and Submitted January 5, 2016 Pasadena, California
from the United States District Court for the Central
District of California Robert H. Whaley, Senior District
Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 5:06-cv-01208-RHW-OP
P. Stevens (argued) and Heather K. McMillan, Stevens &
McMillan, Tustin, California, for Plaintiff-Appellee.
Williams (argued), Williams Iagmin LLP, San Diego,
California, for Defendant-Appellee.
William N. Woodson, III (argued), Law Offices of Wm. N.
Woodson, III APC, Fallbrook, California, pro se
Before: Milan D. Smith, Jr., Paul J. Watford, and Michelle T.
Friedland, Circuit Judges.
panel reversed the district court's award of front pay
and reinstatement as equitable remedies under the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act for a retaliatory discharge
after the plaintiff had already sought and been awarded by a
jury front pay damages to compensate for the same harm.
plaintiff went to trial against his former employer on
retaliatory discharge claims under both state law and ERISA.
The jury awarded him lump-sum damages on his state law
claims, and the district court then entered judgment on his
ERISA claim. Even though the jury had been instructed to
include front pay in its damages award, the district court
granted the plaintiff additional equitable remedies
consisting of reinstatement as well as front pay until
panel held that the equitable front pay award conflicted with
the jury's front pay award in violation of the Seventh
Amendment right to a jury trial. In addition, although the
reinstatement remedy did not necessarily conflict with the
fact findings implicit in the jury's verdict, it
nevertheless was improper because the plaintiff waived that
relief when he elected to seek the duplicative front pay
remedy from the jury.
M. Smith concurred in the judgment. However, he disagreed
with the majority's Seventh Amendment analysis. Judge M.
Smith would hold instead that the district court's
equitable remedy was an abuse of discretion because the
district court did not give reasons why additional equitable
relief was appropriate after the jury had already compensated
the plaintiff for the monetary harm he suffered.
FRIEDLAND, Circuit Judge:
appeal requires us to examine the limits on a district
court's authority to award front pay and reinstatement as
equitable remedies for a retaliatory discharge after a
plaintiff has already sought and been awarded by a jury front
pay damages to compensate for the same harm.
Plaintiff-Appellee Scott Teutscher went to trial against his
former employer, Riverside Sheriffs' Association
("RSA"), on retaliatory discharge claims under both
state law and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29
U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461 ("ERISA"). A jury
awarded him lump-sum damages on his state law claims, and the
district court then entered judgment in his favor on his
ERISA claim. Even though, at Teutscher's request, the
jury had been instructed to include front pay in its damages
award, the district court granted Teutscher additional
equitable remedies consisting of reinstatement as well as
front pay until reinstatement occurred. RSA appeals these
equitable remedies, arguing that they conflict with the
jury's front pay award in violation of the Seventh
Amendment and improperly duplicate Teutscher's recovery
from the jury.
the way in which the jury was instructed and the evidence
presented at trial, the jury's verdict encompassed an
implicit factual determination as to the entire amount of
front pay to which Teutscher was entitled on account of his
retaliatory discharge. We hold that the district court's
grant of an additional front pay remedy for the same harm
disregarded that determination in violation of the Seventh
Amendment right to a jury trial. In addition, although the
reinstatement remedy does not necessarily conflict with
factual findings implicit in the jury's verdict, we hold
that it is nevertheless improper because Teutscher waived
that relief when he elected to seek the duplicative front pay
remedy from the jury. We accordingly reverse the district
court's equitable awards.
RSA is an organization that represents law enforcement
employees in Riverside County, California for collective
bargaining purposes. RSA also administers the RSA Legal
Defense Trust (the "Trust"), an ERISA-governed
plan. The Trust provides legal defense services to RSA
members in civil and criminal actions arising from incidents
in the course of their employment. From 2002 until his
termination in 2005, Plaintiff-Appellee Scott Teutscher
worked on an at-will basis for RSA as the Trust's Legal
Operations Manager. In that position, Teutscher was
responsible for the Trust's day-to-day operations,
including directing the work of staff members and
investigating disciplinary violation claims against RSA
Teutscher's tenure as Legal Operations Manager, the Trust
began covering legal expenses for Deputy Sheriff Duane
Winchell's defense in criminal and civil proceedings
unrelated to Winchell's employment. Teutscher eventually
started expressing concerns that the Trust's coverage of
Winchell's defense costs was unlawful because it was
disallowed by the Trust's governing plan documents.
Teutscher later met with an officer in the Riverside
Sheriff's Department and accused RSA's president and
its executive director of improper coverage approvals.
Shortly after Teutscher revealed that he had contacted law
enforcement about the coverage issues, RSA's executive
director terminated Teutscher's employment.
filed the instant lawsuit alleging that RSA terminated him in
retaliation for reporting his suspicions that the Trust's
coverage of Winchell was illegal. In the operative complaint,
Teutscher asserted claims against RSA under federal and
California law arising out of his termination, including
retaliatory discharge in violation of section 510 of ERISA,
29 U.S.C. § 1140; wrongful discharge in violation of
public policy under California common law; and retaliatory
discharge in violation of California Labor Code §§
98.6 and 1102.5. After this court partially reversed an
earlier grant of summary judgment in favor of RSA, the case
proceeded to a jury trial on the three state law claims
pursuant to Teutscher's timely jury demand, and to a
simultaneous bench trial on his ERISA claim.
trial, Teutscher presented evidence that RSA's executives
threatened to terminate him if he "didn't keep [his]
mouth shut" about the Winchell coverage issues. He
argued to the jury that the executives acted on that threat
by firing him after he reported to outside authorities his
suspicions that the coverage was illegal. RSA in turn
presented evidence that Teutscher had made repeated mistakes
in his job, which had led the Trust's Board to assign
RSA's executive director to supervise Teutscher's
work. RSA also introduced evidence that Teutscher had been
investigated and disciplined for failing to follow Trust
policy in responding to an officer-involved shooting
incident, and that he was placed on administrative leave
shortly before his termination for, among other things,
angrily throwing a work file. Teutscher argued that these
performance-related grievances were merely pretext for
retaliation, and that they were belied by his consistently
satisfactory job performance ratings and by a raise he
received shortly before his termination.
also put on testimony about wages he had lost since his
termination and wages he would have earned for the remainder
of his anticipated working life at RSA. Teutscher testified
that, at the time of his termination, he had been earning an
$86, 000 annual salary plus annual bonuses and the value of a
company car. During closing arguments, his counsel placed the
total value of compensation at $98, 236 per year. Teutscher,
who was 55 years old at the time of trial, testified that had
he not been wrongfully terminated, he would have continued
working at RSA until his Social Security "would kick in,
probably 65, 67." Teutscher testified that he was
instead forced to look elsewhere for work. After about six
months, he found his first replacement job working at an auto
business, earning roughly $8, 000 per year in 2006 and 2007.
In 2008, Teutscher began working at the San Bernardino County
Sheriff's Department for an annual salary of roughly $42,
000, which had increased to $52, 000 by 2012.
district court adopted Teutscher's proposed jury
instruction on damages, and, without objection, instructed
the jury on how to calculate Teutscher's damages should
it find that he was wrongfully discharged. This instruction
decide that Plaintiff has proved that Defendant wrongfully
terminated him, then you must decide the amount of damages
that Plaintiff has proven he is entitled to recover, if any.
To make that decision, you must:
1. Decide the amount that Plaintiff would have earned up to
today, including any benefits and pay increases; and
2. Add the present cash value of any future wages and
benefits that he would have earned for the length of time the
employment with Defendant was reasonably certain to continue;
3. Add damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress if
you find that Defendant's conduct was a substantial
factor in causing that harm.
determining the period that Plaintiff's employment was
reasonably certain to have continued, you should consider
such things as:
(a) Plaintiff's age, work performance, and intent
regarding continuing employment with Defendant;
(b)Defendant's prospects for continuing the operations
involving Plaintiff; and
(c) Any other factor that bears on how long Plaintiff would
have continued to work.
court also instructed the jury that "Plaintiff has a
duty to use reasonable efforts to mitigate damages" and
that the burden was on RSA to show that Teutscher had failed
to do so.
deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of
Teutscher on his state law claims for wrongful and
retaliatory discharge. Using a general verdict form to which
neither party had objected, the jury awarded Teutscher lump-
sum damages of $457, 250 and separately awarded punitive
damages of $357, 500.
on the evidence presented at trial, the district court
adjudicated Teutscher's ERISA claim, holding RSA liable
for retaliating against Teutscher in violation of section
510. The district court then heard argument on an appropriate
ERISA remedy. Teutscher asked that his ERISA remedy include
back pay and reinstatement. RSA objected that back pay was
unavailable under ERISA as a form of compensatory relief. RSA
also objected that reinstatement would conflict with the
jury's award of lost future earnings and would constitute
impermissible double recovery because Teutscher was already
made whole by the remedy he elected to pursue from the jury.
RSA further contended that reinstatement was impossible
because of continuing acrimony between the parties.
court issued a ruling denying back pay but ordering RSA to
reinstate Teutscher and to provide him interim front pay at
the rate of $98, 235 per year until such reinstatement
occurred. RSA filed objections to the court's ruling,
protesting that it would be impossible to reinstate Teutscher
because his position had by then been eliminated, and again
arguing that the equitable front pay and reinstatement awards
duplicated the relief Teutscher had obtained from the jury
and that Teutscher waived his right to those equitable awards
when he elected a make-whole remedy on his legal claims. The
district court nevertheless entered judgment in accordance
with its earlier ruling. RSA timely appealed the district
court's remedy on the ERISA claim, arguing that it
violated both the Seventh Amendment and the prohibition on
review for abuse of discretion the district court's award
of equitable relief, including its grant of reinstatement and
front pay. See Gotthardt v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger
Corp., 191 F.3d 1148, 1156 (9th Cir. 1999). Under this
framework, we must determine whether the district court based
its ruling on an erroneous view of the law, United States
v. Hinkson, 585 F.3d 1247, 1261-62 (9th Cir. 2009) (en
banc), or on a factual finding that was "illogical,
implausible, or without support in inferences that may be
drawn from the record, " id. at 1262-63.
See United States v. McConney, 728 F.2d 1195,