Issue: In the District of Columbia, when can a verdict form cause a jury to award ‘Constitutional damages?
|Area of Law:||Constitutional Law, Litigation & Procedure|
|Keywords:||Constitutional damages; Jury award; Tort claims|
|Jurisdiction:||District of Columbia|
|Cited Cases:||738 F.Supp. 1041; 732 F.Supp. 176; 477 U.S. 299|
On constitutional tort claims, a plaintiff is allowed compensation for nonpecuniary damage such as mental anguish. See, e.g., Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 263-64, 264 n.20 (1978); Jones v. Rivers, 732 F.Supp. 176, 178 (D.D.C. 1990); Covington v. Beaumont Indep. School Dist., 738 F.Supp. 1041, 1043 (E.D. Tex. 1990). The court in Carey sought only to preclude juries from awarding money damages where the plaintiff had sustained no actual injuries: "[S]ubstantial damages should be awarded only to compensate actual injury." 435 U.S. at 266.FN1
The basic proposition of law in Carey was that commission of a constitutional tort should result in fair compensation for injuries caused thereby. In Carey this "principle of compensation" meant only that absent proof of injury no compensating damages could be awarded. Id. at 262. In fact, the defendants conceded in Carey that "persons in [plaintiffs’] position might well recover damages for mental and emotional distress caused by the denial of procedural due process." Id. The problem in Carey was that plaintiffs had failed to prove they sustained any actual injuries.
In Memphis Community School Dist. v. Stachura, 477 U.S. 299 (1986), the trial court had properly instructed the jury on compensatory and punitive damages, including damages in the nature of "mental anguish or emotional distress that you find the Plaintiff to have suffered as a result of conduct by the Defendants depriving him of […]