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Mayberry v. Walters

filed: December 16, 1988.

RICHARD O. J. MAYBERRY
v.
GILBERT A. WALTERS, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT; JOSEPH M. RYAN, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT; DAVID H. LARKINS, MANAGER OF TREATMENT SCI AT DALLAS, PA., RICHARD O. J. MAYBERRY, APPELLANT IN NO. 88-5174, GILBERT A. WALTERS, JOSEPH M. RYAN, DAVID H. LARKINS, APPELLANTS IN NO. 88-5175, PRUDENCE BUSHNELL, ESQUIRE, APPELLANT IN NO. 88-5181, RICHARD O.J. MAYBERRY, APPELLANT IN NO. 88-5422



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Scranton, Civil No. 83-0087.

Seitz, Stapleton and Cowen, Circuit Judges.

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

SEITZ, Circuit Judge.

Three individual defendants appeal from a portion of a final order of the district court denying their motions for a new trial or to alter or amend the judgment after a jury verdict in plaintiff's favor. In addition, the pro se plaintiff and his former counsel appeal from other portions of the same order. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1982).

Plaintiff, a state convicted prisoner, commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982) against three prison officials for damages resulting from an attack on him by a fellow prisoner. He alleged the following violations of the eighth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution:*fn1

(1) the attack was the result of a conspiracy among the defendants to cause the attack to be made on him; or (2) the defendants failure to protect him from the attack under the circumstances constituted gross negligence. The jury awarded plaintiff $500 in compensatory damages and $500 in punitive damages against each defendant. The defendants moved for a new trial and, alternatively, to alter or amend the judgment. We shall first address their arguments on appeal.

I.

A.

Defendants contend that the district court erred in denying their motion for a new trial because the jury verdict was contrary to the clear weight of the evidence as to both liability and damages.

We review the district court's denial of a new trial under an abuse of discretion standard. Thomas v. Korvette, 476 F.2d 471, 474 (3d Cir. 1973). The district court concluded that plaintiff's testimony, despite the denials by defendants, created a credibility issue for the jury. Although, the district court did not further refine the matter, we infer that it felt that such was the case as to both of plaintiff's alleged theories of liability.

We have reviewed the record, including the trial transcript in this matter, and it cannot be doubted that credibility issues existed with respect to several critical factors under either of plaintiff's theories, e.g., the point in time when defendants knew of the attacking prisoner's alleged animosity toward plaintiff. The admissible evidence on the conspiracy theory of liability is much less compelling than that on the gross negligence theory. However, we cannot say it does not meet the minimum standards for jury consideration. Nor, given our standard of review, can we say the evidence on the gross negligence theory fails to meet this threshold. Thus, we cannot conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying a new trial as to either liability or damages, despite a deep unease as to the believability of some of the testimony.

B.

Defendants urge that, in any event, a new trial should have been granted because the district court committed prejudicial error in excluding a document offered by them on the ground that a proper foundation had not been laid ...


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