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Suarez v. Mattingly

August 1, 2002

PABLO SUAREZ, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
DR. THOMAS MATTINGLY, DR. JOSEPH V. ZAPPASODI, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Joseph H. Rodriguez

ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on plaintiff's motion for a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59. The Court has considered the written submissions of counsel, including further argument and briefing on the post-trial issue of a suspected jury breach.

Plaintiff contends that a new trial should be granted because: (1) the verdict of no cause for action was against the weight of the evidence; (2) plaintiff's counsel suspects that the jury may have received extraneous prejudicial information or was subjected to some outside influence.

This action was brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights. Jurisdiction is founded on 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1343, as well as supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 to consider claims arising under state common law because each such claim arises out of the same nucleus of operative facts as those that give rise to plaintiff's federal claims.

BACKGROUND

The chronology of this case is both factually and procedurally complex. The substantive facts developed during the trial were essentially in keeping with the facts as discussed in the many previous Orders and Opinions of this Court where it was determined that the disputed facts required jury consideration. As a result, without benefit of transcripts, this Order will focus on the factual disputes that were presented to the jury.

This action was originally instituted on July 2, 1991 by the filing of a complaint prosecuted by the plaintiff pro se. At all relevant times, plaintiff was an inmate at Riverfront State Prison ("RSP"). The originally named defendants included: Thomas E. Hundley, Superintendent at RSP; Ruben Washington, Kitchen Supervisor at RSP; Dr. Thomas Mattingly, Medical Director at RSP; and New Jersey State Department of Corrections ("DOC"). The complaint attempted to state a cause of action sounding in common law tort for professional medical negligence supplemental to a claim of violation of civil rights under the Eighth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arising from an untreated right navicular fracture suffered by plaintiff. The individual defendants were at all times relevant hereto employed by the New Jersey Department of Corrections and at all times relevant hereto were acting as the agents, servants, and employees of the New Jersey Department of Corrections. They were sued individually and in their official capacities.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) on August 12, 1991, which was granted on November 19, 1991. Subsequently, on January 9, 1992, plaintiff filed a motion to reopen the case which was construed by the Court as a motion for relief under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(6). The motion to reopen the case was granted on February 28, 1992.

On March 20, 1992, plaintiff filed a motion requesting the appointment of counsel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d), which was granted on June 12, 1992.

After a series of motions to dismiss were heard, the Court dismissed the claims against the New Jersey State Department of Corrections and Ruben Washington.

Following a March 29, 1995 deposition of Joseph V. Zappasodi, D.O., plaintiff moved for leave to file a third amended complaint which substituted Dr. Zappasodi as a named defendant who had now been identified as plaintiff's treating physician in June 1988.

A new series of motions followed the naming of Dr. Zappasodi, including a hearing with respect to the bar of the statute of limitations asserted by Dr. Zappasodi.

The case proceeded to trial on December 3, 2001 and was concluded on December 14, 2001.

At an in limine proceeding plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his (1) claims of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, (2) claims for violation of a statutory duty of reasonable care; (3) claims for equitable relief, and (4) claims against the remaining fictitiously named defendants. The Court also barred any argument or evidence pertaining to comparative negligence, ruling that plaintiff's conduct played no role in the question of whether the conduct of the defendant physicians was actionable for professional medical negligence. The Court did permit argument and evidence concerning plaintiff's conduct pertaining to medical compliance with instructions as implicating the issue of mitigation of damages.

At the close of the evidence, the Court granted defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff's (1) claims for abandonment and (2) claims against defendant Estate of Hundley. The remaining claims of professional medical negligence, § 1983 deliberate indifference, and wanton conduct asserted against Drs. Mattingly and Zappasodi were submitted to the jury for decision. After 11 hours of deliberation over two days, the jury returned a verdict of no cause for action on all adjudicated claims.

STANDARD FOR GRANTING A MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL

A motion for a new trial is generally governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), which provides in pertinent part:

A new trial may be granted to all or any of the parties and on all or part of the issues in an action in which there has been a trial by jury, for any of the reasons for which new trials have heretofore been granted in actions at ...


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