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New York Appeals Court Reduces $4M Jury Verdict in Police Excessive Force Case to $1.8M

On April 12, 2016, the First Judicial Department of the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court awarded $1.8 million to a man for false arrest and malicious prosecution. A jury had awarded him $4 million, after which the trial court reduced that amount to $2.15 million. As did the trial court, the appellate court gave the plaintiff the option of accepting the reduced verdict or having a retrial.

The case began on May 30, 2008, when William Cardoza was confronted by two New York City Police Officers who said Cordova was drinking alcohol in public. According to the officers, Benjamin Perez and Carlos Mendez, Cardoza refused to comply with their request for identification and attempted to walk away. The officers then went to arrest Cardoza when they say he resisted, tensed up, flailed his arms, and then grabbed a nearby gate and refused to let go. Mendez said he then struck Cardoza's hand with his baton three to five times to get him to let go of the fence. The officers also used pepper spray on Cardoza during the incident.

Cardoza, who does not speak English and said he was doing his best to comply with the officers' orders, suffered a fractured right hand. Cardoza denied resisting arrest at any time and said the officers attacked him when he attempted to pull out his wallet.

Perez signed an arrest report that said Cardoza was observed consuming alcohol, refused to produce I.D., "and did swing at the arresting officer, refusing to be taken into custody." Ultimately, the Bronx County District Attorney took Cardoza to trial only on a charge of disorderly conduct, which was dismissed at the end of the state's case when the judge ruled they failed to make a prima facie case. A surveillance video of the incident was submitted at trial and conflicted with much of what Perez wrote in his report.

Cardoza then sued the NYPD and the City of New York for malicious prosecution and excessive force under 42 U.S.C. Sect. 1983. A jury agreed that Cardoza was falsely arrested and prosecuted and awarded him a total of $4 million in damages, including $1.5 million in punitive damages. The trial court then reduced Cordova's non-punitive damage award to $650,000, and set aside the jury's verdict on malicious prosecution. The reduction was in lieu of Cardoza agreeing to a new trial. Cardoza appealed.

The Appellate Court reversed much of the trial court's ruling, and also reduced the.$1.5 million in punitive damages. The appeals court also reinstated the malicious prosecution verdict, finding that the only question submitted to the jury was whether Perez knowingly provided false information to the district-attorney causing Cardoza to be prosecuted, and that the evidence more than satisfied the elements of such a claim. The trial court went too far in reducing the jury verdict, the court of appeals ruled, and increased the non-punitive portion of it from $650,000 to $1.65 million.

However, the appeals court reduced the punitive damage award from $1.5 million to $150,000, finding that when compared to past similar cases, the award "deviates materially from what is reasonable."

The appeals court gave Cardoza the option of accepting the court's decision or stipulating to a new trial within 30 days of the ruling. Finally, the appeals court remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of reasonable attorney's fees. See: Cardoza v. City of New York, et al., 2016 N.Y. Slip Op 02766 (April 12, 2016).

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Related legal case

Cardoza v. City of New York, et al.