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Dan Dixon and Heidi Dixon v. City of Coeur D'alene

July 18, 2012

DAN DIXON AND HEIDI DIXON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF COEUR D'ALENE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Larry M. Boyle United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND

This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, New Trial or in the Alternative, Remittitur (Dkt. 146). The Court has considered the parties' briefs and oral arguments of counsel. The following Memorandum Decision and Order granting and denying relief in part resolves those issues.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Dan Dixon is a former Lieutenant with the City of Coeur d'Alene Police Department ("City"). In December 2008, allegations were made that Dixon had falsified timekeeping records and intentionally violated a subordinate officer's rights under a labor agreement. In January 2009, the City began an internal investigation into these allegations. As part of the investigation, and pursuant to City policy and Dixon's employment agreement, Dixon submitted to two independent polygraph exams. Both polygraph examiners determined that Dixon was deceptive in his answers.

On June 10, 2009, at the completion of the investigation, police investigators made the determination that Dixon was in fact lying, that he had falsified his timekeeping records, and that he manipulated a subordinate officer's schedule. This determination prompted the Chief's recommendation that Dixon's employment be terminated.

On June 24, 2009, following a pre-termination hearing, City Personnel Officer Jon Ingalls determined, however, that in lieu of termination Dixon should be demoted two ranks from lieutenant to patrol officer with a similar reduction in pay.

Believing the demotion amounted to constructive discharge, Dixon did not return to work, and the City personnel officer conducted a second pre-termination hearing. Following that hearing, Ingalls determined that sufficient cause existed to terminate Dixon's employment for refusing to report to duty. The City then terminated Dixon's employment as a Coeur d'Alene police officer.

On August 4, 2009, Dixon and his wife, Heidi, filed this action against the City, alleging constructive discharge; violation of substantive due process rights in his employment; breach of his employment contract; negligence in investigation and termination of his employment; inadequate supervision and training of City employees; and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiffs sought damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and under state law claims. The City denied any wrongdoing.

The case was tried before a seven-person jury starting October 18, 2011. On October 26, 2011, the jury returned its verdict in favor of the Dixons. The Jury's verdict awarded $2,763,541 in economic damages and $500,000 in non-economic damages each to Dan and Heidi Dixon, for a total verdict of $3,763,541. On October 27, 2012, the Clerk of the Court entered judgment in favor of the Dixons in accordance with the jury verdict. (Dkt. 132).

On November 22, 2011, Defendant filed a motion to stay the judgment, which was granted on December 19, 2011. (Dkts. 144 & 158). Thereafter, Defendant filed the pending motion for new trial and notice of appeal on November 23, 2011. (Dkts. 146 & 150).

MOTION FOR JUDGMENT OR NEW TRIAL A. Standard of Review

A judgment notwithstanding the verdict "is only appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, permits only one decision, which is contrary to that reached by the jury." Passantino v. Johnson Consumer Products, Inc., 212 F.3d 493, 510 n. 15 (9th Cir. 2000). "A District Court's refusal to grant a new trial should be reversed only if it constitutes an abuse of discretion." Id. A motion will be granted on this ground "only if the verdict is contrary to the clear weight of the evidence, is based upon false or perjurious evidence, or to prevent a miscarriage of justice." Id.

B. Analysis

The City raises nineteen issues of error. The Court addresses the most significant legal issues by category below. The remainder are summarily denied as not having merit.

1. Polygraph

Before trial, after conducting a hearing on the matter, the Court granted Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Polygraph Evidence. (Dkts. 18 & 21). The Court determined that the polygraph evidence was "relevant for obvious reasons," but concluded under Fed. R. Evid. 403 that the "potential prejudice substantially outweighs the probative value." The City argues that the Court erred in this determination.

The City further argues error in the denial of the its motion to reconsider on October 6, 2011, and its renewed motion/offer of proof on October 19, 2011. In this respect, the City contends that the Court's rulings prevented the City from being able to defend the claim that its investigation was arbitrary, that it negligently supervised or trained its employees, or that it failed to follow its policies. The City further argues that the Plaintiffs' expert "opened the door" by testifying that he saw no evidence in the entire file he reviewed (which included the polygraph examination results) that Dixon had been dishonest.

The Court has previously set forth its analysis and decision on the polygraph evidence in detail. (Memorandum Decision and Order, Dkt. 51, pp, 8-9). In sum, the Court balanced the probative value of the evidence against the potential of prejudice, and concluded that the potential of prejudice was too great to allow admission of the opinions of the polygraph examiners into evidence.

The Court carefully considered the testimony of Plaintiffs' expert concerning the investigation, as well as the City's argument that its ability to defend was hampered by the exclusion of the tests. Put simply, the Court continues to find, and thus conclude, that the prejudicial effect of the polygraph evidence substantially outweighs their probative value. At no point, before, during, or after trial, has sufficient evidence or testimony arisen to alter the Court's prior Rule 403 analysis and ruling on the issue. Thus, the City's motion is denied with regard to revisiting the issue of admissibility of the polygraph examinations.

2. Jury Instruction on Negligence Standard Under Idaho Law

The City argues that the Court erred in failing to instruct the jury on "the state law standard for governmental liability for negligence under the Idaho Tort Claims Act, I.C. § 6-904," and that Final Jury Instructions Nos. 37 and 38 were incorrect statements of the law as applied to a municipality.

Plaintiff's claim regarding supervision and training was presented at trial and submitted to the jury as a § 1983 deliberate indifference claim, not a state law negligence claim. Thus, the City's argument that it is immune from the state law negligence claim is moot. Moreover, a governmental entity clearly can be liable under the Idaho Tort Claims Act for the negligence of its employees the same as a private entity or individual may be liable for money damages under state law for negligently supervising its employees. Miller v. Idaho State Patrol, 252 P.3d 1274, 1290 (Idaho 2011) (citing Kessler v. Barowsky, 931 P.2d 641 648 (1997) and Doe v. Durtschi, 716 P.2D 1238, 1245 (Idaho 1986)). Neither theory requires a plaintiff to prove malice or criminal intent. See Miller, 252 P.3d at 1290.

As for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the Court finds no error in the instructions given. To the extent there could be immunity under the Idaho Tort Claims Act as the City is arguing, it would require a showing of "malice or criminal intent" for actions that fall under the "planning" function.

The "planning prong" of I.C. ยง 6-904 provides governmental immunity for: any act or omission . . . based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a governmental ...


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