… Lower court didn’t abuse discretion in upholding emotional distress award …
Monday, July 18, 2011
By Danielle Ulman
The Daily Record.com
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a lower court’s refusal to grant a motion for remittitur to Baltimore County in a case involving an officer who was improperly forced to take a fit-for-duty test.
In its unpublished opinion, the court affirmed that the county must pay William Blake, an officer with the Baltimore County Police Department since 1987, the $225,000 in emotional distress damages awarded by the jury.
“The remittitur, the issue of the size of the verdict, was a very open question,” said Kathleen Cahill, the lawyer representing Blake. “That’s a very high emotional distress number for somebody who had no economic losses.”
The appellate court would not review the U.S. District Court’s denial of the county’s pre-verdict motions for judgment as a matter of law because the county failed to renew the motions through a post-verdict Rule 50(b) motion.
But the oversight likely did not cost the county the case.
“I don’t know whether their procedural error cost them a reversal,” Cahill said. “I think the case was won on the evidence.”
County Attorney Michael E. Field declined to comment on the opinion.
Blake filed the suit against the county after he was subpoenaed to testify at an appeals hearing regarding the forced retirement of Phillip Crumbacher, who had suffered a seizure and crashed a police vehicle.
Blake was asked to testify because he had previously had a single seizure and had performed his work without limitation following the incident. His fitness for work had never been questioned in the decade between his seizure and his testimony.
Then, a day after his September, 2006 testimony, the county ordered him to submit to a fitness examination and provide his medical records.
A six-day trial in April, 2010 in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore resolved Blake’s claim that he was subject to illegal medical inquiries under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A separate allegation that the county had retaliated against him for testifying was resolved without a hearing.
The judge repeatedly asked the county to confirm that it would not conduct further medical inquiries, according to Cahill. Once the county confirmed that it would stop asking Blake to complete medical testing, the judge ordered the issue moot. He said the plaintiff was entitled to lawyer’s fees on the retaliation issue up to that day.
Blake’s case was referred to the U.S. Department of Justice, which is investigating the county’s use of these practices. Cahill is representing 14 others in the county in cases with similar issues.