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Beating Judgment for Jail Affirmed on Appeal; Costs Issue Remanded

The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court grant of judgment as a matter of law to a Kansas county in an excessive use of force claim brought against county jailers after a jury ruled against the county. The court, however, remanded the district court order as to costs.

Carroll W. Lewis, a former Air Force tanker refueller at McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita, Kansas, was arrested on November 3, 1996, on a domestic violence charge. He was booked into the Sedgewick County Adult Detention Facility and placed in a holding cell. Lewis claims that, while there, he was attacked, beaten, and placed in a restraint chair by eight guards. He claimed the attack so badly injured his back that he was forced eventually to retire on disability from the Air Force.

Lewis sued Sedgewick County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the guards used excessive force and that Sedgewick County had a custom or policy of failing to train its officers about the use of excessive force. (For unspecified reasons, Lewis dropped the suit against the guards.) Following trial, a jury returned a verdict against the county and awarded Lewis $500,000, twice what he asked. The district court granted the county's motion for judgment as a matter of law and stated that if that ruling was reversed, he would grant the County's motion for a new trial. The court, without elaboration, ordered all parties to bear their own costs. See: Lewis v. Bd. of Sedgewick County Comm'rs, 140 F.Supp.2d 1125 (D.Kan. 2001). Both parties appealed and cross-appealed.

The Court of Appeals, citing Brown v. Gray, 227 F.3d 1278 (10th Cir. 2000), held that Lewis failed to establish all the elements needed to prove that the County, as a matter of policy or custom, failed to train its guards on the use of excessive force. Thus, the district court judgment as a matter of law was correct, and the issue of the motion for a new trial was moot.

Addressing the costs issue and citing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (Fed.R.Civ.Proc.) 54, the appeals court noted that the trial court had discretion in how to award costs. Since, however, Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 54 creates a presumption that costs will be awarded to the prevailing party, a court not awarding costs to the prevailing party must provide a valid reason for its decision. The district court gave no explanation why it ordered each party to bear its own costs. Thus, remand was required.

The district court judgment as a matter of law to the County was affirmed. The issue of costs was remanded for reexamination and explanation. This case is published in the Federal Appendix and is subject to rules governing unpublished cases. See: Lewis v. Bd. of County Comm'rs of Sedgewick, 54 Fed.Appx. 873 (10th Cir. 2003).

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Related legal case

Lewis v. Bd. Of County Commissioners of Sedgwick

[18] The district court held that, while the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the jury's verdict on the first two elements, it was insufficient to support the jury's verdict on the third and fourth elements. We agree, for substantially the reasons set forth in the district court's thorough opinion on the matter. Lewis, 140 F. Supp. 2d at 1131-39. *fn2

[19] Because we have upheld the district court's grant of judgment to Sedgwick County, the County's motion for a new trial is moot. We do address, however, Sedgwick County's argument that the district court erred in awarding costs to each party, instead of awarding costs to the County as the prevailing party.

[20] Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d)(1) provides that costs "shall be allowed as of course to the prevailing party unless the court otherwise directs." We have acknowledged that "[t]he allowance or disallowance of costs to a prevailing party is within the sound discretion of the district court." Zeran v. Diamond Broad., Inc., 203 F.3d 714, 722 (10th Cir. 2000). That discretion is, however, limited in two respects: "First, it is well established that Rule 54 creates a presumption that the district court will award costs to the prevailing party. Second, the district court must provide a valid reason for not awarding costs." Id. (citations and quotations omitted). In this case, the district court provided no explanation for its denial of costs to the County, the prevailing party once the court granted judgment for it as a matter of law. We accordingly remand this matter for the limited purpose of permitting the district court to re-examine its award of costs and, if it denies costs to the County as the prevailing party, to explain its denial.

[21] Of course, by this remand, we do not intend to intimate that any particular resolution of the matter is preferred over another.

[22] For the foregoing reasons, the district court's entry of judgment as a matter of law for Sedgwick County is AFFIRMED, and the matter is REMANDED for reconsideration of its award of costs.

[23] Stephen H. Anderson Circuit Judge

Opinion Footnotes

[24] *fn1 This order and judgment is not binding precedent, except under the doctrines of law of the case, res judicata, and collateral estoppel. The court generally disfavors the citation of orders and judgments; nevertheless, an order and judgment may be cited under the terms and conditions of 10th Cir. R. 36.3.

[25] *fn2 We further conclude that the district court did not commit plain error in excluding the investigation files regarding prior complaints of excessive force, which were investigated by then Lieutenant Bardezbain. We first note that Lewis fails to direct us to where the record reflects his proffer of these files and the district court's rejection of them. We therefore do not know why the court disallowed them. The fact that there had been "22 complaints of excessive force . . . made by detainees between 1995 and 1997, out of approximately 90,000 detainees who went through the facility" was part of the evidence before the jury. Lewis, 140 F. Supp. 2d at 1138 n.6. Any error in the exclusion of the files did not affect "substantial rights" and "the fairness, integrity or public reputation" of the proceeding. United States v. Lott, 310 F.3d 1231, 1241 (10th Cir. 2002).