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Wisconsin Federal Court Denies New Trial, Grants Attorney Fees in Sexual Abuse Case

In addition to ruling on a motion for judgment as a matter of law filed by the defendants, a Wisconsin federal district court granted attorney fees and costs totaling $539,822.62. The ruling followed a jury verdict against jailer Darryl L. Christensen and Polk County that involved two prisoners who accused Christensen of forcing them to have sex with him.

As reported in PLN, the jury found that Christensen sexually assaulted the prisoners and Polk County acted with deliberate indifference to the serious risk of sexual abuse by jail guards. The jury awarded the two plaintiffs a total of $11.5 million against both the county and Christensen. [See: PLN, Feb. 2018, p.42].

The district court granted the county’s post-trial motion with respect to a claim for negligent training and supervision under state law. While the plaintiffs argued the jail should have provided “different and additional” staff training, the court found “the concept of ‘different and additional’ training, unlike the requirement to train at all – or to erect warning signs or stop a discrete, dangerous activity or follow explicit instructions – necessarily required the exercise of discretion.” As such, it made that claim subject to governmental immunity. But because the jury also found the county had violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, the judgment “on their negligence claims [was] largely a Pyrrhic victory,” the district court noted.

Further, the court found the evidence supported the jury’s verdict. There was evidence that Polk County jail officials had knowledge of the risk of guards sexually assaulting prisoners and were deliberately indifferent to that risk. Christensen made a “sadly rare” admission at trial that he knew his actions were “not positive” for the plaintiffs. As such, the district court denied the defendants’ motion for a new trial.

After finding the jury award was appropriate, the court turned to the plaintiffs’ motion for attorney fees and costs. They sought $470,695 in fees and $69,127.62 in expenses. The request was well documented and the defendants did not file a response. Accordingly, the court held they had “conceded to the reasonableness of the plaintiffs’ request,” and granted the motion. See: J.K.J. v. Polk County, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Wisc.), Case Nos. 15-cv-00428, 15-cv-00433; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18256. 

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Related legal case

J.K.J. v. Polk County