The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lyle E. Strom, Senior Judge United States District Court
This matter is before the Court on the motion of defendants Molly Hiatt and Paul Hasiak for a new trial (Filing No. 106). Defendants argue that failure to include their proposed jury instruction was an error that caused the jury to find in favor of the plaintiff using a less demanding standard than required by the law. As evidence of the error, defendants point to an alleged inconsistency between written statements of the jury and the reasonableness standard required in excessive force cases. The Court finds the motion should be denied.
Defendants Molly Hiatt and Paul Hasiak were dispatched to the home of plaintiff's mother in response to a request for police assistance regarding plaintiff's refusal to leave the property. The officers' first interactions with the plaintiff were tense but non-threatening. After several requests by the officers for Patterson to leave willingly, the officers made an attempt to handcuff the plaintiff and remove him from the property. Patterson resisted. The testimony from the parties regarding what happened from this point forward differed substantially. Generally, the testimony imparted two accounts of a struggle between the plaintiff and Officer Hasiak that included several distinct attempts by Officer Hasiak to induce compliance through acts of force. Plaintiff was eventually handcuffed and taken to a police cruiser. After his arrest and detention, Patterson sought medical treatment for broken ribs and other significant internal injuries. Patterson then initiated this litigation alleging damages as a result of excessive force.
At the close of the evidence, the jury instructions were approved by the parties and read to the jury. Instruction No. 11 included a stipulation by the parties regarding the cost of medical treatment for injuries incurred on the day of the incident. The stipulation did not state whether the damages were a proximate cause of any particular act of the defendants. No specific instruction was given regarding nominal damages. Defendants' request for inclusion of an additional instruction prompted an addition of language to Instruction No. 13.
Defendants did not object to the jury instructions after that revision or to the revision itself.
Before delivering their verdict, the jurors submitted questions to the Court -- two of which are relevant to the present motion. First, the jury asked, "Can we make additional statements to the plaintiff and the defendants? (In addition to the verdict.)." The Court responded, "Yes, you may." Second, the jury asked, "If we decide for the plaintiff do we have to give him money? Or can we give him no money?" The Court responded, "If you find for the plaintiff, you have to give him some money." Defendants did not object to the answers the Court gave to the jury's questions. The jury found for defendant Hiatt and against defendant Hasiak but awarded only $1.00 in damages. In addition to, but separate from, their verdict, the jury submitted three written statements reflecting their impressions beyond what was required in the verdict.
The Court may, in its discretion, grant a new trial where "the trial was not fair to the party moving," including unfairness caused by "alleged substantial errors in admission or rejection of evidence or instructions to the jury." Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251 (1940).
Defendants' proposed jury instruction was as follows:
The Constitution requires only that the seizure be objectively reasonable, not that the officer pursue the most prudent course of conduct as judged by 20/20 hindsight vision. It may appear, in the calm aftermath, that an officer could have taken a different course, but the law does not hold the police to such a demanding standard.
After some discussion on the record, defendants requested an addition to Instruction No. 13 that made clear the officers were not required to take the "most prudent" course of action. As it stood, Instruction No. 13 tracked the Eighth Circuit's 2012 Model instruction 4.10. In accommodating the ...