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Tellez v. Geo Group Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division

March 1, 2018

Raymond Tellez, Plaintiff,
v.
The Geo Group, Inc., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION: GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART THE PLAINTIFFS MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND JUDGMENT

          HONORABLE ROYCE LAMBERTH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         SUMMARY

         The Court has before it "Plaintiffs Amended Motion Under FRCP 59 to Alter or Amend the Judgment." (ECF #89). In that motion, the plaintiff seeks to amend the Court's prior judgment in this case (ECF ##86, 87) to add awards for costs other than attorney's fees, pre- and post-judgment interest, and damages for past mental anguish, none of which the plaintiff received in the initial judgment. The defendant opposes the motion in its entirety.

         The defendant argues that the plaintiff waived his right to costs and to pre- and post-judgment interest by failing to ask for them in the final pretrial order. But the Court finds that this failure does not preclude the plaintiff from recovering costs and pre- and post-judgment interest because these are awarded as a matter of right to prevailing parties under the applicable statutes and rules. Therefore, the Court will GRANT the plaintiffs motion for costs and pre- and post-judgment interest.

         The defendant argues that the plaintiff should not receive damages for past mental anguish because he cannot meet his burden under Rule 59(e) of showing (1) that the Court made a manifest error of law in its initial judgment, (2) that there is newly discovered evidence to consider, or (3) that there has been an intervening change in the controlling law of which the Court must take account. The Court agrees. The plaintiff presents no new law or evidence for the Court to consider and has not identified a clear error of law in need of correction. Therefore, the Court will DENY the plaintiffs motion for damages for past mental anguish.

         BACKGROUND

         While an inmate at the Central Texas Detention Facility, the plaintiff, Raymond Tellez, was attacked by two fellow inmates. The attacking inmates stabbed Mr. Tellez several times with a shank, causing puncture wounds to Mr. Tellez's right chest, right armpit, right rib cage, right front leg, right rear leg, and right lumbar. In addition to the stab wounds, Mr. Tellez also suffered assorted cuts, scrapes, and bruises on various portions of his body. Mr. Tellez received treatment for his injuries at a local hospital, where the physicians cleaned his wounds, closed three of them with staples, and prescribed five days' worth of pain medication.

         The Central Texas Detention Facility is operated by the GEO Group ("GEO"). Mr. Tellez sued GEO for negligence, alleging that GEO negligently implemented (or failed to implement) its own security policies and procedures. For damages, Mr. Tellez sought $75, 000 for past physical pain; $50, 000 for future physical pain; $100, 000 for past mental anguish; $50, 000 for future mental anguish; $50, 000 for past physical impairment; $50, 000 for future physical impairment; $50, 000 for past disfigurement; and $50, 000 for future disfigurement. In total, then, Mr. Tellez requested $475, 000 in damages.

         In the run up to trial (and in some cases after trial), Mr. Tellez filed several documents that would, under Local Rule CV-16, normally be consolidated into a single proposed pretrial order. These documents included, at a minimum, several proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law (ECF ##67, 74, 75, 79) and multiple witness/exhibit lists (ECF ##68, 73). In none of these documents did Mr. Tellez request costs, pre-judgment interest, or post-judgment interest.

         In the end, following a bench trial held on January 4, 2017, the Court ruled in favor of Mr. Tellez. But while the Court found that GEO was negligent in its implementation of its security procedures and protocols, the Court only awarded to Mr. Tellez $25, 000 in damages-$15, 000 for past physical pain; $5, 000 for future physical pain; and $5, 000 for past disfigurement. (ECF #86). The Court denied all other requests for damages.

         Mr. Tellez now seeks to amend portions of this judgment. (ECF #89). First, he asks to be awarded costs (excluding attorney's fees) and pre-and post-judgment interest. Second, he asks that the Court reconsider its denial of damages for past mental anguish.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         I. New Trials Under Rule 59(a)

         The trial held in this case was a bench trial. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(B) sets forth the standard for when a new trial may be ordered in a bench trial. It says that a "court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues . . . after a nonjury trial, for any reason for which a hearing has heretofore been granted in a suit in equity in federal court." (Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(a)(1)(B)). Under this standard, courts do not grant new trials unless it is reasonably clear that a prejudicial error has occurred or that substantial justice has not been done and cannot be done without a new trial on the relevant issues. (Sibley v. Lemaire, 184 F.3d 481, 487 (5th Cir. 1999)). This analysis often resembles an analysis to alter or amend a judgment in that courts frequently look to see whether there has been a manifest error of law or mistake of fact that justifies setting aside the results of the earlier trial. (E.g., Thomas v. Concerned Care Home Health, Inc., 2016 WL 930943, at *1 (E.D. La. March 11, 2016)).

         II. Altering/Amending Judgment Under Rule 59(e)

         A party may seek to amend or alter a judgment under Rule 59(e). Rule 59(e) says that a "motion to alter or amend a judgment must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment." (Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e)). The Fifth Circuit has emphasized that "[r]econsideration of a judgment after its entry is an extraordinary remedy that should be used sparingly." (Templet v.HydroChem Inc.,367 F.3d 473, 479 (5th Cir. 2004) (citing Clancy v. Emps. Health Ins. Co.,101 F.Supp.2d 463, 465 (E.D. La. 2000)); see also 11 Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Fed. Prac. & Proc. § 2810.1, at 124 (2d ed. 1995)). The purpose of a motion to alter or amend a judgment is not to "evidence, legal theories, or arguments that could have been offered or raised before the entry of judgment." (Templet, 367 F.3d at 479 (citing Simon v. UnitedStates,891 F.2d 1154, 1159 (5th Cir. 1990))). Rather, its purpose is to "allow[] a party to correct manifest errors of law or fact [in the judgment] or to present newly discovered evidence." (Id. (quoting Waltman v. Int'l Paper Co.,875 F.2d 468, 473 (5th Cir. 1989) (internal quotations omitted))). On these lines, Fifth Circuit law provides that a judgment may be amended or ...


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