will be denied as to the instructional issue.

         The remainder of the County's FRCP 59 motion is directed at the jury's awards of $1.7 million in compensatory and $5 million in punitive damages. The County asserts that each award is excessive, but its arguments are half-hearted and merit little discussion. Compensatory damages awards that are “monstrously excessive” or which lack a rational connection to the evidence (the inquiries are one-and-the-same) cannot be allowed to stand. Adams v. City of Chicago, 798 F.3d 539, 543 (7th Cir. 2015). In determining the rationality of an award, “the district court must review the trial record as a whole in the light most favorable to the verdict. This perspective is essential, if we are to preserve the jury's role as the trier of fact.” Id. The jury's compensatory damages award was not excessive in light of the evidence presented, much less monstrously so. Contrary to the County's arguments, Plaintiff suffered both physical and emotional injuries as a result of Thicklen's repeated sexual assaults.

         The County's citations to similar cases with lesser awards misses the mark. See (Docket #276 at 24-27). All are district court opinions which supply only persuasive, not controlling, guidance. Further, each case was before the district court on a motion for default judgment. None of the opinions discussed any alleged excessiveness of a jury's compensatory damages award or involved actually altering such an award. The County has not provided the Court with any appellate authority, much less from the Seventh Circuit, finding that an award of compensatory damages was excessive in a ...

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