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Johnson v. Johnson

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

March 1, 2019

ROGER JOHNSON PLAINTIFF
v.
WILLIE E. JOHNSON, et al DEFENDANTS

          ORDER REGARDING ALL OUTSTANDING MOTIONS

          HENRY T. WINGATE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         BEFORE THIS COURT are the following post jury verdict motions filed by the pro se plaintiff, Roger Johnson: Motion for a New Trial [Docket no. 315]; Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law [Docket no. 316]; Motion to Appoint Counsel [Docket no. 321]; and Motion for Copies of Trial Transcripts and Miscellaneous Relief [Docket no. 323]. Defendants oppose all motions.

         The plaintiff herein is Roger Johnson, acting pro se. “A document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed,' Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) and ‘a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,' ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted). Cf. Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(f) (‘All pleadings shall be so construed as to do substantial justice').” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007); nevertheless, a plaintiff is expected to “comply with statutory obligations and abide by the rules of this Court.” Legget v. PSS World Med., Inc., No. L-07-63, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15937, at *12 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 2, 2009) (Citing Castro Romero v. Becken, 256 F.3d 349, 354 n.2 (5th Cir. 2001); United States v. Wilkes, 20 F.3d 651, 653 (5th Cir. 1994)).

         The United States Supreme Court specifically cautioned pro se litigants that:

District judges have no obligation to act as counsel or paralegal to pro se litigants. In McKaskle v. Wiggins, 465 U.S. 168, 183-184, 79 L.Ed.2d 122, 104 S.Ct. 944 (1984), the Court stated that “[a pro se litigant] does not have a constitutional right to receive personal instruction from the trial judge on courtroom procedure” and that “the Constitution [does not] require judges to take over chores for a pro se [litigant] that would normally be attended to by trained counsel as a matter of course.” See also Martinez v. Court of Appeal of Cal., Fourth Appellate Dist., 528 U.S. 152, 162, 145 L.Ed.2d 597, 120 S.Ct. 684 (2000)

Pliler v. Ford, 542 U.S. 225, 231, 124 S.Ct. 2441, 2446 (2004).

         The defendants herein are: Captain Willie E. Johnson; Officer Delanio Sanders; Sergeant Carl E. Medlock; Sergeant William Thornton; Lieutenant O. C. Davis; Sheriff Malcom McMillin; and the Hinds County, Mississippi Board of Supervisors. The individual defendants were all officers with the Hinds County, Mississippi Sheriff's Office assigned to the Hinds County, Mississippi, Detention Center. The only defendants who remained for trial in this lawsuit were: Captain Willie E. Johnson; Officer Delanio Sanders; Sergeant Carl E. Medlock; Sergeant William Thornton; and Lieutenant O.C. Davis.[1]

         The juridical issue which links plaintiff and remaining defendants is the plaintiff's allegation, which the jury did not credit, that while he was a pretrial detainee at the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond, Mississippi, he was assaulted by other inmates while the defendants turned a blind eye to the assault. Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit under the authority of Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983[2].

         I. MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL [Docket no. 315]

         By this motion, plaintiff asks this court to enter an order that would set aside the jury's verdict and grant him a new trial, presumably[3] under the authority of Rule 59[4] of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff's motion for a new trial is predicated on plaintiff's disagreement with this court's utilization of the “deliberate indifference” standard, the standard which this court held governed the jurisprudence of this action.

         Motions for a new trial are governed by Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         The standard under Rule 59 is:

A motion for new trial under Rule 59(a) is an extraordinary remedy that should be used sparingly. Rule 59(a) provides, specifically, that the district court may grant a new jury trial “for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court.” Although Rule 59(a) does not delineate the precise grounds for granting a new trial, the Fifth Circuit has held that Rule 59(a) allows the district court to grant a new trial if it “finds the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, the damages awarded are excessive, the trial was unfair, or prejudicial error was committed in its course.” Still, the decision whether to grant a new trial under Rule 59(a) is left to the sound discretion of the trial judge, and the court's authority is broad.

Howard v. Offshore Liftboats, LLC, 2016 WL 3536799, at *4 (E.D. La. June 28, 2016). To succeed on such a motion, the movant must show: “the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, the damages awarded are excessive, the trial was unfair, or prejudicial error was committed in its course.” Smith v. Transworld Drilling Co., 773 F.2d 610, 613 (5th Cir. 1985) (Citations Omitted).

         According to plaintiff, Hare v. City of Corinth, Mississippi, 74 F.3d 633 (1996) provides him authoritative support for his contention that this court applied the wrong standard when this court charged the jury to apply the “deliberate indifference” standard. Plaintiff says the correct standard, as dictated by Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979), was a “reasonable relationship” test.

         The juridicial issue in Hare was whether a governmental agency or actor who failed to prevent the suicide of a pretrial detainee should have been afforded qualified immunity. Answering, along the way, the court stated:

Pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners, however, look to different constitutional provisions for their respective rights to basic needs such as medical care and safety. The constitutional rights of a convicted state prisoner spring from the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, see Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 97 S.Ct. 285, 291, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976), and, with a relatively limited reach, from substantive due process. The constitutional rights of a pretrial detainee, on the other hand, flow from both the procedural and substantive due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). Significantly, Bell instructs that the State must distinguish between pretrial detainees and convicted felons in one crucial respect: The State cannot punish a pretrial detainee.

Hare at 639. Continuing, Hare states:

[I]f a particular condition or restriction of pretrial detention is reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective, it does not, without more, amount to “punishment.” Conversely, if a restriction or condition is not reasonably related to a legitimate goal-if it is arbitrary or purposeless-a court permissibly may infer that the purpose of the governmental action is punishment that may not constitutionally be inflicted upon detainees qua detainees.

Hare at 640 (Quoting Bell at 539).

         Citing Hare on this topic, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has issued the following definitive observation:

The rights of pretrial detainees are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Cupit v. Jones, 835 F.2d 82, 84 (5th Cir. 1987). “It is well established that prison officials have a constitutional duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of their fellow inmates.” Longoria v. Texas, 473 F.3d 586, 592 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832-33, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994)). In this case, the standard of subjective deliberate indifference enunciated in Farmer, 511 U.S. at 825, 832-33, 114 S.Ct. 1970, is the measure of culpability. See Hare v. City of Corinth, Miss., 74 F.3d 633, 643 (5th Cir. 1996) (en banc). “Deliberate indifference is an extremely high standard to meet.” Domino v. Texas Dep't of Criminal Justice, 239 F.3d 752, 756 (5th Cir. 2001). To establish liability, an official must know of and disregard a substantial risk of serious harm. Id. at 755. “[T]he official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837, 114 S.Ct. 1970.

Johnson v. Johnson, 694 Fed.Appx. 945, 946 (5th Cir. 2017).

         Still plaintiff cites Shepard v. Dallas County, 591 F.3d 445 (2009) in support of his argument that his lawsuit should have been treated as a “conditions of confinement” case and not as an “episodic act or omission”. At his trial, plaintiff pointed to a personal, violent assault upon him by a fellow prisoner as the basis for his lawsuit. He faulted the defendants for not protecting ...


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