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Jury Awards Federal Prisoner $675,000 in Retaliation, Excessive Force Bivens Case

by Jeremy Pinson

Following a trial in April 2017 in a Los Angeles, California federal courtroom, a jury awarded $675,000 to prisoner James M. Jerra in a case that included excessive force and retaliation Bivens claims.

Jerra, who was housed at the Federal Correctional Complex in Lompoc, alleged that after he filed administrative grievances against prison staff they took adverse actions against him, including singling him out for cell searches, confiscating his grievances and other documents, threatening him with more time in the Special Housing Unit where he was then housed, roughing him up and over-detaining him in the SHU for no legitimate correctional purpose. Those actions, he argued, were to deter him from continuing to file grievances and to retaliate for previous filings.

Jerra further asserted that on February 18, 2009, when he visited the prison’s law library, he was subjected to excessive force when officers placed him in handcuffs and then squeezed his testicles – causing great pain – under the guise of “searching for contraband.” He was slammed to the ground when he protested, which left him with a laceration to his eye and damage to his spine. He was issued three disciplinary reports in a single day in connection with that incident.

On the First Amendment claims, the jury awarded Jerra $10,000 against Officer Edwin Navato for threatening him with a longer SHU stay if he continued to write grievances, and $20,000 against counselor Baltazar Magana for writing him up and/or using force against him during the law library incident. With respect to the Eighth Amendment claims, the jury awarded $470,000 in compensatory damages plus $175,000 in punitive damages against Magana. The jury found in favor of the other defendants.

Post trial, Jerra elected to dismiss his Federal Tort Claim Act (FTCA) claims and only pursue the judgment on his Bivens claims; he also agreed to reduce the $175,000 in punitive damages to $5,000 by stipulation. Judgment was entered by the district court on September 26, 2017.

The defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law, to alter or amend the judgment, relief from judgment and for a new trial, which the court denied on March 29, 2018. The verdict was appealed to the Ninth Circuit in May 2018. Jerra was represented at trial by the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher LLP. See: Jerra v. United States, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:12-cv-01907-ODW-AGR. 

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Jerra v. United States


 

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