Saturday, August 15, 2015

Seventh Circuit Vacates Remittitur, Reinstates $3.4 Million Jury Verdict in Police Brutality Case

Two brothers, Seneca and Tari Adams, “endured vicious beatings by Chicago police officers and prolonged detentions in the Cook County Jail” in 2004.  The City of Chicago admitted liability for false arrest, excessive force, race discrimination, and malicious prosecution. 

The case was tried to a jury on the question of damages.  The jury verdict awarded $2.4 million to Seneca (who was savagely beaten and detained in Cook County Jail for 204 days) and $1 million to Tari (who was also beaten and detained in Cook County Jail for 45 days).  The district court “remitted” those amounts to $1.17 million for Seneca and $350,000 for Tari.  The district court failed, however, to give them the option of a new trial instead of accepting the remittitur.

The Seventh Circuit (in an opinion by Judge Diane Wood, with Judges Ilana Rovner and Theresa Springmann on the panel) held that simply remitting the damages award without offering plaintiffs the option of a new trial was error.  Rather than remand back to the district court to allow plaintiffs that choice, however, the Court proceeded to consider whether the district court had abused its discretion in ordering the remittitur in the first place, and held that it had. 

Reviewing the outrageous facts, and comparing similar excessive force cases, the Court held that the jury’s verdict was “well within the universe of excessive force and malicious prosecution verdicts.”  The case was remanded so that the jury’s verdict could be reinstated.

(In passing, the Court mentioned Professor Suja Thomas’ article, Re-Examining the Constitutionality of Remittitur Under the Seventh Amendment, 64 Ohio St. L.J. 731 (2003).  The Court did not reach the argument that remittitur was unconstitutional, but ventured “that it would be bold indeed for a court of appeals to come to such a conclusion, given what the Supreme Court has said on the topic.”)   

The case is Adams v. City of Chicago.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/civpro/2015/08/seventh-circuit-vacates-remittitur-reinstates-34-million-jury-verdict-in-police-brutality-case.html

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