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Johnson v. Young

United States District Court, D. Nevada

February 17, 2017

LAUSTEVEION JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
N. YOUNG et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          ROBERT C. JONES United States District Judge

         This prisoner civil rights action was tried to jury verdict on December 14, 2016. Now pending before the Court are Plaintiff's motion for new trial, (ECF No. 166), Plaintiff's request for transcripts and audio/video recordings of trial, (ECF No. 169), and Defendants' objection to Plaintiff's bill of costs, (ECF No. 175).

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Lausteveion Johnson is an inmate in the custody of the Nevada Department of Corrections (“NDOC”). In this action, he alleged civil rights claims against officials of NDOC and Ely State Prison (“ESP”). Plaintiff initially brought this action against the following individuals: ESP Law Library Supervisor Nissel Young (“Young”), ESP Warden Renee Baker (“Baker”), NDOC Director James Greg Cox (“Cox”), ESP Caseworker William Moore (“Moore”), and ESP Property Sergeant April Witter (“Witter”) (hereinafter collectively “Defendants”).

         While incarcerated at ESP, Plaintiff filed numerous grievances and lawsuits against prison officials and personnel. He alleged that Defendants, in retaliation for certain grievances and complaints, withheld and refused to copy legal documents he submitted to them and deprived him of issues of Ebony magazine to which he had subscribed. He asserted the following claims against all Defendants: (1) First Amendment retaliation; (2) First Amendment access to the courts; and (3) Fourteenth Amendment due process.

         On November 18, 2015, the Court adopted the magistrate judge's report and recommendation to grant partial summary judgment in favor of Defendants. (See ECF No. 67.) The Court found that Plaintiff failed to present evidence of an actual injury with respect to his access to courts claim. The Court also found that Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claims were properly characterized as claims of intentional or negligent deprivation, and thus could not be brought in federal court because a meaningful state remedy exists to provide redress. (See R. & R. 16-20, ECF No. 60.) Lastly, the Court found genuine issues of fact to preclude summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim against Young. However, Plaintiff offered no evidence that Baker, Cox, and Moore were personally involved in the alleged denial of legal copywork or the allegedly retaliatory notice of charges filed by Young.

         Accordingly, after summary judgment, the claims remaining for trial were: (1) First Amendment retaliation against Young on the basis of the alleged denial of copywork on February 3 and February 12, 2014, and Young's allegedly retaliatory notice of charges against Plaintiff; and (2) First Amendment retaliation against Baker and Witter on the basis of the alleged withholding of Plaintiff's issues of Ebony magazine.

         At trial, following Plaintiff's case-in-chief, Defendants made a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law, which the Court granted in part. The Court found that Plaintiff had not presented sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to rule in his favor with respect to the alleged denial of copywork on February 3, 2014, or with respect to the alleged withholding of Plaintiff's issues of Ebony magazine.

         Therefore, after the Court's partial grant of Defendants' Rule 50 motion, the only issues put to the jury were (1) whether Young unlawfully retaliated against Plaintiff by refusing to complete his copywork on February 12, 2014, and (2) whether Young unlawfully retaliated against Plaintiff by filing a notice of charges against him. On these two remaining questions, the jury returned a split verdict: Young did not retaliate against Plaintiff by refusing to complete his copywork, but did retaliate, in violation of Plaintiff's First Amendment right, by filing the notice of charges. The jury awarded Plaintiff nominal damages of $1.00, and determined punitive damages were not warranted.

         Plaintiff now moves for a new trial and requests that the Court provide typed transcripts as well as audio and video recordings of the three-day trial. Plaintiff has also filed and served a bill of costs, (ECF No. 174), to which Defendants have objected, (ECF No. 175).

         II. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR NEW TRIAL

         a. Legal Standards

         After a jury trial, a district court may, upon motion, grant a new trial “for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)-(a)(1)(A). Erroneous jury instructions are grounds for a new trial unless the error is harmless. Murphy v. City of Long Beach, 914 F.2d 183, 187 (9th Cir. 1990).

         b. ...


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