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Seibert v. County

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 15, 2017

KRISTAN SEIBERT, Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
JACKSON COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI; JAMES MICHAEL BYRD, "Mike" Individually and in His Official Capacity as Sheriff of Jackson County, Mississippi, Defendants-Appellees

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi

          Before DAVIS, DENNIS, and SOUTHWICK, Circuit Judges.

          JAMES L. DENNIS, Circuit Judge

         Kristan Seibert, a detective in the Jackson County, Mississippi, Sheriff's Department, brought this lawsuit against former Sheriff James Michael Byrd and Jackson County. She assert claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and under Mississippi tort law, including claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). A jury found that the defendants were not liable under Title VII; however, the jury returned a verdict in the amount of $260, 000 against Byrd, in his individual capacity, on Seibert's IIED claim. After final judgment was entered on the jury verdict, Byrd filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL), arguing that Seibert had presented insufficient evidence to support the IIED verdict. Seibert filed a motion for JMOL; in the alternative, she requested a new trial. The district court granted Byrd's motion and denied Seibert's motion. This appeal followed. Finding that the district court erred in "decoupling" the evidence when considering Byrd's motion for JMOL, we reverse the district court's judgment on that issue and remand for reinstatement of the jury's verdict and entry of judgment thereon. Finding no further error, we affirm the district court's judgment in all other respects.

         I

         In November 2008, Kristan Seibert was hired by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department as a patrolman, under the supervision and management of Sheriff James Michael Byrd. In May 2012, then-Sheriff Byrd promoted Seibert and transferred her to the Explorers, a public relations and youth outreach program. In this position, she had more contact with the sheriff. Seibert alleges that Byrd began sexually harassing her shortly after her transfer, subjecting her to "unwanted touching, lewd comments, and in general rude, unwelcome, and unwanted sexual advances toward her." Seibert described these incidents in detail and testified that because of Byrd's continued sexual harassment she felt "powerless." In November 2012, Byrd transferred Seibert to a different station on the west side of Jackson County. Seibert alleged that this transfer was retaliation for her refusal of his advances; Byrd testified that it was an accommodation made to help Seibert care for her sick child.

         In August 2013, Seibert was called to testify before a Jackson County Grand Jury investigating Byrd, where she was questioned about his alleged sexual harassment. After the grand jury returned an indictment and information about the proceedings was released, Seibert alleges that Byrd came to her office and said, "I guess you hate me, too." Byrd resigned from office in December 2013, after he pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge of knowingly engaging in misleading conduct toward another person with intent to prevent the communication to a federal law enforcement officer. Later that month, Seibert filed a Charge of Discrimination against Byrd and Jackson County with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging discrimination based on sex and sexual harassment. She received a Notice of Right to Sue in January 2014. In April of the same year, Seibert filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, bringing claims against Byrd, in his official and individual capacities, and Jackson County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a); and Mississippi tort law.

         Byrd and the County filed separate motions to dismiss in June 2014. The district court granted the motion as to Seibert's official-capacity § 1983 claims and denied it in all other respects; the district court denied the County's motion in its entirety. One year later, shortly before trial, Byrd and the County filed separate motions for summary judgment. The district court granted the motions in part and denied the motions in part. The court granted Byrd's motion as to any Title VII claim against him in his individual capacity, Seibert's retaliation and quid pro quo sexual harassment claims under Title VII, any purported state-law tort claim of sexual harassment, all claims for lost wages and lost earning capacity, and Seibert's claim for punitive damages under Title VII. The district court denied Byrd's motion as to Seibert's hostile work environment claim under Title VII and her state-law claim of IIED. The court granted the County's motion as to Seibert's quid pro quo sexual harassment claim under § 1983, her claim for IIED against the County and Byrd in his official capacity, any purported state-law tort claim of sexual harassment, all claims for punitive damages under § 1983 and state law, and any claims for lost wages and lost earning capacity. The district court denied the County's motion with respect Seibert's remaining Title VII claims, Seibert's hostile work environment claim under § 1983, and Seibert's claim for emotional damages under § 1983.

         The trial commenced in September 2015. Five witnesses testified: Seibert, James Mick Sears, Chad Powell, and Anthony Lawrence testified for the plaintiff, and Mike Byrd testified for the defense. At the close of Seibert's case and again at the close of the evidence, Jackson County moved for JMOL as to Seibert's claims against the County and Byrd, in his official capacity. Byrd, in his individual capacity, also moved for JMOL on Seibert's IIED claim. The district court denied both Jackson County's and Byrd's motions.

         After the three-day trial, the jury found that the defendants were not liable under Title VII; however, the jury returned a verdict in the amount of $260, 000 against Byrd, in his individual capacity, on Seibert's IIED claim. Upon entry of the final judgment, Byrd, in his individual capacity, filed a motion for JMOL, or in the alternative for a new trial, on Seibert's IIED claim, arguing that Seibert had presented insufficient evidence to support the IIED verdict. Seibert filed a motion for JMOL on her Title VII harassment claim, arguing that the evidence at trial pointed so strongly and overwhelmingly in her favor that reasonable jurors could not reach a contrary conclusion with regard to the Title VII claims. In the alternative, she requested a new trial on the grounds that verdict was against the weight of the evidence; that the verdict was inconsistent; and that the jury instructions were improper. She also sought JMOL or a new trial on her quid pro quo claim. On December 9, 2015, the district court entered a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Byrd's motion and denying Seibert's motion; Seibert timely appealed.

         II

         Seibert argues that the district court erred in denying her motion for JMOL as to her Title VII hostile work environment claim; in granting Byrd's motion for JMOL as to her IIED claim; in denying her motion for a new trial on her hostile work environment claim; and in granting Bryd's and the County's motions for summary judgment on her quid pro quo claim.

         A

         "We review de novo the district court's denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law, applying the same standard as the district court." Foradori v. Harris, 523 F.3d 477, 485 (5th Cir. 2008). A JMOL is appropriate when "a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the [non-moving] party on that issue." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a). "When a case is tried to a jury, a motion for judgment as a matter of law 'is a challenge to the legal sufficiency of the evidence supporting the jury's verdict.'" Cowart v. Erwin, 837 F.3d 444, 450 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Heck v. Triche, 775 F.3d 265, 272 (5th Cir. 2014)). In resolving such challenges, we must draw "all reasonable inferences and resolve all credibility determinations in the light most favorable to the nonmoving ...


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