Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Riley, Circuit Judge
Submitted: October 20, 2009
Before RILEY, HANSEN, and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.
Jaymie Quigley brought claims against her landlord, Dale Winter, pursuant to the Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., and the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA), Iowa Code ch. 216, alleging (1) sexual harassment; (2) sex discrimination; and (3) coercion, intimidation, threat, and interference with Quigley's enjoyment of her housing rights. A jury found in favor of Quigley on all claims and awarded her $13,685.00 in compensatory damages and $250,000.00 in punitive damages.*fn1 Quigley sought attorney fees and costs in the amount of $118,654.38. The district court reduced the punitive damages award to $20,527.50 and awarded Quigley $20,000.00 in attorney fees and $1,587.88 in costs.
Quigley appeals the district court's judgment, contending the district court erred in (1) reducing her punitive damages award, and (2) awarding her a reduced amount of attorney fees without conducting the proper analysis. Winter cross-appeals and asserts the district court committed various trial errors and erred in awarding any punitive damages to Quigley. We affirm the district court's judgment with respect to Winter's claims on cross-appeal, and we reverse with respect to Quigley's claims on appeal.
A. Factual Background*fn2
Winter owned more than twenty rental homes in Sioux City, Iowa. Many of Winter's tenants were low-income women who received Section 8 housing vouchers (housing vouchers) from the Sioux City Housing Authority (SCHA) to help pay their rent. In 2000, Quigley, along with her then-husband and her four children, rented a home from Winter. Quigley used a housing voucher to pay her rent.
In 2002, Quigley informed Winter she was eligible to move into a larger home. Winter drove Quigley in his car to one of Winter's other properties. Quigley inspected the property, and when she returned to the car, Winter rubbed his hand down Quigley's arm and said, "[W]ell, how do you like it?" Quigley recalled this incident made her feel "[s]cared" and "yucky." Quigley, her boyfriend, and her children moved into a different rental property owned by Winter, using a housing voucher to pay the rent.
In 2004, Quigley's boyfriend moved to Louisiana to visit his ill father. After Quigley's boyfriend moved out of the house, Winter behaved inappropriately toward Quigley on several other occasions. First, Quigley learned from a neighbor that Winter had been inside Quigley's house without prior notice when Quigley was not at home. When Quigley went to her bedroom, she noticed her housecoat, which had been hanging on the back of the bedroom door when she left, was now lying on her bed.Quigley confronted Winter about entering the home without giving prior notice, and Winter claimed he had to replace the screen on Quigley's bedroom window. Quigley's screen was not damaged and had not been replaced.
One evening, Winter came to inspect Quigley's house while she was making dinner for her children. On that occasion, Winter stood very close to Quigley and rubbed his genital area. Another time, Winter came to Quigley's house for an inspection at 9:30 or 10:00 in the evening without giving Quigley prior notice. Quigley's fourteen year-old sister was staying the night with her, and they were in their pajamas getting ready for bed. While conducting his inspection, Winter followed Quigley and her sister into a bedroom and then a bathroom, which made them feel uncomfortable. Quigley and her sister were watching television, and Winter lay down on Quigley's sectional couch after he completed the inspection. Winter stayed on the couch for five or ten minutes until Quigley said, "Hey, Dale, we're going to bed." Quigley had to tell Winter to leave "at least three times" before he left. Quigley also reported receiving phone calls from Winter at inappropriate times, sometimes as late as 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning. Winter sounded intoxicated when he called, and the phone calls made Quigley feel scared and worried about protecting her children and younger sister.
Quigley wanted to move out of the house because of Winter's conduct, but she would have lost her housing voucher if she broke the lease. Quigley met with her SCHA worker and reported Winter's inappropriate actions. Quigley asked if she could change the locks on her rental home, but the housing worker told her she could not change the locks unless she gave Winter a key. The housing worker told Quigley she could get out of the lease without losing her housing voucher if Winter agreed to rescind the lease. When Quigley asked Winter to release her from the lease, Winter refused. Thereafter, Quigley changed the locks on her door without giving Winter a key.
About a month and a half before Quigley's lease ended, Winter showed up at her house while Quigley, her sister, and Quigley's friend were outside lying in the sun. Quigley approached Winter's vehicle and inquired whether she would be getting her deposit back. Winter fluttered his hand against Quigley's stomach and said, "My eagle eyes have not seen everything yet." Winter followed Quigley to the porch. Quigley observed Winter staring at Quigley's sister's chest. Quigley's sister was wearing shorts and a sport bra, so Quigley told her sister to "go get something on." Winter said to Quigley's sister, "You're really mature. How old are you?" When Quigley said her sister was "only 14," Winter said, "Well, she looks a lot more mature than you." Quigley's friend went to her car to get a cigarette, and Winter noticed the friend had a scar on her back. Winter traced the scar with his finger, without consent, pulling the friend's pants downward to see where the scar ended. Quigley moved out of the rental home, and Winter did not return her deposit.
Quigley filed a complaint with the Sioux City Human Rights Commission (SCHRC). The investigator who handled Quigley's complaint testified other single, female tenants of Winter's who were receiving housing assistance, corroborated Quigley's claims.
In June 2006, Quigley filed a complaint against Winter in the district court, alleging sexual harassment; sex discrimination; and coercion, intimidation, threats, and interference with Quigley's rights, in violation of the FHA and the ICRA. Quigley also asserted a breach of contract claim against Winter based upon Winter's failure to return Quigley's deposit. Winter brought a breach of contract counterclaim against Quigley, insisting Quigley owed him unpaid rent and failed to leave the rental home "in a clean and satisfactory condition."
A five-day jury trial began in April 2008. At the end of the trial, the district court instructed the jury to consider whether: (1) Winter discriminated against Quigley on the basis of her sex; (2) Winter sexually harassed Quigley; (3) Winter coerced, intimidated, or interfered with Quigley's exercise or enjoyment of her housing rights; (4) Winter breached his contract with Quigley by failing to return her deposit; and (5) Quigley breached her contract with Winter by failing to leave the rental property in a clean and satisfactory condition. The jury found in favor of Quigley, and against Winter, on Winter's counterclaim and each of Quigley's claims, and awarded Quigley $13,685.00 in compensatory damages for the housing claims, $400.00 for Quigley's breach of contract claim, and $250,000.00 in punitive damages.
After the district court entered judgment, Winter filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, a motion for a new trial, and a motion to alter or amend the judgment, in part objecting to the award of punitive damages. Quigley moved for an award of attorney fees and costs in the amount of $118,654.38. Following a hearing on the motions, the district court entered an order (1) denying Winter's motions for a new trial and judgment as a matter of law, (2) reducing the award of punitive damages from $250,000.00 to $20,527.50, and (3) awarding Quigley $20,000.00 in attorney fees and $1,587.88 in costs.Quigley appeals the district court's judgment with respect to the amount of punitive damages and attorney fees. Winter cross-appeals, asserting various errors at trial and objecting to any award of punitive damages.
A. Winter's Claims on Cross-Appeal
We first address Winter's claims on cross-appeal. Winter maintains the district court erred in submitting to the jury, and in denying Winter's post-trial motions related to, the following claims: (1) hostile housing environment caused by sexual harassment; (2) "quid pro quo" sexual harassment; (3) sex discrimination; and (4) coercion, intimidation, and interference with housing rights. Winter next insists the district court made the following evidentiary errors: (1) admitting "me too" testimony from three of Winter's former female tenants; (2) admitting the SCHRC's probable cause determination and testimony from a SCHRC investigator; and (3) excluding medical records and testimony from a physician's assistant at Siouxland Mental Health related to Quigley's mental health.*fn3
"We review a district court's denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law de novo." Heaton v. The Weitz Co., 534 F.3d 882, 887 (8th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). "We 'must affirm the jury's verdict unless, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to [Quigley], we conclude that no reasonable jury could have found in [her] favor.'" Id. (quoting Moysis v. DTG Datanet, 278 F.3d 819, 824 (8th Cir. 2002)). "We 'will not set aside a jury verdict unless there is a complete absence of probative facts to support the verdict.'" Id. (quoting Wilson v. Brinker Int'l, Inc., 382 F.3d 765, 769 (8th Cir. 2004)).
A district court's decision to admit or exclude testimony is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. See, e.g., US Salt, Inc. v. Broken Arrow, Inc., 563 F.3d 687, 689 (8th Cir. 2009). "A district court enjoys wide discretion in ruling on the admissibility of proffered evidence, and evidentiary rulings should only be overturned if there was a clear and prejudicial abuse of discretion." Id. at 689-90 (internal marks and quotations omitted).
2. Hostile Housing Environment Created by Sexual Harassment
As a preliminary matter, Winter questions whether a claim for hostile housing environment created by sexual harassment is actionable under the FHA.We conclude it is. See Neudecker v. Boisclair Corp., 351 F.3d 361, 364 (8th Cir. 2003) (recognizing a cause of action under the FHA for hostile housing environment created by disability harassment and citing, with approval, cases from other jurisdictions recognizing an FHA claim for hostile housing environment created by sexual harassment); see also DiCenso v. Cisneros, 96 F.3d 1004, 1008 (7th Cir. 1996) (recognizing an FHA claim for hostile housing environment created by sexual harassment); Honce v. Vigil, 1 F.3d 1085, 1089-90 (10th Cir. 1993) (same).*fn4
Next, Winter insists there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict in favor of Quigley on her hostile housing environment created by sexual harassment claim. In this case, there was sufficient evidence to support a hostile housing environment claim if a reasonable jury could find Quigley proved by a preponderance of the evidence Winter subjected her to unwelcome sexual harassment, and the harassment was sufficiently severe or pervasive so as to interfere with or deprive Quigley of her right to use or enjoy her home. See DiCenso, 96 F.3d at 1008 ("Applied to the housing context, a claim [of hostile housing environment caused by sexual harassment] is actionable 'when the offensive behavior unreasonably interferes with use and enjoyment of the premises.'" (quoting Honce, 1 F.3d at 1090) ("The harassment must be sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the housing arrangement."))). Cf. Neudecker, 351 F.3d at 364-65 (setting forth the elements of a hostile housing environment disability harassment claim).
Winter denies he subjected Quigley to sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, and, alternatively, any sexual harassment Quigley experienced was not sufficiently severe or pervasive to support the jury's verdict. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Quigley, we conclude Quigley presented sufficient evidence of numerous unwanted interactions of a sexual nature that interfered with Quigley's use and enjoyment of her home. Quigley testified Winter subjected her to unwanted touching on two occasions, made sexually suggestive comments, rubbed his genitals in front of her, placed several middle of the night phone calls to her home, made repeated unannounced visits, and, on one occasion, while Winter lay on Quigley's couch, had to be told to leave her home at least three times before he complied. We emphasize that Winter subjected Quigley to these unwanted interactions in her own home, a place where Quigley was entitled to feel safe and secure and need not flee, which makes Winter's conduct even more egregious.
In order to set aside the jury's verdict in favor of Quigley, Winter must show "a complete absence of probative facts" support the jury's verdict and no reasonable jury could have found in Quigley's favor. Heaton, 534 F.3d at 887. Winter simply cannot meet this high threshold for setting aside the jury's verdict.
3. "Quid Pro Quo" Sexual Harassment
Winter next contends the district court erred in denying his motion for judgment as a matter of law on Quigley's "quid pro quo" sexual harassment claim. "'Quid pro quo' harassment occurs when housing benefits are explicitly or implicitly conditioned on sexual favors." Honce, 1 F.3d at 1089; cf. Ogden v. Wax Works, Inc., 214 F.3d 999, 1006 n.8 (8th Cir. 2000) ("To prevail on her [employment discrimination] quid pro quo claim, [plaintiff] needed to prove (1) she was a member of a protected class; (2) she was subjected to unwelcome harassment in the form of sexual advances or requests for sexual favors; (3) the harassment was based on sex; and (4) her submission to the unwelcome advances was an express or implied condition for receiving job benefits or her refusal to submit resulted in a tangible job detriment." (citation omitted)).
In reviewing the district court's denial of Winter's motion for judgment as a matter of law, we must view all facts in the light most favorable to Quigley and afford her all reasonable inferences . See HOK Sport, Inc. v. FC Des Moines, L.C., 495 F.3d 927, 934 (8th Cir. 2007). "'[W]here conflicting inferences reasonably can be drawn from evidence, it is the function of the jury to determine what inference shall be drawn.'" Id. (quoting Canny v. Dr Pepper/Seven-Up Bottling Group, Inc., 439 F.3d 894, 900 (8th Cir. 2006)).
While the evidence of "quid pro quo" harassment was not overwhelming, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Quigley, we conclude there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict. Specifically, when Quigley inquired about the likelihood of receiving her deposit back from Winter, Winter fluttered his hand against Quigley's stomach and said, "My eagle eyes have not seen everything yet." The jury could reasonably infer Winter was telling Quigley the return of her deposit was conditioned upon Winter seeing more of Quigley's body or even receiving a sexual favor, which would amount to "quid pro quo" sexual harassment. We will not disturb the jury's verdict.
4. Coercion, Intimidation, or Interference with Housing Rights
Winter maintains the district court should not have denied Winter's post-trial motion on Quigley's coercion, intimidation, and interference claim under 42 U.S.C. § 3617. Winter contends Quigley's claim was "essentially a retaliation claim" and Quigley failed to prove retaliation.
It shall be unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his having exercised or enjoyed, or on account of his having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of, any right ...