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Wallace v. Mangiaracina

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

June 19, 2017

BRANDY WALLACE, as the Personal Representative of the Estate of RONALD WESLEY SEXTON, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER NICOLO MANGIARACINA, individually and as a member of the St. Petersburg Police Department, OFFICER JUSTIN MORALES, individually and as a member of the St. Petersburg Police Department, OFFICER MICHAEL ROMANO, individually and as a member of the St. Petersburg Police Department, CHIEF ANTHONY HOLLOWAY, St. Petersburg Police Department Chief, In his official capacity, CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG d/b/a CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants.

          ORDER

          SUSAN C. BUCKLEW United States District Judge

         This cause comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for New Trial (Doc. 147) and Defendants' response thereto (Doc. 149). Upon review, the Court denies Plaintiff's Motion.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff initiated this action on December 2, 2014, alleging that Defendants caused the wrongful death of Ronald Wesley Sexton through the individual and collective use of excessive and deadly force against him in violation of 42 U.SC. § 1983. (Docs. 1, 8). On March 18, 2015, the Court entered a scheduling order which, pursuant to the parties' joint request, required Plaintiff to disclose the identity of any expert witnesses and expert reports by July 9, 2015. (Doc. 18). Pursuant to Plaintiff's request, the expert disclosure date was thereafter extended to August 31, 2015. (Doc. 25). Plaintiff did not disclose any experts by this date.

         After an interlocutory appeal affirming the Court's denial of Defendants' motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity (see Docs. 51, 58, 64), Plaintiff moved to re-open discovery in order to obtain blood splatter and police procedure experts (Doc. 59). Defendants opposed the motion. (Doc. 60). Plaintiff argued that despite the Court's expert disclosure deadline, she waited until after a determination was made as to qualified immunity before engaging in the expense of retaining experts in order to limit litigation costs. (Doc. 59, ¶ 11). After a hearing, the Court denied Plaintiff's motion to re-open discovery. (Doc. 68). The Court found that Plaintiff's decision to ignore the discovery deadline because she did not want to spend money retaining experts until after summary judgment was not good cause to re-open discovery. (Doc. 146, pg. 5).

         The case went to trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants on each of Plaintiff's claims on April 27, 2017. (Doc. 133). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed the instant motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 147).

         II. Motion for New Trial

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(A), a “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 at law in federal court.” A “motion for a new trial may invoke the discretion of the court in so far as it is bottomed on the claim that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, that the damages are excessive, or that, for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving; and may raise questions of law arising out of alleged substantial errors in admission or rejection of evidence or instructions to the jury.” Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251 (1940).

         Plaintiff argues that she is entitled to a new trial because: 1) the Court's denial of Plaintiff's motion to re-open discovery prevented a fair trial; 2) the Court improperly failed to strike juror number six for cause, forcing Plaintiff to use a preemptory challenge on juror number six; and 3) defense counsel made inflammatory and improper comments during his closing argument which prejudiced the jury against Plaintiff. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         a. Denial of Plaintiff's Motion to Re-Open Discovery

         Plaintiff argues that the denial of her motion to re-open discovery prejudiced Plaintiff because it prevented Plaintiff from presenting expert testimony regarding blood splatter and police procedures. Moreover, she states that this prejudice was compounded by defense counsel's arguments in closing that Plaintiff had not presented any experts and that Plaintiff had not shown that any police procedures were violated.

         Plaintiff made the conscious decision not to retain experts prior to the expiration of the expert disclosure deadline and did not move to re-open discovery until after the Eleventh Circuit affirmed this Court's denial of Defendants' motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity. At this point, all that was left was for this case to proceed to trial. It was within this Court's discretion to deny Plaintiff's motion to re-open discovery well after discovery was closed when the only reason offered by Plaintiff to re-open was her desire to limit costs prior to a decision on qualified immunity. See Reese v. Herbert, 527 F.3d 1253, 1266 (11th Cir. 2008) (“Because the expert witness discovery rules are designed to allow both sides in a case to prepare their cases adequately and to prevent surprise, compliance with the requirements of Rule 26 is not merely aspirational.” (quoting Cooper v. S. Co., 390 F.3d 695, 728 (11th Cir. 2004), overruled on other grounds by Ash v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 546 U.S. 454, 457-58 (2006)). Plaintiff had every opportunity to retain experts within the deadlines prescribed by this Court, but chose not to do so. If Plaintiff suffered any prejudice from her lack of experts, the fault was purely her own.

         b. Failure to Strike Juror Number Six for Cause

         Plaintiff next argues that the Court's failure to strike juror number six for cause was prejudicial to Plaintiff. Specifically, Plaintiff states that because juror number six was not stricken for cause, she was forced to use a preemptory challenge on juror number six. Plaintiff argues that had she not been forced to use the preemptory challenge ...


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