Lompe v Sunridge Partners, LLC

Sunridge and the company it hired to manage the apartment building where Lompe lived and was exposed to carbon monoxide each appealed the punitive damages award entered against it after trial. The pane, 2-1, affirmed in part and reversed in part. The majority held Sunridge’s motion for judgment as a matter of law on punitive damages should have been granted as trial evidence showed it had no knowledge of any other leaks of carbon monoxide form furnaces in the building and it relied on the managing company to actually operate the building day by day. It held the punitive damages issue was properly presented to the jury as to the management company as it knew the furnaces were 10 years past their useful life and knew leaks of dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide were happening during the time before Lompe’s injuries and the company did not act on bids to for safety inspections. The majority  held that Wyoming law did not require Lompe to prove the managing company’s net worth but could rely on financial records like profit loss statements, net income and distributions to owners. The majority held the jury instructions, which tracked relevant Wyoming case law, accurately instructed the jury on the willful and wonton standard. The majority held the management company waived its common law challenge to the punitive damages award by failing to develop it below. It held the award violated due process because while the harm was physical, the compensatory award covered that harm and while the management company did fail to act on several occasions, no authority condemned its behavior, it supplied monitors even though they were not required by law and thus on balance the reprehensibility here is limited by the lack of intentional conduct. The majority held the ratio of 11.5 to 1 is presumptively unconstitutional as the compensatory award was substantial as it covered emotional distress and there evidence was equivocal as to whether the carbon monoxide exposure left her disabled. The majority noted that Wyoming has no fines or other penalties in these circumstances to compare the punitive damages award to and the case law does not provide any comparable awards in similar circumstances and thus the management company had no notice it faced the over $20 million award here. Thus, the majority held that the 1:1 ratio mentioned in Supreme Court precedent applied here and reduced the award to $1.95 million. The dissent argued that there was enough evidence against Sunridge to allow the punitive damages issue to go the jury as it knew the furnaces needed to be replaced and chose to not replace them even after reports of leaks. While the dissent greed that the award against the management company was too high, it argued that the jury verdict and district court factual findings are entitled to deference, support a high level of reprehensibility here given the risk of death to Lompe and injuries to others, the majority erred in applying mitigation evidence rejected by the jury, there is no hard fast 1:1 ratio rule when substantial compensatory damages are awarded and a ratio of 4:1 is consistent with the approved awards by other circuits in cases with compensatory damages exceeding $400,000.00. The dissent therefore argued an award of $7.8 million was appropriate in this case.

United States v Alexander

Alexander appealed his conviction for failure to register as a sex offender. The panel reversed and remanded. It held that there was sufficient evidence to convict as Alexander was a transient in California prior to his arrest, stayed with a romantic partner for three weeks in New Mexico prior to his arrest, did not obtain approval or even inform his California parole officer before leaving California and he made no serious intent to actually visit his daughter in Texas. However, the panel held the jury instructions were erroneous because they failed to include the regulatory language that, absent intent to make a state a new residence, a 30 day stay is required to establish when an offender “habitual resides” somewhere triggering registration duties and this faulty instruction was not harmless as the panel could not tell if the jury based its conviction on habitual living in New Mexico (which requires a 30 day stay) or if Alexander intended to make New Mexico his home. Thus, the conviction had to be reversed and remand was necessary. The panel included jury instruction language about the 30 day requirement in case retrial is sought here.

Perea v Baca

Baca and another officer appealed the denial of their motions for judgment based on qualified immunity in Baca’s excessive force claim. The panel affirmed. It held that at the time of the incident here, it was established law that tasering someone ten times in two minutes was excessive force when the person had been detained, was being sought for a welfare check or at most running a stop sign on a bicycle, was no threat to the officers and offered minimal resistance which ceased before the tasering stopped.