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District of Columbia v. Jackson

11/14/2002

ence that they acted maliciously must derive from the events of the shooting itself. More particularly, since neither the manner of entry by the ERT members nor the initial shots fired by Officer DeSantis support such an inference (the jury found DeSantis's actions to be justified), the malice would have to be inferred from the failure of the police to restrict their use of force during a period the judge herself -- in denying the District's post-trial motion -- agreed was no more than eight seconds. And it would have to be inferable despite the intense provocation the officers had experienced in confronting a man who was "almost irrational" and an instant before had tried to stab his mother in the chest. As a matter of law, the lack of restraint which the jury could properly find in holding the officers liable for unlawful battery does not support a finding of malice by clear and convincing evidence.


IV.


Lastly, we consider the cross-appeal and the propriety of the remittitur ordered by the trial judge which reduced the compensatory damages to a total of $180,000, apportioned equally among the three officers. We summarized the governing law on this subject in George Washington Univ. v. Lawson, 745 A.2d 323, 331 (D.C. 2000):


The trial court may grant a new trial subject to a remittitur if the verdict "is so large that 'it is beyond all reason or is so great as to shock the conscience.'" Sigal Construction Corp. v. Stanbury, 586 A.2d 1204, 1220 (D.C. 1991). As this standard implies, " ur own decisions, and hence the conduct of judges in the Superior Court, reflect a . . . unwillingness to interfere with the jury's calculation of damages" unless there is "firm support in the record" for such action. Finkelstein v. District of Columbia, 593 A.2d 591, 595, 596 (D.C. 1991) (en banc) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Once the trial court has set a damage award aside and stated its reasons, however, this court will "accord great deference" to that decision. Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).


iven both the traditional self-restraint exercised by trial courts in this area and the trial judge's unique opportunity to consider the evidence in the living courtroom context, we have followed the rule -- and we do so today --that we will reverse the grant of a new trial for excessive verdict only where the quantum of damages found by the jury was clearly within the maximum limit of a reasonable range. Every doubt on that score will be resolved in the trial court's favor. Id. (emphasis in original; citations, quotation marks, and footnotes omitted). See also Safeway Stores, Inc. v. Kelly, 448 A.2d 856, 864 (D.C. 1982) (trial court has "broad discretion" to order a new trial conditioned on refusal of a remittitur).


The trial judge explained her decision to remit as follows:


The jury awarded the Estate of Terrence Hicks (whose beneficiary is his daughter Ladoska Leftwich) compensatory damages against the District of Columbia acting through defendants Powell, Henderson and Stewart totaling $2,149,998. (The jury apportioned $716,666 to each officer).


The undisputed evidence in this case is that the decedent was shot and rendered unconscious during a brief period of several seconds and died a short time later. There is no evidence in the record that he was employed or that he had contributed financial support to Ms. Leftwich or that she had lived with him for any extended time in the years immediately prior to his death. Ms. Leftwich testified specifically that she did not live with him while he was living with the girlfriend with whom he had been involved at the time of his death. On the other hand, according

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