United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS
A MATTER OF LAW AND MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND THE
M. CARSON III, UNITED STATES CIRCUIT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for
Judgment as a Matter of Law and Motion to Alter or Amend the
Judgment (Doc. 226). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure (“Rule”) 50(b), Defendants move to
vacate the judgment against them and enter judgment in their
favor on the issue of deliberate indifference. Defendants
also move to alter or amend the judgment with respect to
Plaintiff's award of compensatory and punitive damages.
Having reviewed the evidence and the relevant law, the Court
denies Defendants' motions.
Isaha Casias brought this civil rights lawsuit alleging state
law negligence and Eighth Amendment constitutional violations
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the State of New Mexico
Department of Corrections (“NMDC”) and two
individual NMDC transport officers, Taracina Morgan and
Herman Gonzales. On July 11, 2013, Morgan and Gonzales
transported Plaintiff between prisons. During the transport,
Morgan and Gonzales left the van unattended with the
van's engine turned off, and the windows and doors
closed. The heat caused Plaintiff to lose consciousness and
convulse with uncontrollable muscle spasms. Plaintiff sought
compensatory damages for pain and suffering. He also sought
punitive damages against the individual defendants.
April 2019, the Court held a four-day jury trial. At the
close of Plaintiff's case, Defendants moved for judgment
as a matter of law (“JMOL”) pursuant to Rule
50(a) on the issues of negligence and deliberate
indifference. The Court denied Defendants' motion. At the
close of Defendants' case, Defendants again moved for
JMOL on the same grounds. The Court again denied
jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff. The jury
specifically found that Plaintiff's confinement in the
van on the date in question “posed a substantial risk
of serious harm to his health and safety.” Doc. 221.
The jury found that each defendant acted with deliberate
indifference to that substantial risk of harm. Id.
And the jury found that each defendant's acts or
omissions caused Plaintiff to suffer damages. Id.
The jury awarded Plaintiff $1, 000, 000 in compensatory
damages against Defendants, jointly and severally, and $500,
000 in punitive damages against each individual defendant.
April 12, 2019, the Court entered Judgment on the Jury
Verdict (“Judgment”) (Doc. 223). On May 9, 2019,
Defendants renewed their motion for JMOL on the issue of
deliberate indifference and filed a motion to alter or amend
the judgment based on Plaintiff's damages award. Doc.
motion for judgment as a matter of law may be made at any
time before a case is submitted to a jury. Fed.R.Civ.P.
50(a). The party seeking JMOL must state specific grounds for
its motion. Id. Where the pre-verdict motion was not
granted, it may be renewed after trial by written motion
within 28 days of the entry of judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b).
The renewed motion for JMOL is limited to those specific
grounds raised in the Rule 50(a) motion. Marshall v.
Columbia Lea Reg'l Hosp., 474 F.3d 733, 738-39 (10th
Cir. 2007). When considering a renewed motion for JMOL
following a jury verdict, a court may allow the judgment to
stand, order a new trial, or direct entry of judgment as a
matter of law. Unitherm Food Sys., Inc. v. Swift-Eckrich,
Inc., 546 U.S. 394, 400 (2006) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P.
burden on a party seeking judgment as a matter of law is
high; JMOL “should be cautiously and sparingly
granted.” Zuchel v. Denver, 997 F.2d 730, 734
(10th Cir. 1993) (quoting Black, Sivalls & Bryson,
Inc. v. Keystone Steel Fabricating Inc., 584 F.2d 946,
951 (10th Cir. 1978)). The court “do[es] not weigh the
evidence, pass on the credibility of the witnesses, or
substitute [its] conclusions for that of the jury.”
Harolds Stores, Inc. v. Dillard Dep't Stores,
Inc., 82 F.3d 1533, 1546 (10th Cir. 1996). Rather, a
party is entitled to JMOL “if the evidence points but
one way and is susceptible to no reasonable inferences
supporting the party opposing the motion.” Johnson
v. Unified Gov't of Wyandotte Cnty., 371 F.3d 723,
728 (10th Cir. 2004) (quoting Brown v. Gray, 227
F.3d 1278, 1285 (10th Cir. 2000)).
claim Plaintiff presented insufficient evidence at trial to
demonstrate that the individual defendants had the requisite
subjective intent for Eighth Amendment liability. The Court
disagrees. The evidence supports the jury's finding that
the individual defendants were deliberately indifferent to a
substantial risk of serious harm to Plaintiff.
the Eighth Amendment, prison officials are required to
provide inmates humane conditions of confinement. Farmer
v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). This includes
taking “reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of
the inmates.” Id.; Lopez v. LeMaster,
172 F.3d 756, 759 (10th Cir. 1999). But that does not mean
that every injury suffered by a prisoner leads to
constitutional liability for the prison official tasked with
maintaining the prisoner's safety. Rather, constitutional
liability arises when both an objective and subjective
standard are met. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832. First,
there must be an objectively serious deprivation, such as
conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm.
Id. Second, the subjective standard requires that
the prison officials were deliberately indifferent to that
describing the bounds of the deliberate indifference inquiry,
the Supreme Court explained:
a prison official cannot be found liable under the Eighth
Amendment for denying an inmate humane conditions of
confinement unless the official knows of and disregards an
excessive risk to inmate health or safety; the official
must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be
drawn that a ...