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Flanagan v. City of Dallas

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

February 26, 2018

COLLETTE FLANAGAN, Individually and on behalf of the Estate of CLINTON ALLEN, deceased, and RONDERALINE S. ALLEN, Individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF DALLAS, TEXAS, and CLARK STALLER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          BARBARA M. G. LYNN CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for New Trial (ECF. No. 188). After consideration, the Court DENIES the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In the early morning of March 10, 2013, Clinton Allen was shot and killed during an attempted arrest by Dallas police officer Clark Staller. (See Answer, ECF No. 9, at ¶ 1.19).

         On October 18, 2013, Allen's parents filed this action against the City of Dallas and Staller, alleging claims against Defendants for violation of Allen's constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1).

         On October 10, 2017, a jury trial commenced. (ECF No. 162). Plaintiffs presented witnesses and evidence for six days and closed their case-in-chief on October 19, 2017. (ECF No. 176). On the same day, the City of Dallas moved for and successfully obtained dismissal under Rule 50(a). (Id.). Trial continued only as to whether Staller used “excessive force” during the attempted arrest that resulted in Allen's death. For two days, Staller presented witnesses and evidence supporting his defense before closing his case-in-chief on October 23, 2017. (ECF No. 177, 178). The circumstances leading to, and the culpability for, Allen's death were highly disputed. The Court charged the jury on the same day. (ECF No. 178).

         The jury charge included instructions on the elements of an excessive force claim, and asked:

Question No. 1
Did Plaintiffs prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Clark Staller used excessive force on Clinton Allen on March 10, 2013?

(ECF No. 180, at 7, 12). The verdict form also included instructions and questions related to causation (Question 2), the defense of qualified immunity (Question 3), compensatory damages (Question 4), and punitive damages (Questions 5 and 6). (Id. at 12-15).

         After deliberation, the jury answered “No” to Question 1, without answering any additional questions as the instructions provided. (Id. at 12).

         On October 30, 2017, the Court entered a take-nothing judgment in favor of Defendants. (ECF No. 184). Four weeks later, Plaintiffs filed their Motion for New Trial, claiming the jury verdict runs against the “great weight of the evidence.” (ECF No. 188, at 1).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1), a district court may grant a new trial if the verdict runs against the weight of the evidence, the damages awarded are excessive, the trial was unfair, or prejudicial error occurred. Smith v. Transworld Drilling Co., 773 F.2d 610, 613 (5th Cir. 1985). The moving party has the burden to demonstrate harmful error justifying a second trial. Streber v. Hunter, 221 F.3d 701, 736 (5th Cir. 2000). When a party challenges the jury verdict, the court has no obligation to grant a new trial unless it finds the evidence-viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict-weighs so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of one party that no ...


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