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Stanczyk v. City of New York

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

June 3, 2014

ANNA STANCZYK, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, RICHARD DEMARTINO, Police Officer, Shield 12739, SHAUN GROSSWEILER, Police Officer, JOHN DOE, 1-10, the names JOHN DOE being fictitious, as true names are presently unknown, individually and in their official capacities, Defendants-Appellees.[*]

Argued March 28, 2014

As corrected June 3, 2014.

Page 274

Appeal from an April 2, 2013 judgment and a June 24, 2013 order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Frederic Block, Judge). On March 21, 2013, a jury determined that individual defendants Richard DeMartino and Shaun Grossweiler, both City of New York police officers, violated Plaintiff-Appellant Anna Stanczyk's right to be free from excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The jury awarded Stanczyk $55,000 in compensatory damages and $2,000 in punitive damages against each officer. As to the jury's verdict and corresponding judgment, Stanczyk seeks a new trial on damages alone. Stanczyk also challenges portions of the district court's June 24, 2013 order, which awarded to Defendants all costs accrued following the date of Defendants' Rule 68 Offer and awarded to Stanczyk pre-Offer attorney's fees and costs. With respect to the damages award, Stanczyk fails to establish that the challenged conduct caused prejudice. As to the June 24, 2013 order, the district court properly applied Rule 68 and did not abuse its discretion by reducing the reasonable hourly rate of Stanczyk's lead counsel. We accordingly AFFIRM the appealed-from judgment and order.

JON L. NORINSBERG, Law Offices of Jon L. Norinsberg, New York, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

SCOTT A. KORENBAUM, New York, NY, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

MICHAEL J. PASTOR (Kristin M. Helmers, on the brief), for Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, New York, NY, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: WESLEY, CARNEY, Circuit Judges, RAKOFF, District Judge.[**]

OPINION

Page 275

Wesley, Circuit Judge.

On March 21, 2013, a jury in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York found City of New York police officers Richard DeMartino (" DeMartino" ) and Shaun Grossweiler (" Grossweiler" ) (the " Officers" ) liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for employing excessive force while arresting Plaintiff-Appellant Anna Stanczyk (" Stanczyk" ) in November 2010.[1] The jury awarded Stanczyk $55,000 in compensatory damages and $2,000 in punitive damages against each Officer. Judgment was subsequently entered on April 2, 2013. In a June 24, 2013 order, the district court (Block, J .) awarded to Stanczyk attorney's fees and costs incurred prior to the date of Defendants' Rule 68 Offer (the " Offer" ), and awarded to Defendants post-Offer costs, excluding attorney's fees. On appeal, Stanczyk primarily seeks a new trial on damages. She also challenges portions of the district court's June 24, 2013 order.

With respect to the damages award, Stanczyk fails to establish that the challenged conduct caused prejudice. As to the June 24, 2013 order, the district court properly applied Rule 68 and did not abuse its discretion by reducing the reasonable hourly rate of Stanczyk's lead counsel. We accordingly AFFIRM the appealed-from judgment and order.

BACKGROUND

Stanczyk originally filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York on January 18, 2011. The operative complaint alleged multiple violations of her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and several pendent state law violations arising from a November 2010 incident involving Stanczyk and the Officers. Stanczyk's Section 1983 claims alleging false arrest and excessive force were the only claims submitted to the jury. Stanczyk v. City of N.Y., No. 11-CV-0249 FB RER, 2013 WL 3208073, at *1 n.1 (E.D.N.Y. June 24, 2013).

On December 11, 2011, defense counsel served Stanczyk with Defendants' Rule 68 Offer of Judgment (the " Offer" ), which stated in pertinent part:

Pursuant to Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, defendant City of New York hereby offers to allow plaintiff Anna Stancyzk [ sic ] to take a judgment against it in this action for the total sum of One Hundred Fifty Thousand and One ($150,001.00) Dollars, plus reasonable attorneys' fees, expenses and costs to the date of this offer for plaintiff's federal claims.
This judgment shall be in full satisfaction of all federal and state law claims or rights that plaintiff may have to damages, or any other form of relief, arising out of the alleged acts or omissions of defendants City of New York, Richard DeMartino, Shaun Grossweil[]er, or any official, employee, or agent, either past or present, of the City of New York, or any agency thereof, in connection with the facts and circumstances that are the subject of this action. . . .
This offer of judgment is made for the purposes specified in Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Page 276

and is not to be construed as an admission of liability by any defendants, or any official, employee or agent of the City of New York, or any agency thereof; nor is it an admission that plaintiff has suffered any damages.
Acceptance of this offer of judgment will act to release and discharge defendants the City of New York, Richard DeMartino and Shaun Grossweil[]er; their successors or assigns; and all past and present officials, employees, representatives and agents of the City of New York, or any agency thereof, from any and all claims that were or could have been alleged by plaintiff in the above-referenced action.

Stanczyk rejected the Offer and proceeded to trial.

The facts of the underlying altercation were vigorously disputed at trial. What emerged from the testimony were conflicting accounts of a typical urban dispute. Stanczyk claimed that she took her dog out to do its " business," and her dog complied by urinating. The Officers then approached Stanczyk and accused her of not cleaning up a pile of feces that they claimed had just been deposited by her dog. Stanczyk protested her innocence, but the Officers ordered her to clean up the deposit. She did so and then was arrested either for screaming at the Officers and banging on their patrol car or solely because she did not have identification or a license for her dog on her person. A struggle ensued, and Stanczyk suffered bruising and other injuries -- either because the Officers struck her in the head and breasts and slammed the patrol car's rear door on one of her legs or because she fell to the ground while screaming and resisting the Officers' efforts to handcuff her.[2]

In addition to hearing testimony from Stanczyk and the Officers, the jury also heard from, among others, medical experts and physicians who had treated Stanczyk following the incident. Collectively, they testified that Stanczyk had required treatment, which had included an MRI, surgery, physical therapy, and psychological therapy, and that she would require additional medical treatment moving forward. One physician testified that she had met with Stanczyk fifty-one times over a two-year period for injuries relating to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (" PTSD" ) and depression, and planned to continue similar treatment. Another testified that she continued to provide Stanczyk biweekly therapy sessions in order to treat PTSD and depression that resulted from the incident.

In contrast to the significant evidence concerning physical and emotional harm and past and future medical needs, Stanczyk submitted no evidence regarding the actual cost of her treatment -- past or future -- beyond her own recollection that she had paid $150 for one visit to a doctor she had seen one time. She did not place a single medical bill into evidence nor did she elicit testimony from any of her witnesses regarding the cost of treatment. The district court, aware of the problem that this lack of evidence could cause, alerted Stanczyk's counsel that there was not " any evidence [regarding] cost of [treatment] . . . . ...


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