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Tolson v. Dist. of Columbia

October 21, 2004

JERROD TOLSON, ET AL., APPELLANTS/CROSS-APPELLEES,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., APPELLEES/CROSS-APPELLANTS.



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CA5456-98). (Hon. Ronna L. Beck, Trial Judge).

Before Schwelb, Ruiz and Reid, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reid, Associate Judge

Argued January 15, 2004

This appeal involves issues related to the litigation of a civil suit against the District of Columbia and a Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") officer, for alleged false arrest, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. After a jury verdict awarding compensatory and punitive damages to appellants/cross-appellees Jerrod Tolson and his father Antonio Tolson, the trial court vacated part of the award made to Mr. J. Tolson. Both the Tolsons, and the District and Officer Kurgan through the Office of the Corporation Counsel filed timely appeals. The appellants contend that the trial court did not have authority to vacate any part of the jury verdict. The appellees argue that the appellants did not provide notice under D.C. Code §12-309 (2001) of their intent to seek damages for false arrest based on the initial stop and frisk of Mr. J. Tolson, and that the trial court should not have submitted the punitive damages issue to the jury. We affirm.

FACTUAL SUMMARY

On July 17, 1998, Mr. J. Tolson was walking from the METRO station located at Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, N.E., to his home. As he was walking, he was stopped by two patrol officers, Officer Scott Williams and Officer Bret Shapiro, who believed J. Tolson dressed and acted in a suspicious manner. J. Tolson testified that Officers Williams and Shapiro punched him in the back and threatened to place his face on the hood of the patrol car, which was hot from the summer sun and the engine. The officers detained and searched J. Tolson's person. They found no weapons and called in a radio check for outstanding warrants. When the officers determined that there were no warrants, J. Tolson was permitted to leave. Before leaving he attempted to get the names and badge numbers of the two officers. He testified that in response to his request the officers "said no. You're so smart, why don't you read them." J. Tolson stated that "when [he] got both of their names, . . . each of them was missing a number from the badge, [a]nd just to make sure that [he] had the information correct . . . [he] asked them and . . . [one officer said] you're so smart, why don't you read it."

Some time after he arrived home, J. Tolson told his parents about the incident. He took his mother to the location where the events occurred, and attempted to find the officers. Neither officer was present, but J. Tolson and his mother encountered Officer Casey who said he did not know the whereabouts of the other two officers. J. Tolson and his mother returned home. Officer Casey followed the Tolsons to their home in his police cruiser. When J. Tolson and Officer Casey had exited their respective vehicles, Officer Casey asked, "what's the problem." J. Tolson replied, "you saw the two white officers that had me stopped." Officer Casey reported the officers' belief that J. Tolson had been "dressed inappropriately." After comments were made as to what constituted appropriate dress, J. Tolson asked Officer Casey whether "he could get [the two officers because he] didn't know their names at the time." He had "looked at their names, but [he] hadn't remembered anything at the time."

Officer Casey testified that J. Tolson was belligerent and angry when he spoke to him at the home. As a result of J. Tolson's anger, Officer Casey called for other officers to join him on the scene. Officers Williams and Shapiro (the officers who had first stopped J. Tolson) and Master Patrol Officer Kurgan responded to the call for assistance. The Tolsons' account depicted the officers, especially Officer Kurgan, as acting without any reasonable basis to arrest them, and misstating what actually occurred.

Neighbors gathered on the sidewalk as the incident progressed. According to Officer Kurgan's testimony, J. Tolson insulted the officers and was belligerent. Officer Kurgan ordered all persons on the street to clear the street. J. Tolson objected to that order and Officer Kurgan arrested him for failure to obey. Mr. Antonio Tolson emerged from his home, believing that his son was being harassed, and reacted angrily. He voiced his objection to his son's arrest and the officer's order to leave the street and enter his home. Officer Kurgan continued to order A. Tolson to leave the street and enter his home, but he failed to comply. Officer Kurgan arrested him for failure to obey. Alesia Tolson, J. Tolson's mother, and Dyani Tolson, his sister, also were arrested by Officer Kurgan and charged with simple assault.

The Tolsons all brought suit, in September 1998, against the District of Columbia and Officer Kurgan, alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent supervision. The case went to trial on April 24, 2000 on the first three counts. On May 3, 2000, the jury returned a verdict in favor of two of the plaintiffs, awarding $50,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages to Antonio Tolson, and $200,000 in compensatory damages and $25,000 in punitive damages to Jerrod Tolson. Of the $200,000 award in compensatory damages to J. Tolson, $175,000 represented "liability as a result of the detention by Officers Williams and Shapiro." that is, the initial stop of J. Tolson. After the verdict, the appellees renewed their request for a directed verdict. Although the trial judge instructed the parties to submit memoranda by May 18 on whether the punitive damages question should have been sent to the jury, it nevertheless docketed and mailed its entry of judgment on the jury verdict to the parties on May 8, 2000.

On May 12, 2000, the District and Officer Kurgan filed an emergency motion to vacate the May 2000 judgment. They alleged that the judgment was entered in error because the trial court had scheduled oral argument relating to punitive damages on May 18th. The District also argued it was prejudiced by the entry of the judgment, because it was precluded from filing a post-trial motion within the jurisdictional limit of 10 days. On May 12th the trial judge granted the motion and vacated the judgment entered by the clerk. On May 26, 2000, the trial court heard arguments on the appellees' motion for judgment as a matter of law made during trial but taken under advisement by the trial court. The court denied the motion for judgment as a matter of law.

On June 12, 2000, the District and Officer Kurgan renewed their motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative a new trial. The appellants moved to strike the renewed motion as untimely. On July 3, 2000, the trial court docketed an order of judgment containing the jury verdict. On July 10, 2000, appellees filed another renewed motion for judgment as a matter or law, or for remittitur or a new trial, which was basically identical to the one submitted on June 12th. On October 10, 2000, the trial court docketed an order vacating $175,000 of the $200,000 the jury awarded to J. Tolson in compensatory damages. This sum represented damages related to the initial stop and frisk of J. Tolson. The trial court concluded that the District did not receive notice that J. Tolson's false arrest claim was based in part on the initial stop.

ANALYSIS

The Trial Court's Decision to Vacate Its Entry of Judgment in May 2000 Appellants contend that the order of judgment entered on May 8, 2000 was correctly filed and docketed, and hence, the appellees' June 12, 2000, renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law was ...


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