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Robinson v. First State Community Action Agency

United States District Court, D. Delaware

August 29, 2017



         Tamra Robinson, Plaintiff, filed this action against First State Community Action Agency, Defendant, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Plaintiff asserted that: (1) Defendant regarded her as dyslexic yet failed to engage in an interactive process to provide her with reasonable accommodations; and (2) Defendant terminated her because she was regarded as dyslexic. On December 8, 2016, "judgment [was] entered in favor of [Defendant] on the ADA 'termination' claim; and . .. judgment in the amount of twenty-two thousand five hundred one dollars ($22, 501) [was] entered in favor of [Plaintiff] on the ADA 'interactive process' claim." (D.I. 73).

         Before the Court is Defendant's motion for a new trial. (D.I. 82). Defendant moves under two theories: 1) the jury was prejudiced by hearing inadmissible testimony about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") findings in favor of Plaintiff, and 2) the jury was instructed on the statutory cap on punitive damages in contravention of federal law. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion is DENIED.

         Also before the Court is Plaintiffs motion for attorneys' fees, legal expenses, and costs. (D.I. 81). As the prevailing party, Plaintiff seeks recovery of attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 12205. (Id.). Plaintiff requests an award of a lodestar in the amount of $150, 412, and for litigation costs and expenses in the amount of $2, 637.28, representing the amounts incurred through January 3, 2017. (Id. ¶ 15). In Plaintiffs reply, Plaintiff requests that $17, 876.72 be added to the lodestar for attorneys' fees incurred between January 3, 2017 and January 24, 2017. (D.I. 85 at 8). Thus, Plaintiffs total request is attorneys' fees of $168, 288.72 and costs of $2, 637.28. (Id.). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.



         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(A) provides, in pertinent part: "The court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues-and to any party- ... after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court...." Among the most common reasons for granting a new trial are: (1) the jury's verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, and a new trial must be granted to prevent a miscarriage of justice; (2) newly discovered evidence exists that would likely alter the outcome of the trial; (3) improper conduct by an attorney or the court unfairly influenced the verdict; or (4) the jury's verdict was facially inconsistent. Zarow-Smith v. N.J. Transit Rail Operations, Inc., 953 F.Supp. 581, 584-85 (D.N.J. 1997).

         The decision to grant or deny a new trial is committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Allied Chem. Corp. v. Daiflon, Inc., 449 U.S. 33, 36 (1980); Olefins Trading, Inc. v. Han Yang Chem. Corp., 9 F.3d 282, 289 (3d Cir. 1993). Although the standard for granting a new trial is less rigorous than the standard for granting judgment as a matter of law-in that the Court need not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict winner-a new trial should only be granted where "a miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict were to stand, " the verdict "cries out to be overturned, " or where the verdict "shocks [the] conscience." Williamson v. Consol. Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 1344, 1352-53 (3d Cir. 1991).


         In Defendant's motion for a new trial, Defendant contends that Defendant was prejudiced by Plaintiffs testimony that the EEOC found in her favor. (D.I. 82). Defendant also argues that Plaintiffs counsel intentionally elicited the statement from Plaintiff. (D.I. 86 1).

         On the first day of the trial, Plaintiff testified that she filed a complaint with the EEOC and that the EEOC ruled in her favor. (D.I. 87 at 3).

Q. After you were terminated, what did you do next?
A. I filed a Complaint with the EEOC, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and filed for unemployment.
Q. The EEOC, to your understanding, what is that they do?
A. They, I guess, help support those who feel like they were discriminated against with regard to a disability.
Q. Why did you go to them?
A. To get backing in regards to the evaluation and me doing - show them the evaluation was sufficient enough for a defense.
Q. What happened next?
A. The EEOC ruled in my favor.

(Id.) Defendant objected, and I called counsel to sidebar. (Id.). Defendant requested a mistrial, which I denied. (Id. at 4). I told the parties trial was going to move forward, but I asked Defendant's counsel if there was something else she would like me to do. (Id. at 6). Defense counsel made no suggestions in response. I struck the question and answer and instructed the jurors to disregard what they had heard and to not rely on it for anything. (Id. at 8).

Members of the jury, you may recall at the beginning of the trial I said I might have to strike some testimony and tell you to disregard what you heard. The last question and answer, I am striking that testimony, and you have to disregard what you heard. You ...

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