The appeals court refused to overturn rulings the late Judge Roll made during the litigation in Tucson federal district court. Following an eight-day trial with some 20 witnesses, a jury in 2009 found in favor of four plaintiffs who claimed a rancher named Roger Barnett assaulted them on public land on the border of Arizona and Mexico.
The appeals court upheld the jury’s verdict in favor of four of the plaintiffs on their claims for assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs called Barnett a “vigilante” who held the group of unarmed immigrants captive. The jury awarded a total of $73,352 in compensatory, punitive and nominal damages, according to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed suit on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Senior Judge David Thompson, Judge Barry Silverman and Senior Judge Robert Cowen of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, sitting by designation, presided over the appellate hearing on Dec. 8 in San Francisco.
Tucson solo practitioner John Kaufmann argued for Barnett, who attended the hearing. David Urias of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Ives & Duncan, in Albuquerque, represented the plaintiffs.
“The jury heard compelling testimony of the distress that was endured by these plaintiffs when they were held at gunpoint by Roger Barnett with a loaded .40-caliber handgun,” Urias said in court. “The jury heard testimony about he berated them with racial slurs and obscenities. The jury heard testimony about how he pointed his gun at the heads of each of these appellees. The jury heard all this evidence.”
The appeals court upheld Roll’s decision not to issue a self-defense instruction to the jury, saying that Barnett conceded on the stand that none of the plaintiffs were armed or threatened him.
Roll, the appeals court said, was correct in denying Barnett’s motion for judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiffs testified about anxiety, depression and insomnia stemming from Barnett’s action, the court noted in its ruling. An expert diagnosed three of the four plaintiffs with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Upon review, we conclude that there is substantial evidence from which the jury could have concluded that the appellees suffered severe emotional distress,” the appeals court said.