Wednesday, July 02, 2008

N.D.N.Y. Uphold Punitive Damages Award with 3-to-1 Ratio in Police Abuse Case

Per Lewis v. City of Albany Police Dept., 547 F.Supp.2d 191 (N.D.N.Y. Apr. 24, 2008):

A trial was held on February 25, 26, 27, 28, and March 6, 2008. The jury rendered a verdict on behalf of plaintiff, Phillip Lewis (“Lewis” or “plaintiff”), and against defendant William Bonanni (“Bonanni”) finding that he used excessive physical force in arresting plaintiff on November 23, 2002, thus violating his constitutional rights. . . . The jury found that the violations of plaintiff's constitutional rights was a proximate cause of compensatory or actual damages to him, and awarded him the amount of $65,000. Further, the jury found that Lewis was entitled to an award of punitive damages against Bonanni. Upon reconvening on March 6, 2008, after hearing closing arguments of counsel for Lewis and Bonanni, the jury returned a verdict awarding plaintiff punitive damages in the amount of $200,000.

. . .

Bonanni . . . argues that the ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages-because there was a substantial award of compensatory damages the punitive award should be no more than an equal amount. Because Bonanni's use of excessive force against Lewis was racially motivated and occurred while plaintiff was handcuffed, it is particularly reprehensible. Further, the punitive damages award is three times the amount of compensatory damages, an acceptable ratio. See Patterson, 440 F.3d at 121 (noting that a punitive damages award of “ ‘more than 4 times the amount of compensatory damages' ” has been upheld by the United States Supreme Court (quoting Pac. Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Haslip, 499 U.S. 1, 23-24, 111 S.Ct. 1032, 1046, 113 L.Ed.2d 1 (1991))). Finally, a comparison of the difference between this award and those from comparable cases leads to the conclusion that this jury's $200,000 award of punitive damages is not so grossly excessive as to shock the judicial conscience. See, e.g., Ismail v. Cohen, 899 F.2d 183, (2d Cir.1990) (upholding $150,000 punitive damage award [$242,952.95 adjusted for inflation] ); O'Neill v. Krzeminski, 839 F.2d 9, 13-14 (2d Cir.1988) (finding, in an excessive force case where handcuffed suspect was repeatedly struck on the head by law enforcement officers, punitive damage award totaling $185,000 [$331,049.92 adjusted for inflation] against the two defendants not excessive).


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