The Case Before Us, Part 4

Now that the City of Minneapolis has paid a record $27 million dollars to the Estate of George Floyd, the fairness of the trial and the impact of publicity on prospective jurors has become a serious issue.

Plainly, the Minneapolis city officials feared the evidence that might be developed at trial about City policy on the use of the kneeling restraint as presented in this case. This evidence goes directly to what in the world of civil rights litigation is called “Monell” liability.

While the United States Supreme Court has held that municipalities are not vicariously liable for individual officers’ civil rights violations they can be directly liable for the policies, practices, and customs which are the moving force behind those violations.

If Mr. Chauvin can offer evidence that his conduct was the result of training received from the MPD, this testimony increases the likelihood of later direct liability for the City itself. Therefore, regardless of the City’s later refusal to indemnify or pay for Chauvin’s specific conduct, they might pay for their unconstitutional policy.

The City arguably decided to immediately force a settlement through the procedural device of a Rule 68 offer of judgment — -forcing the Floyd estate to choose now or possibly pay the cost of the entire lawsuit later if they failed to prove and recover damages more than the proffered amount.

And because the City Council acted publicly to approve this payment, it had become an issue in jury selection.

This was conceivably avoidable.

Had the the City sought to use Rule 67 of the Federal Rules, which provides for depositing an amount sought in litigation to the Court itself, it might have undertaken to make such a deposit before the actual payment and requested the Court to maintain the payment under seal — waiting until the sequestration of the Chauvin jury for deliberations.

By simply approving an amount to be deposited to the Court under Rule 67, the City might have been able maintain a temporary confidentiality of the amount deposited until the time the settlement became final after the Chauvin jury trial.

By depositing the specified settlement amount the City demonstrates to the plaintiffs their commitment to settle without further exposure and the interests of justice in the parallel criminal proceedings might have been better protected.

-Albert Turner Goins