• Trial Court’s Reduction of Jury Award to Nominal Damages Affirmed by Fourth Circuit
  • March 22, 2013 | Author: Eric M. Leppo
  • Law Firm: Semmes, Bowen & Semmes A Professional Corporation - Baltimore Office
  • Katrina Okoli v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, et al., Case No.: 12-2174 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, March 14, 2013)

    In this recently issued per curiam opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the Court affirmed the U.S. District Court’s reduction of the jury’s award for Plaintiff’s employment retaliation claim.

    The Plaintiff, Katrina Okoli, filed an employment discrimination suit against Baltimore City (“the City”). The case proceeded to trial on three (3) related claims including a retaliation claim. At trial, the jury found for Ms. Okoli on her retaliation claim only. The jury awarded the Plaintiff $60,000 in “nominal” damages for that claim. Judge William M. Nickerson of U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted the City’s motion for judgment in part and reduced Ms. Okoli’s nominal damages award to one dollar.

    The City’s motion for judgment as a matter of law was based on the fact that Ms. Okoli failed to submit any evidence to establish economic damages as a result of the City’s termination of her employment. In fact, the District Court had instructed the jury that it could award Ms. Okoli only nominal damages if it found for her on the retaliation claim. The Plaintiff moved for reconsideration of the reduction, which was denied, and Plaintiff appealed.

    The Fourth Circuit noted that it reviews a grant of a motion for judgment as a matter of law , de novo and views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Sloas v. CSX Transp. Inc., 616 F.3d 380, 392 (4th Cir. 2010). On appeal, Ms. Okoli did not contest the fact that she entered no evidence of compensatory or economic damages. The Fourth Circuit stated that “Despite the district court’s clear instructions that nominal damages was an award of only one dollar, or other small sum, the jury awarded Okoli $60,000.” The Fourth Circuit, therefore, found no reversible error in Judge Nickerson’s decision.

    Thereafter, the Fourth Circuit denied Ms. Okoli’s motion that the transcripts be paid by the Government. The Court noted that the appellant has the burden of including in the record a transcript of all parts of the proceedings material to the issues raised on appeal. Fed. R. App. P. 10(b); 4th Cir. R. 10(c). While an appellant proceeding on appeal in forma pauperis may be entitled to transcripts at the Government’s expense, this occurs only in certain limited circumstances. 28 U.S.C. § 753(f) (2006). The Court stated that under 28 U.S.C. § 753(f), Ms. Okoli was not entitled to having the transcript made a Government expense unless a circuit judge certifies that the appeal is not frivolous, but rather, presents a substantial question. Rhodes v. Corps of Eng’rs of U.S. Army, 589 F.2d 358, 359-60 (8th Cir. 1978).

    The Court concluded that Ms. Okoli failed to make the requisite showing and therefore was not entitled to have the Government pay the transcript fees.