Appeal from a final judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Maurice B. Cohill, Jr., Chief Judge, dismissing a complaint seeking damages for an alleged denial of access to the courts. WILMER B. GAY, Lompoc, California; D.C. Civil No. 84-1979.
Lumbard, Amalya Kearse*fn* and Winter, Circuit Judges.
Plaintiff Wilmer B. Gay, a prisoner currently incarcerated in a federal penitentiary at Lompoc, California, appeals from a final judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Maurice B. Cohill, Jr., Chief Judge, dismissing his complaint for damages against defendants George Petsock, James McFetridge, Dewue Livingston, and Sgt. Whitehouse for the alleged denial to Gay of access to the courts in violation of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. On appeal, Gay contends principally that the district court erred in (1) summarily dismissing the complaint against Petsock; (2) directing verdicts in favor of Livingston and Whitehouse; (3) not setting aside the jury's verdict in favor of McFetridge; and (4) denying a number of Gay's pretrial motions. Finding no merit in any of his arguments, we affirm the orders and judgment of the district court.
The complaint centers on events that occurred in July 1984 when Gay, who had been convicted on state criminal charges, was incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ("SCIP"). Petsock was the Superintendent of SCIP, McFetridge and Livingston were SCIP corrections officers, and Whitehouse was a sergeant in the Pennsylvania State Police. The complaint alleged that on July 27, 1984, McFetridge, who was at the time the subject of another lawsuit brought by Gay, ordered Gay to remove all legal materials from his cell. These materials related to Gay's own state criminal appeal and civil actions, as well as to cases in which Gay was providing legal assistance to other prisoners. After Gay refused to follow McFetridge's order, he was charged with a prison infraction and, after a disciplinary hearing, was confined to his cell for fifteen days. The complaint alleged that Petsock and Livingston had acted in concert with McFetridge in connection with these events. In addition, he alleged that Whitehouse acted in concert with McFetridge by refusing to process a criminal complaint against McFetridge.
Prior to trial, Petsock successfully moved to dismiss the complaint against him. The action proceeded to trial against the remaining defendants before a jury. At the close of Gay's case, the court granted directed verdicts in favor of Livingston and Whitehouse. Thereafter, the jury returned a verdict in favor of McFetridge. Judgment was entered accordingly, dismissing the complaint against all defendants.
This appeal followed. Following Gay's motion to disqualify the judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, we were designated to hear this appeal by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 291(a) (1988).
On appeal, Gay contends principally that the district court erred in (1) summarily dismissing the complaint against Petsock for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted; (2) directing verdicts in favor of Livingston and Whitehouse for insufficiency of the evidence; (3) not setting aside the jury's verdict in favor of McFetridge; and (4) denying a number of Gay's procedural motions. We have considered all of Gay's arguments on appeal and, finding no merit in them, we affirm.
A. The Substantive Decisions
The district court dismissed the claims against Petsock on the ground that only McFetridge was alleged to have given the order that Gay send materials home, and that the basis for the claim against Petsock was apparently one of respondeat superior. Giving plenary review to the dismissal, see Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 775 (3d Cir. 1989), we find nothing in the record to suggest that Petsock was involved in the acts complained of or that they were done with his knowledge and acquiescence. Accordingly, the dismissal of the complaint against him was proper. See, e.g., Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988).
We also find no error in the trial court's granting of directed verdicts in favor of Livingston and Whitehouse for lack of any evidence that they conspired with McFetridge. "Our review of the grant of a directed verdict is plenary and we apply the same standard as would the district court in passing on the motion originally." Frank Arnold Contractors v. Vilsmeier Auction Co., 806 F.2d 462, 463 (3d Cir. 1986). A directed verdict is appropriate when "there is insufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably find for the opponent, the court viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the opponent, and giving him the advantage of every fair and reasonable inference." Laskaris v. Thornburgh, 733 F.2d 260, 264 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 886, 83 L. Ed. 2d 196, 105 S. Ct. 260 (1984). The trial evidence relied on by Gay, even viewed in the light most favorable to him and with all reasonable inferences drawn in his favor, was insufficient to permit a rational juror to infer that either Livingston or Whitehouse had engaged in the alleged conspiracy.
We likewise reject Gay's apparent challenge to the jury verdict in favor of McFetridge. To the extent that Gay seeks a judgment in his favor notwithstanding the verdict ("n.o.v."), his request is inappropriate both because the record does not indicate that he moved for a directed verdict at trial, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 50, and because the record does not support such a judgment. It is rarely appropriate to grant a directed verdict or judgment n.o.v. in favor of the party having the burden of proof; such action is reserved for those extreme circumstances where the effect of the evidence is not only sufficient to meet his burden of proof, but is overwhelming, leaving no room for the jury to draw significant inferences in favor of the other party. Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. v. Videfreeze Corp., 540 F.2d 1171, 1177 (3d Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1053, 97 S. Ct. 767, 50 L. Ed. 2d 770 (1977). On any such motion, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Thomas v. E.J. Korvette, Inc., 476 F.2d 471, 474 (3d Cir. 1973). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to McFetridge and giving him the benefit of all reasonable inferences, we cannot conclude that the jury's verdict in his favor was impermissible. To the extent that Gay seeks not judgment n.o.v. but a new trial, we find no basis for ...