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Remittitur ordered in malicious prosecution suit

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//July 28, 2022

Remittitur ordered in malicious prosecution suit

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//July 28, 2022

Where a jury awarded plaintiff’s decedent compensatory and punitive damages for his malicious prosecution claim, the evidence does not support the amounts awarded. Plaintiff must accept a remittitur or a new trial limited to the issue of damages.


Officers Lee and Christie ordered Roundtree, plaintiff’s decedent, to stop because he was riding a bicycle without a headlight. Rountree did not stop. Christie chased him on foot and tackled him. The tackle fractured two bones in Rountree’s right leg. “He had great pain and suffering and incurred medical bills of about $94,600.”

Lee wrote a ticket for riding a bicycle without a headlight. Christie wrote a summons for obstruction of justice. Rountree pleaded guilty to the headlight ticket. He was acquitted of the obstruction charge.

Rountree responded with a suit against Christie for gross negligence, battery and malicious prosecution. Rountree died while his case was pending. An uncle was substituted as plaintiff.

The jury found for Roundtree on the malicious prosecution claim and “awarded $95,000 in compensatory damages and $105,000 in punitive damages.” The jury found for Christie on the remaining claims.

Christie has renewed his motion to strike the malicious prosecution claim, or in the alternative, asks for remittitur.

Motion to strike

“[T]here was evidence from which a jury could conclude there was a lack of probable cause to charge Rountree with obstruction of justice, and as Instruction No. 28 informed the jury: ‘Malice may be inferred from a lack of probable cause.’

“Even without the inference, there was evidence from which the jury could conclude that Christie charged Rountree with obstruction of justice not in the interest of seeing justice done, but to excuse or justify his tackling of Rountree and causing him serious injury.”

While Roundtree was still in the hospital, he and Christie discussed the matter. Roundtree asked if he could just be given a ticket or a warning. “Christie responded: ‘No. All of this. Its out of our hands now, because – I mean – All these fractures and all these complications. We have to do things just follow … everything procedures by the book right now. Its not in our hands anymore. If we don’t do something, I’m sure you’re going to do something.

“‘We’ve heard that before. We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do, bro.’”


On a motion for remittitur, “the Court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff … However, to do so, there must be evidence.”

As to compensatory damages,”[a] malicious prosecution could cause significant damages. The plaintiff could be arrested, denied bail, and held in jail. His incarceration could cause loss of property and loss of income because of an inability to work at his calling or because the ignominy of his arrest and incarceration caused him to lose clients or customers. He may have to pay an attorney to defend him. …

“Rountree, however, suffered none of these damages. Christie issued him a summons for obstruction; he did not arrest him. The court appointed counsel for Rountree. …

“It is reasonable to believe Rountree suffered some distress during the two-and-a half-month pendency of his obstruction charge, including his two appearances in court, but it is not reasonable to believe he suffered great distress as neither he in his deposition nor the plaintiff in his testimony ever mentioned it. …

“The plaintiff also claims the jury could have found Rountree’s stress was increased by knowing that the obstruction charge could cause a violation of his probation. This may be true, but neither Rountree nor the plaintiff gave such testimony. …

“The jury learned Rountree was a divorced father of two adult children; that he graduated from Tidewater Community College after studying culinary arts; that he had been employed as a barber, cook, and dishwasher; and that he had been convicted of more than one felony and had spent part of the year 2020 incarcerated for a probation violation. … There was no evidence of harm to his reputation. …

“The only other item of damage the plaintiff claims was Rountree’s inconvenience of twice attending the General District Court and the discomfort that no doubt caused him because he was then wearing a post-surgical boot on his right leg. However, agreed Instruction No. 33 did not include inconvenience as an item of damages for malicious prosecution.

“Thus the only items of compensatory damage the jury could properly consider for the malicious prosecution claim were stress and injury to reputation … but there was no testimony about any of these. …

“The Court finds this verdict for malicious prosecution to be grossly excessive and entirely out of proportion to the injuries Rountree suffered by being charged by summons with obstruction of justice. The jury’s verdict in favor of Christie on the claims of gross negligence and battery refutes the notion they acted out of passion, corruption, or prejudice, but the verdict for $95,000 indicates to the Court that the jury misconceived or misconstrued the facts or the law.

“They found Christie was not grossly negligent and that he did not use excessive force in stopping Rountree, but they wished to compensate him for his medical expenses.” But such compensation “was not allowed under Instruction No. 33 for malicious prosecution.

“Under the evidence the jury received and Instruction No. 33, the Court finds $15,000 to be reasonable compensation for Rountree’s damages.

Punitive damages

“The jury’s award of punitive damages was reasonable considering the compensatory damages they awarded, but it is not reasonable in relation to the reduction in compensatory damages the Court is requiring. …

“An award of punitive damages would not give the plaintiff a double recovery. Instruction No. 34 told the jury they could award punitive damages ‘to punish the defendant for his actions and to serve as an example to others from acting in a similar way.’ There is no duplication of damages between instructions No. 33 and No. 34. …

“The jury’s punitive damage award of $105,000 was about 1.1 times the amount of its award of compensatory damages. That was proportional. …

“The Court finds $20,000 to be a reasonable and proportionate award of punitive damages. …

“The Court requires the plaintiff to accept remittitur and judgment in the amount of $15,000 in compensatory damages and $20,000 in punitive damages, for a total judgment of $35,000, or submit to a new trial.”

Because Christie willing to concede liability, a new trial would be limited to the issue of damages.

Rountree v. Christie, Case No. CL19-7412, June 27, 2022, Norfolk City Circuit Court (Order, Martin). VLW 022-8-026, 9 pp.

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