United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division
CHERYL JONES, etc. et al.,Plaintiffs,
THE CITY OF SAN ANTONIO,et al., Defendants.
C. LAMBERTH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a motion for new trial pursuant to Rule 59 of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, filed by plaintiff
Cheryl Jones individually and as representative of the estate
of Marquise Jones, Blake Lamkin, Whitney Jones, and Melkay
Nation as representative and guardian of K.J., a minor. After
consideration of the motion, the responses filed by defendant
City of San Antonio and defendant Robert Encina, and
plaintiffs' reply, and for the reasons articulated below,
the Court will deny plaintiffs' motion for new trial.
early morning hours of February 28, 2014, Officer Robert
Encina shot and killed Marquise Jones in the parking lot of
Chachos and Chalucchis on Perrin Beitel Road in San Antonio,
Texas. Plaintiffs sued defendants Encina and City of San
Antonio for violation of Marquise Jones' civil rights
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, they alleged that
Encina used excessive and deadly force that was unreasonable
under the circumstances when he shot Marquise Jones because
Jones posed no immediate threat and had not committed a crime
at the time of the shooting. Plaintiffs also alleged that the
City of San Antonio had an official policy or custom of
failing to supervise or discipline officers and of covering
up the use of excessive force in the San Antonio Police
Department, which lead to Encina's allegedly
unconstitutional use of force. They sought damages for
wrongful death under the Texas Wrongful Death Statute, Tex.
Civ. Prac. & Rem Code § 71.001, etseq., and
survivorship under the Texas Survival Statute, Tex. Civ.
Prac. & Rem Code §71.021.
March 27, 2017, this case went to trial. On April 6, 2017,
the jury returned a verdict against the plaintiffs and in
favor of defendants Encina and the City of San Antonio. The
jury answered "no" in response to Question 1 of the
Do you find that plaintiffs have proven by a preponderance of
the evidence that Defendant Robert Encina used excessive and
unnecessary deadly force, in violation of Marquis Jones'
federal constitutional rights, pursuant to my instructions
regarding COUNT I: EXCESSIVE AND DEADLY FORCE BY ROBERT
ECF No. 327. Because the jury found that Encina did not use
excessive force in violation of Marquise Jones'
constitutional rights, the jury was not required to answer
any of the subsequent questions. This Court ordered judgment
entered in favor of the defendants. ECF No. 328.
5, 2017, plaintiffs filed a motion for new trial pursuant to
Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 333.
Plaintiffs objected to the separation of Question 1 from
subsequent Question 2:
Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that no
reasonable officer possessing knowledge of clearly
established law and the information known by ROBERT ENCINA at
that time, could have believed that the amount of force used
against MARQUISE JONES was reasonable and necessary?
ECF No. 333. According to plaintiffs, the two questions
improperly separate the elements of an excessive force claim.
Id. That is, Question 1 asked whether plaintiff has
suffered an injury resulting from the use of force that was
excessive to the need, and Question 2 asked whether the
excessiveness of the force was unreasonable.
court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the
issues . . . after a jury trial, for any reason for which a
new trial has heretofore been granted in an action of law in
federal court." Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a). Generally, a
motion for new trial is granted when the trial court finds
that (1) the verdict is against the weight of the evidence,
(2) the amount of damages awarded is excessive, or (3) the
trial was unfair or marred by prejudicial error. Seidman
v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 923 F.2d 1134, 1140 (5th Cir.
1991) (quoting Smith v. Transworld Drilling Co., 773
F.2d 610, 612-13 (5th Cir. 1985)). On the issue of fairness,
the Court has wide latitude in determining whether to grant
or deny a motion for new trial. See Pryor v. Trane
Co., 138 F.3d 1024, 1026 (5th Cir. 1998) (placing such a
determination "within the sound discretion of the trial
the Court has the right to set aside a verdict if, after
weighing the evidence, the Court is of the "firm belief
that the verdict is clearly contrary to the weight of
evidence." Smith, 113 F.2d at 612. The court
need not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. Id. However, the Court must
"respect the jury's collective wisdom and must not
substitute its opinion for the jury's." Id.
To avoid such substitutions, the Fifth Circuit has noted that
"new trials should not be granted on evidentiary grounds
unless, at a minimum, the verdict is against the great not
merely the greater weight of the evidence." Conway
v. Chemical Leaman Tank Lines, Inc.,610 F.2d 360,