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Quarterman v. City of Springfield

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Hampden

March 29, 2017

WILL QUARTERMAN
v.
CITY OF SPRINGFIELD & another.[1]

          Heard: Date November 9, 2016.

         The case was tried before Daniel A. Ford, J., an award of attorney's fees was ordered by him, and motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and to alter or amend the judgment were heard by him.

          Leonard H. Kesten for the plaintiff.

          Edward M. Pikula, City Solicitor, for the defendants.

          Present: Kafker, C.J., Kinder, & Lemire, JJ.

          KINDER, J.

         On April 13, 2006, the board of license commissioners (board) of the city of Springfield (city) denied plaintiff Will Quarterman's application for a liquor license. Quarterman, an African American, brought this action against board chairman Peter Sygnator and the city, claiming that denial of the application was discriminatory and in retaliation for Quarterman's earlier filing of a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). Ultimately, a Superior Court jury rejected the claim of racial discrimination, but found that the city, through the actions of former Mayor Charles Ryan, had retaliated against Quarterman in violation of G. L. c. 151B, § 4(4) .[2] The jury awarded damages of $250, 000 in lost profits and $100, 000 for emotional distress. The city challenged the verdict in posttrial motions for judgment nothwithstanding the verdict (judgment n.o.v.), to alter or amend the judgment, and for a new trial. Principally, the city argued that the evidence of retaliation and damages was insufficient. In a comprehensive written decision, the trial judge denied the motions as to liability for retaliation, but allowed them, in part, as to damages. The judge concluded that there was evidentiary support for the award of $100, 000 for emotional distress. However, he found that the evidence of lost profits was "lacking in substance." He also reasoned that Quarterman had failed to establish standing to claim lost profits because the profits were not direct and personal to him. Accordingly, the judge reduced the damages from $350, 000 to $100, 000. Quarterman challenges that ruling on appeal.

         On cross-appeal, the city argues that (1) the motions for judgment n.o.v. and to alter or amend the judgment should have been allowed in their entirety; (2) the judge erred in refusing to instruct the jury regarding the mayor's right to freedom of speech; (3) the judge abused his discretion in denying a motion in limine to admit findings in a related Federal case; and (4) the judge abused his discretion in awarding attorney's fees.

         For the reasons that follow, we affirm the order denying the motion for judgment n.o.v. as to liability for retaliation, and affirm the order to alter or amend the judgment by eliminating damages for lost profits. We also conclude that the jury were properly instructed, and that the judge did not abuse his discretion with respect to the motion in limine and the award of attorney's fees.[3]

         Background.

         We summarize the facts in the light most favorable to Quarterman, reserving some details for our discussion. See Abramian v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, 432 Mass. 107, 110 (2000). Quarterman had been in the bar business in the city for several years. In September, 2002, he opened a nightclub, Logan's Lounge, after obtaining a liquor license from the board. The business operated without incident until April, 2004, when a brawl and shooting occurred there during an afterhours party. Although Quarterman was not present at the time, police reports suggested that he was. Immediately following the shooting, Quarterman voluntarily closed Logan's Lounge. Shortly thereafter, the business was evicted from the property and closed permanently.

         In August, 2004, Quarterman and a new business partner, Paul Ramesh, applied to the board to transfer the liquor license to a new club called Halo that they planned to open in the entertainment district of the city. Despite Quarterman's repeated requests for a hearing on the application, one was not convened until March, 2005. In the intervening months, Sygnator raised multiple concerns about the interior design of the club, which Quarterman addressed. There was also a concern about the proposed venue, which had previously been occupied by a nightclub called Asylum. Asylum had posed problems for the city because of large crowds, excessive noise, vandalism, illegal drug use, and violence.

         On March 2, 2005, Quarterman filed the first of two complaints with the MCAD. He alleged that the city, the mayor, and Sygnator discriminated against him on the basis of race by failing to schedule a vote on his application to transfer the liquor license. Meanwhile, the board held a hearing and voted three to two to deny the application. The city, through its attorney, suggested to Quarterman and Ramesh that they address the concerns raised by the board and apply for a new license.

         In January, 2006, Quarterman and Ramesh applied for a new liquor license in the name of their new corporation, Exile Entertainment, Inc. The hearing on the application was delayed from March 9, 2006, to April 13, 2006, at the mayor's request so that he could attend. At the hearing, the mayor, who had never previously appeared before the board, argued against the application. He also recruited other witnesses to speak in opposition to the application, including the police commissioner and a representative of American International College. In support of his opposition, the mayor cited the shooting at Logan's Lounge, suggesting that Quarterman had been present when it had occurred. The board voted three to one to deny the application. At least one commissioner changed his vote based on the mayor's opposition.

         By contrast, immediately following the vote denying Exile a liquor license, the board voted to approve a liquor license for another nightclub in the entertainment district, the Alumni Club. The mayor spoke in favor of that application.

         After issuance of the board's final written decision denying his application, Quarterman filed a second complaint with the MCAD. He again alleged that the city and Sygnator discriminated against him on the basis of race and engaged in retaliation. Following a finding of probable cause by the MCAD, Quarterman removed the complaint to Superior Court by filing this action.

         Discussion.

         Although the judge's memorandum of decision did not distinguish between the relief sought by the city in its motion for judgment n.o.v. and its motion to alter or amend the judgment, the motions addressed different issues. The city clarified the relief sought by each motion in its joint memorandum in support of all posttrial motions: "The [c]ity has moved, pursuant to Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 50(b), [as amended, 428 Mass. 1402 (1998), ] for judgment in its favor notwithstanding the verdict as to liability for retaliation; moved, pursuant to Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 59(e), [365 Mass. 827 (1974), ] to alter or amend the judgment by deducting the amount of damages awarded for lost profits; and moved, pursuant to Massachusetts Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 59(a), [365 Mass. 827 (1974), ] for a new trial on the issue of liability for retaliation attributed to Mayor Ryan." Thus, the city sought to address liability with its motion for judgment n.o.v. and motion for new trial, and damages with its motion to alter or amend the judgment. While the judge's decision and some of the pleadings conflate these issues, we address liability and damages separately as the city framed them at the outset.

         1. Motion for judgment n.o.v. regarding ...


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