United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
VIRGINIA M. HERNANDEZ COVINGTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court pursuant to Plaintiff Terry
Eugene Sears’s Motion for New Trial (Doc. # 275), filed
on August 28, 2019. Defendants David Prince, Felishia Dexter,
Vernia Roberts, and Jeffrey Hart responded on September 9,
2019. (Doc. # 282). For the reasons that follow, the Motion
August 2019, this Court conducted a three-day jury trial on
Sears’s claims, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983, of excessive force and failure to protect against the
defendant correctional officers. (Doc. ## 258, 262, 263).
trial, Sears testified on his own behalf. According to
Sears’s testimony, on March 18, 2010, while
incarcerated at Polk Correctional Institution, Sears refused
to be handcuffed by a correctional officer because he felt
that he had done nothing wrong. At that point, according to
Sears, Prince and two other correctional officers used
excessive force against him by hitting him, slamming him to
the ground, and using unnecessary amounts of pepper spray on
his person. Sears also testified that Dexter, Roberts, and
Hart stood by and failed to protect him from the force used
by the other correctional officers.
the defense, all four Defendants testified to their
recollection of the events of that day, and all denied or
refuted Sears’s version of events. Defendants testified
that Sears was yelling, using profanity, and defied a direct
order to “cuff up.” Prince testified that Sears
punched him during the altercation. According to Defendants,
the officers then placed Sears on the grass, briefly pepper
sprayed him, and took him to be decontaminated. They denied
that excessive force was used or that there was ever a need
for an officer to intervene and protect Sears. On August 15,
2019, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants.
(Doc. # 269).
August 28, 2019, Sears filed the instant Motion for New
Trial. (Doc. # 275). Defendants have responded (Doc. # 282),
and the Motion is ripe for review.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), “[t]he court
may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the
issues - and to any party - as follows: after a jury trial,
for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been
granted in an action at law in federal court.”
judge should grant a motion for a new trial when the verdict
is against the clear weight of the evidence or will result in
a miscarriage of justice.” Lipphardt v. Durango
Steakhouse of Brandon, Inc., 267 F.3d 1183, 1186 (11th
Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Eleventh
Circuit has cautioned 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.” Id.
“[W]hen the trial involves simple issues, highly
disputed facts, and there is an absence of ‘pernicious
occurrences, ’ trial courts should be considerably less
inclined to disturb a jury verdict.” Williams v.
Valdosta, 689 F.2d 964, 974 (11th Cir. 1982).
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[u]nless justice
requires otherwise, no error in admitting or excluding
evidence – or any other error by the court or a party
– is ground for granting a new trial.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 61. Thus, a new trial is warranted only where
the error has affected the party’s substantial rights.
Id.; Knight through Kerr v. Miami-Dade
Cty., 856 F.3d 795, 807 (11th Cir. 2017).
Motion, Sears argues that he was not afforded a fair trial
for three reasons. First, he claims that the testimony of lay
witness Sam Pacchioli included impermissible expert opinions.
(Doc. # 275 at 1, 2-3). Second, Sears submits that he was
unfairly prejudiced by evidence admitted at trial regarding
his prior disciplinary history and criminal convictions.
(Id. at 1, 3-4). Finally, Sears claims that he was
unfairly prejudiced by having three uniformed law enforcement
officers sitting behind him during trial and having his
ankles shackled. (Id. at 1-2, 5-6). The Court will
address each claim in turn.
Sam Pacchioli’s Testimony
of the pretrial proceedings, Sears moved to strike all of
Defendants’ proposed expert witnesses. (Doc. # 210).
Concluding that Defendants’ disclosure of these
witnesses had come too late, the Court granted that motion.
(Doc. # 221). Accordingly, no expert witnesses were allowed
to testify at Sears’s trial.
last day of trial, Defendants called Sam Pacchioli as a
witness. Pacchioli testified that in March 2010, following
many years in corrections and law enforcement, he was
employed by the Florida Department of Corrections’
(DOC’s) Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
Pacchioli’s duties at OIG included reviewing
use-of-force reports submitted to the office.
time Pacchioli testified, the use-of-force report related to
the March 18, 2010, incident had already been admitted into
evidence. (Doc. # 274-1). It included Prince’s report,
the warden’s summary, and the institutional
inspector’s review. (Id.). At the bottom of
the page, there is a space for the Inspector General’s
review, where the inspector can check “approved”
or “disapproved.” (Id.). The ...