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Thompson v. Afamasaga

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

March 20, 2019

THAD J. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
J. AFAMASAGA, STATE OF HAWAII, Defendants.

          ORDER (1) DENYING MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND JUDGMENT, ECF NO. 150; AND (2) DENYING MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL, ECF NO. 151

          J. MICHAEL SEABRIGHT, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In this prisoner civil rights action, Plaintiff Thad J. Thompson (“Plaintiff”), who was a pretrial inmate at Oahu Community Correctional Center claimed that Defendant Adult Correction Officer (“ACO”) J. Afamasaga (“Defendant” or “Afamasaga”) used excessive force against Plaintiff in violation of the United States Constitution. During a strip-search, Defendant discovered an item concealed between Plaintiff's buttocks. A physical altercation followed, during which Plaintiff was injured. On May 29, a two-day non-jury trial commenced on Plaintiff's claim against Afamasaga. In its June 26, 2018 Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (“FOFCOL”), the court found that Plaintiff failed to show by a preponderance of the credible evidence that the force Defendant purposely or knowingly used against Plaintiff was objectively unreasonable. ECF No. 148 at PageID #543-44. That is, the court found that Plaintiff failed to prove that Defendant used constitutionally excessive force against Plaintiff. Id. at PageID #544. On June 26, 2018, Judgment was entered in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff. ECF No. 149.

         On July 18, 2018, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, [1] filed two separate motions - a Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment, ECF No. 150, and a Motion for a New Trial, ECF No. 151. On October 9, 2018, Defendant filed an Opposition. ECF No. 167. Despite having obtained numerous extensions of time, see ECF Nos. 169, 171, 174, Plaintiff did not file a Reply. Pursuant to Local Rule 7.2(d), the court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing.

         For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's Motions are DENIED.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59, a district court may reconsider final judgments and order a new trial or alter or amend a judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a), (e). Under Rule 59(a)(1)(B), a court may grant a new trial “after a nonjury trial, for any reason for which a rehearing has heretofore been granted in a suit in equity in federal court.” There are three grounds for granting new trials in court-tried actions: “(1) manifest error of law; (2) manifest error of fact; and (3) newly discovered evidence.” Brown v. Wright, 588 F.2d 708, 710 (9th Cir. 1978) (per curiam) (citing 6A Moore's Federal Practice § 59.07 at 59-94). And the Ninth Circuit has identified four non-exclusive reasons to grant a motion to alter or amend a judgment under Rule 59(e): “(1) if such motion is necessary to correct manifest errors of law or fact upon which the judgment rests; (2) if such motion is necessary to present newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence; (3) if such motion is necessary to prevent manifest injustice; or (4) if the amendment is justified by an intervening change in controlling law.” Allstate Ins. Co. v. Herron, 634 F.3d 1101, 1111 (9th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted).

         Mere disagreement with a previous ruling is not a sufficient basis for reconsideration. McAllister v. Adecco Grp. N.A., 2018 WL 6682984, at *2 (D. Haw. Dec. 19, 2018) (citing White v. Sabatino, 424 F.Supp.2d 1271, 1274 (D. Haw. 2006). Thus, a Rule 59 motion for new trial or to alter or amend judgment “may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.” Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 486 n.5 (2008) (citation and quotation marks omitted). And although a “district court has considerable discretion when considering a [Rule 59] motion[, ]” Turner v. Burlington N. Santa Fe R.R. Co., 338 F.3d 1058, 1063 (9th Cir. 2003), vacating or “amending a judgment after its entry remains an extraordinary remedy which should be used sparingly, ” Allstate Ins. Co., 634 F.3d at 1111 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff contends that the court erred and/or engaged in judicial misconduct by (1) denying his motion in limine to introduce “character evidence (i.e., prior bad acts) of Defendant”; (2) intimidating Plaintiff's counsel; (3) calling a recess during defense counsel's cross examination of Plaintiff, thereby preventing Plaintiff from providing further testimony; (4) allowing defense counsel to “test” Plaintiff's memory capabilities; and (5) exhibiting bias by making credibility determinations, factual findings, and legal conclusions in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff that were “obviously against the weight of the evidence.” ECF No. 150 at PageID #558-59; ECF No. 151 at PageID #565-73.

         In large part, Plaintiff simply disagrees with the court's rulings, including credibility determinations, which is not a sufficient basis for reconsideration under Rule 59. Plaintiff does not contend that there is newly discovered evidence that was previously unavailable or that reconsideration is sought based on any intervening change in controlling law. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff has failed to establish that the judgment is based on manifest errors of law or fact and/or that reconsideration is necessary to prevent manifest injustice.

         A. Motion in Limine - Rule 404

         Plaintiff argues that the court erred by denying his motion in limine to include character evidence of Defendant (prior bad acts by Defendant against other inmates). ECF No. 151 at PageID #565. But Plaintiff did not file such a motion in limine. Rather, Defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude character evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(a) and (b). ECF No. 101.

         Defendant's motion in limine to exclude character evidence became somewhat convoluted. In response to that motion, Plaintiff proffered that Defendant and ACO Danny Patelesio (“Patelesio”) “have a routine practice and habit of beating inmates.” ECF No. 117 at PageID #424. Thus, Plaintiff sought admission of ...


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