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Watterson v. Burgess

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

September 22, 2017

JEFFERY RANDOLPH WATTERSON and RANDOLPH ALEXANDER WATTERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WOODY BURGESS, JASON GREEN, FRANKIE DELLINGER, JENNIFER HOYLE, DAVID HODKINS, BOB AUSTELL, MIKE ALLRED, DAVID HODKINS, CITY OF CHERRYVILLE, BEN BLACKBURN, SELECTIVE INS. OF S.C., CHERRYVILLE CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT AND CHERRYVILLE UTILITIES DEPT., Defendants.

          ORDER

          ERANK D. WHITNEY CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on numerous post-trial motions: Defendants' Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law (Docs. Nos. 223, 227, 229, 231, 236, 237), Plaintiff Randolph Watterson's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law, or in the alternative, For a New Trial (Docs. Nos. 232, 239), Plaintiff Randolph Watterson's Motion for Default Judgment (Doc. No. 234), Plaintiff' Randolph Watterson's Motion to Compel and for Sanctions (Doc. No. 266), and Defendants Jason Green and Jennifer Hoyle's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 249). Plaintiff Randolph Watterson filed pleadings in opposition to all of Defendants' motions, and Defendants have responded to his motions and other pleadings. Notably, Plaintiff Jeffery Watterson filed no post-trial motions, nor has he filed any response to any of Defendants' pending motions. Accordingly, all motions are ripe.

         I. Background

         Plaintiffs, who appear pro se, filed this action against Defendants, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of constitutional rights and a claim for civil RICO under 18 U.S.C. § 1962. In short, Plaintiffs, who are brothers, contend two police officers with the City of Cherryville Police Department, as well as several other identified employees of the City of Cherryville, engaged in unlawful conduct resulting in injury to Plaintiffs and their business. Because of Plaintiffs' pro se status, this Court afforded them wide latitude in proceeding through discovery on their claims and extended deadlines the Court typically does not prolong. The Court also appointed counsel to assist Randolph Watterson, who has been incarcerated during the pendency of this action. (Doc. No. 123). Randolph Watterson, however, subsequently terminated representation by appointed counsel and instead chose to proceed pro se for the remainder of the case. (Docs. Nos. 152, 153).

         The Court granted summary judgment in part as to several individual Defendants and on some portions of Plaintiffs' claims against other remaining Defendants. (Doc. No. 241.) In short, the Court dismissed all claims against the individual City Defendants, Woody Burgess, Bob Austell, Mike Allred, David Hodgkins and Ben Blackburn prior to trial on grounds of qualified immunity and dismissed claims against the Cherryville City Police Department and Cherryville Utilities Department on the grounds that said departments were part of The City of Cherryville and not separate entities capable of being sued. The Court's summary judgment ruling also clarified Jeffery Watterson's claims proceeding to trial. The Court conducted a jury trial on Plaintiffs' claims against Defendants City of Cherryville, Jason Green, Frankie Dellinger, and Jennifer Hoyle. The jury found no liability for Dellinger and Hoyle on Plaintiff Jeffery Watterson's only causes of action. (Doc. No. 225). The jury's verdict found no liability for the City of Cherryville, Green, or Dellinger on Plaintiff Randolph Watterson's accusations against them. (Doc. No. 224). The jury was instructed that Hoyle was liable to Randolph Watterson as a matter of law, such that the jury need only decide whether Randolph Watterson was entitled to compensatory damages, including nominal damages. The jury did not award any damages as against Hoyle, prompting the Court to enter an oral award of nominal damages for Randolph Watterson, a decision to which all parties agreed in open court.

         Following trial, Defendants reasserted the statute of limitations issues they had previously raised in their arguments on summary judgment. The Court heard oral argument from the parties, and considered evidence presented during the jury trial, as well as other testimony presented outside of the presence of the jury. The Court entered an oral ruling finding the statute of limitations barred Plaintiffs' claims. The Court ordered Defendants to submit other proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, which are now pending before the Court. Additionally, Plaintiff Randolph Watterson has filed post-trial motions challenging the jury's verdict as a matter of law and requesting a new trial. He also requests sanctions against defense counsel for their failure to properly serve him with post-trial pleadings in this matter. In response to Plaintiff Randolph Watterson's filings with this Court indicating he had not received copies of several post-trial pleadings, in large part due to his transfer within the state prison system, the Court held in abeyance decision on the pending motions, ordered re-service of the pleadings by the Clerk of Court, and extended time for Plaintiff Randolph Watterson to respond to all pending motions. (Doc. No. 255). After awaiting Plaintiff's response, the motions are now ripe. The Court addresses these motions in turn.

         II. Analysis

         A. Defendants' Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         All Defendants, except Defendant Jennifer Hoyle, [1] have moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50, arguing the statute of limitations bars Plaintiffs' claims against them. Plaintiff Randolph Watterson opposes these motions, asserting the principle of equitable tolling should be applied and his claims found to be timely asserted. As previously noted, Plaintiff Jeffery Watterson failed to file any pleading to be construed as opposition to the pending motions, and the time for doing so has long expired.

         “Rule 50(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, in actions tried before a jury, a district court may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against a party if the party has been ‘fully heard' on an issue during trial and ‘a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue.'” Gilmore v. Holder, 616 F.App'x 546, 547 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)). Pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party that moved for judgment as a matter of law at trial may, within twenty-eight days of the entry of judgment, renew the request for judgment as a matter of law. In ruling on a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, a court may: (1) allow judgment on the verdict; (2) order a new trial; or (3) direct entry of judgment as a matter of law on the claims. Fed R. Civ. P. 50(b)(1)-(3). A “Rule 50(b) motion should be granted if a district court determines, without weighing the evidence or considering the credibility of the witnesses, that substantial evidence does not support the jury's findings.” Konkel v. Bob Evans Farms, Inc., 165 F.3d 275, 279 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing White v. Cnty. of Newberry, 985 F.2d 168, 172 (4th Cir. 1993)).

         This Court has reviewed the motions, record, and applicable law as it pertains to the claims asserted by Jeffery Watterson. To the extent the statue of limitations bars his claims, the Court grants Defendants' unopposed motions as against Jeffery Watterson as he presented neither evidence of injury within the applicable time period, nor does he present any meritorious argument for tolling the time limitations imposed on his claims.

         Turning to the merits of the motions as they pertain to Randolph Watterson (hereinafter “Watterson”), Defendants City of Cherryville, Green, and Dellinger generally argue all of Watterson's claims are barred by the statute of limitations. As previously noted, Watterson filed this action on March 12, 2013, alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his constitutional rights and a claim for civil RICO under 18 U.S.C. § 1962. The evidence showed, and Watterson agreed in open court, he suffered no injury or damages after the date of his incarceration - January 11, 2009 - which was four years and two months before the filing of his original Complaint on March 12, 2013.

         The statute of limitations for a § 1983 action is three years from the date of the alleged violation. Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276 (1985); National Advertising Co. v. City of Raleigh, 947 F.2d 1158, 1161-62 & n. 2 (4th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 504 U.S. 931 (1992). The statute of limitations for a civil RICO action is four years from the date the plaintiff discovered, or should have discovered, the purported injury. Rotella v. Wood, 528 U.S. 549, 555 (2000); Potomac Elec. Power Co. v. Elec. Motor and Supply, Inc., 262 F.3d 260, 266 (4th Cir. 2001). Accordingly, Randolph Watterson has failed to show he sustained an actual or alleged Constitutional violation within three years of filing his complaint asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or that he sustained an actual or alleged injury or damage within four years of filing his complaint asserting claims for violations of civil RICO.

         Watterson contends, however, his claims are not time barred under the principle of equitable tolling for several reasons, including his assertion that law enforcement agents investigating criminal behavior by Defendants Green and Dellinger told Watterson to refrain from filing his civil law suit until the criminal investigation completed. (See Docs. Nos. 256, 257, 258, 259, 260, 262, 263.) To the extent Watterson asserts medical injuries or his conditions of confinement precluded his ...


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