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Flores-Haro v. Slade

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

January 4, 2019

AD ALBERTO FLORES-HARO et al., Plaintiffs,
STEPHEN SLADE et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before me on several post-trial motions: Defendants' Motions to Alter or Amend Judgment [406, 412], the City of Hillsboro's Motion to Apply OTCA Damages Cap [366], and Washington County's Motion for Election of Remedies, Remittitur, and to Reduce the Award Consistant with OTCA Limits [368]. For the reasons below, and in conjunction with my October 11, 2018, Opinion and Order [447], these motions are GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


         In my October 11, 2018, Opinion and Order, I required Plaintiffs to either accept remittitur reducing economic damages to the amount proven at trial or retry the issue of damages. In addition, because I found that the jury had impermissibly awarded damages for two harms when Plaintiffs had only proven one harm, I required Plaintiffs to elect recovery on only one of the remedies. Plaintiffs accepted remittitur and elected to recover on the jury's award for Defendants' battery.

         The remaining issues in this case are whether and how the provisions of the Oregon Tort Claims Act (OTCA), should further limit Plaintiffs' recovery. For the reasons stated below, I find that the OTCA applies to the claims in this case and limits Plaintiffs' recovery to $1, 133, 400.


         Under Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, a federal court sitting in diversity jurisdiction must apply state substantive law. Gasperini v. Ctr. For Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415 (1996). The same choice of law principles required by Erie must also be applied by a court exercising supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims. See In re Exxon Valdez, 484 F.3d 1098, 1100 (9th Cir. 2007). Because the claims remaining in this case are state law claims, I must follow the decisions of the Oregon Supreme Court that address whether the OTCA violates the Oregon Constitution's remedy clause. See Comm'r of Internal Revenue v. Bosch, 387 U.S. 456, 465 (1967).


         As an initial matter, Plaintiffs have not disputed the applicability of the OTCA to the types of claims they presented. Rather, they dispute the constitutionality of the OTCA as applied to this case. I first address Plaintiffs' constitutional arguments and then address the parties' arguments regarding how the OTCA applies to the facts of this case.

         A. The Oregon Constitution's Remedy Clause and "Substantiality"

         Plaintiffs' first argument against limiting the jury's award in accordance with the OTCA is that application of the OTCA's limits would violate the Oregon's Constitution's remedy clause. The remedy clause ensures that "every man shall have remedy by due course of law for injury done him in his person, property, or reputation." Or. Const, art. I, § 10. The Oregon S Supreme Court has stated that the remedy clause "limits the legislature's substantive authority to alter or adjust a person's remedy for injuries to person, property, and reputation." Horton v. Or. Health Sci. Univ., 376 P.3d 998, 1002 (Or. 2016).

         The Oregon Supreme Court has decided that the legislature may limit the size of a damages award, but the "substantiality of the legislative remedy can matter in determining whether the remedy is consistent with the remedy clause." Horton, 376 P.3d at 1028. While the size of the OTCA limit relative to a jury's original award is important, whether a remedy is ("substantial" also depends on the existence of other factors, such the legislature's rationale in limiting damages. Id. at 1027. Given these considerations, the Oregon Supreme Court decided in Horton that OTCA limits on the damages available from a state employee did not violate the Oregon Constitution's remedy clause. Id. at 1030. But the court limited its holding in Horton to the facts of that case. Id. The court stated that the significant factors in the case were the state's interest in sovereign immunity, the legislative rationale motivating the tradeoffs in OTCA's scheme, and the ratio of OTCA limit to the original jury award. Id.

         i. Sovereign Immunity and the OTCA's Quid Pro Quo

         Although state employees were never protected by the state's sovereign immunity, the court in Horton decided that the substantiality of an award should be assessed in light of the fact that the OTCA "extended the assurance of benefits to some while limiting the benefit to others." Id. at 1027. This quid pro quo in Horton was achieved by limiting the damages available in suits against state employees but allowing plaintiffs to sue the state. Id. ...

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