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Brian Robinson v. Janet Jordan

June 25, 2012

BRIAN ROBINSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JANET JORDAN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Presently pending before the Court is the motion of defendant, Janet Jordan, for the entry of judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50, or for a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59; and Also pending before the Court is the motion of plaintiff,

Brian Robinson, for attorneys' fees and the reimbursement of expenses; and A jury trial having been held in this case on October 12, 2011 through October 21, 2011, where the jury found in favor of plaintiff, awarding him $100,000 in damages and $50,000 in punitive damages; and

Following that verdict, defendant having made an oral motion for a judgment as a matter of law, which the Court denied (see Docket No. 90); and Defendant having moved again for judgment in her favor*fn1 or, in the alternative, for a new trial*fn2 ; and

The Court having heard oral argument on defendant's motion; and At the conclusion of oral argument, the Court having denied that motion for the reasons extensively expressed on the record*fn3 (see Docket No. 111); but

The Court having reserved decision on the specific issue of whether, in order to obtain an award of punitive damages in a civil action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff must prove that defendant is financially capable of paying the punitive damages award; and

The Court finding that defendant's ability to pay the punitive damage is not relevant to the viability of the jury's punitive damages award to plaintiff, see Bennis v. Gable, 823 F.2d 723, 734 n.14 (3d Cir. 1987) (citations omitted) (in the context of a claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, "We reject the defendants' contention that evidence of their financial status was a prerequisite to the imposition of punitive damages. Although the wealth of the defendant, together with the size of the compensatory damage award, may be relevant to the imposition of punitive damages, it can hardly be said that the defendants' financial status was an element of plaintiffs' cause of action to be proved before punitive damages could be awarded."); compare Cortez v. Trans Union, LLC, 617 F.3d 688, 718 n.37 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908(2) (1979)) ("A jury can consider the relative wealth of a defendant in deciding what amount is sufficient to inflict the intended punishment."); and

Thus, the Court noting that defendant was permitted to introduce evidence regarding her financial status during trial in an effort to inform the jury about her ability to pay punitive damages, should the jury award them, but the Court also noting that defendant's failure to do so, or defendant's failure to persuade the jury as to her financial status, does not invalidate the punitive damages award; and

The Court further noting that it was not plaintiff's burden to prove defendant's financial status in order to be entitled to an award of punitive damages, see Bennis, 823 F.2d at 734 n.14; and

The Court also noting that the New Jersey Punitive Damages Act, if it were applicable to plaintiff's claims*fn4 , does not impose a burden on a plaintiff to prove the defendant's wealth in order for a jury to consider whether to award punitive damages to plaintiff,*fn5 see N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.12; and

The Court further noting that despite defendant's argument that the purpose of punitive damages would not be served in this case because defendant has retired and the harm cannot be repeated, deterrence of future conduct is only one of the purposes of punitive damages, see Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992) ("The purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such deterrence fails."); Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 257 n.11 (1978) ("This is not to say that exemplary or punitive damages might not be awarded in a proper case under § 1983 with the specific purpose of deterring or punishing violations of constitutional rights."); N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.10 ("'Punitive damages' includes exemplary damages and means damages awarded against a party in a civil action because of aggravating circumstances in order to penalize and to provide additional deterrence against a defendant to discourage similar conduct in the future."); and

Therefore, the Court finding that the jury's award of punitive damages will not be altered; and

The Court further finding that plaintiff is entitled to an award of counsel fees and costs:

A prevailing party in a § 1983 action is entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. A reasonable fee is one "adequate to attract competent counsel, but which does not produce windfalls to attorneys." PIRG v. Windall, 51 F.3d 1179, 1185 (3d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). A reasonable hourly rate multiplied by a reasonable number of hours expended--the "lodestar"--is the presumptively reasonable fee. Loughner v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 260 F.3d 173, 177 (3d Cir. 2001); Hensley v. ...


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