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Rainey v. Taylor

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

October 17, 2019

Priscilla Rainey, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Jayceon T. Taylor, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued March 25, 2019

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 15 C 6844 - Gary Feinerman, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Flaum and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

          Sykes, Circuit Judge.

         Rapper Jayceon Taylor, beter known as "The Game," starred in a VH1 television show called She's Got Game, an imitation of the long-running reality dating series The Bachelor. While filming in Chicago in 2015, Taylor took contestant Priscilla Rainey on an off-camera date at a suburban sports bar. There Taylor sexually assaulted her by repeatedly lifting her skirt, grabbing her bare buttocks and vagina, and "juggling" her breasts in front of a large crowd of onlookers.

         Rainey sued Taylor for sexual battery. Taylor did not take the litigation seriously. He evaded process, trolled Rainey on social media, dodged a settlement conference, and did not bother to show up at trial. His attorney asked for a continuance, but the judge denied that request, dismissing Taylor's proffered excuse as an elaborate ruse. The judge instructed the jurors that they could infer from Taylor's absence that his testimony would have been unfavorable to him. The jury returned a verdict for Rainey, awarding $1.13 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages.

         Taylor moved for a new trial, challenging the denial of a continuance, the missing-witness instruction, and the general weight of the evidence. Alternatively, he sought a remitting of damages. The judge denied the motions. Taylor appeals, reprising the arguments in his posttrial motions and adding a claim of penitentiary error.

         We affirm. District judges have wide discretion to manage their proceedings and resolve evidentiary issues, and the rulings here lie well within that discretion. Taylor has only himself to blame for the missing-witness instruction, which was plainly justified. The verdict is well supported by the evidence, and we see no reason to disturb the jury's determination of damages. The compensatory award is not excessive under Illinois law, and the punitive award survives constitutional scrutiny.

         I. Background

         Jayceon Taylor-a/k/a "The Game"-is an internationally known, Grammy-nominated rap artist. For a brief time, he was also a minor reality-show star. Marrying the Game ran on VH1 from 2012-2014 and chronicled the collapse of his engagement to his longtime girlfriend and mother of his children. When that show ended, his celebrity friends helped him create another VH1 reality show called She's Got Game, which featured a competition among women who might be a match for him.

         Priscilla Rainey, a realtor and entrepreneur from Florida, was a contestant on She's Got Game. In May 2015, while the show was filming in Chicago, Rainey and Taylor went on an off-camera date in apparent violation of the competition rules. Taylor took Rainey to a suburban sports bar, and at one point during the evening, they were on an elevated stage in full view of club patrons. With a stage light shining on them, Taylor lifted Rainey's skirt and grabbed her bare buttocks and vagina. She tried to break away, but he did it again-this time lifting her rear end up and exposing her intimate parts to the gawking crowd. As Rainey struggled to push him away and lower her skirt, he grabbed her bare buttocks and vagina a third time. He also grabbed and "juggled" her breasts for the entertainment of the onlookers.

         Three days later Rainey confronted Taylor about the assault. The two were on the show's tour bus with other cast members, and a film crew caught the entire exchange on camera. The video begins with another contestant announcing that Rainey had a secret date with Taylor (that's cheating, as we said) and returned to the hotel visibly upset. Rainey responded that she told the crew about it but no one else. Taylor then reminded her that he had instructed her not to mention it to anybody-and "don't mention it means don't mention it." A heated argument ensued. Rainey re-peatedly tried to tell him that she had a "problem" with what had happened and was "bothered" by it. Taylor angrily commanded her to keep quiet: "What you can do is be a woman and shut up, like you can shut up right now." She did not shut up. Instead, she described the assault in graphic detail. After an expletive-laden exchange, Taylor ordered her to "[g]et off this bus before you get your ass strangled" and threatened to "choke [her] ass up."

         In August 2015, just before the show's debut, Rainey sued Taylor for sexual battery in federal court in Chicago. Taylor repeatedly evaded service and otherwise tried to obstruct and delay the litigation. Five process servers across three states made multiple attempts to serve him with the complaint and summons. One process server alone made 41 unsuccessful attempts to serve Taylor at his California home. The district judge authorized alternative service. In the meantime, the suit was widely reported in the press and generated lots of chatter on social media.

         Taylor did not answer or otherwise plead, so on February 1, 2016, the judge entered a default under Rule 55(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Ten days later Florida attorney Andrew Williams appeared for Taylor and moved to quash service and set aside the default. The judge denied the motion to quash but set aside the default and scheduled trial for November 14, 2016. A magistrate judge set a settlement conference for June 16 and ordered Rainey and Taylor to appear in person. On June 2 Taylor moved to reschedule the settlement conference, feigning concern for his safety based on Chicago's gun-violence problem:

This past Memorial Day Weekend sadly almost 70 people were shot in the city of Chicago. Due to high volume of violence and likelihood of reprisals due to such violence the Defendant has grave concerns for his safety and for those who assist him during his travels due to his celebrity status.

         The magistrate judge canceled the settlement conference for other reasons. It was never rescheduled.

         Taylor's dilatory conduct didn't stop there. In July he moved to transfer the case to either the Central District of California or the Southern District of Florida. The judge denied the motion. In September he moved to continue the trial. The judge denied that motion as well. In October he again moved for a continuance, which the judge likewise denied. Meanwhile, Taylor railed against the lawsuit on social media, insulting Rainey in exceedingly vulgar terms.

         Jury selection commenced as scheduled on Monday, November 14. Taylor did not show up. Williams, his attorney, assured the court that his client would be present the next day. When trial resumed on Tues day, Taylor was again absent. Williams asked for a continuance, saying that he had learned on Monday night that Taylor had an emergency dental procedure that day. He produced a note from a California dental clinic and invited the judge to call to confirm this excuse. The judge made the call, and an endodontist explained that Taylor had "basically more or less a root canal procedure, two of them" on Monday. It was not clear from either the note or the call whether the dental problem was a longstanding one or a sudden onset. The endodontist explained that he was not Taylor's regular dentist and did not know his history; rather, Taylor had called his emergency line at about 6 p.m. on Sunday evening.

         Rainey's counsel responded by submitting several screenshots from Taylor's Snapchat account. The photos depicted Taylor smoking something in a dark room under pink neon lights at 2:44 a.m. on Monday, November 14. As the judge described the images, it looked as if Taylor was "out partying" in the middle of the night just a few hours after he placed a call to an "emergency dental hot line" and a few hours before he was due in court in Chicago. The judge denied the continuance motion, ...

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