Punitive damage award against officer is upheld after remittur
In Arnold, et al. v. Wilder, et al., the Sixth Circuit was forced to evaluate the award of punitive damages assessed against an officer who was found guilty of civil rights violations. To make a long and disturbing story short, a mother who responded to claims that her 13 year-old and other boys were running through the neighbor's yard (the Mayor, by the way) was "tackled," arrested, pepper-sprayed and charged with multiple felonies by a City officer who was determined to teach this "cunt" a lesson. All of this occurred with her children, as young as age 7, looking on. [To his credit, one of the neighbor kids aided Arnold's "escape" from the police cruiser into her home: he apparently wasn't charged.]
Arnold turned down an offer to dismiss all of the charges against her in return for her agreement not to sue the officer or the City. The charges were dropped to misdemeanors, but she was still acquitted at trial. She then filed her civil claim and was awarded about $50,000.00 in compensatory damages and one million dollars in punitive damages.The trial judge deemed the punitive award excessive and reduced it to $229,000.00, applying his understanding of federal law that would limit punitive awards to a certain multiplier of the actual damages suffered. On appeal, the Court of Appeals upheld the outcome but did increase the punitive award to $550,000.00. It deemed the latter amount to be more in line with the U.S. Supreme Court's instruction with regard to punitive damages limitations.