The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Kapnick, reversing Supreme Court, reinstated plaintiff's malicious prosecution, 42 USC 1983, punitive damages and attorneys' fees claims. The claims had been dismissed pursuant to defendants' motion to set aside the $4 million jury verdict. Plaintiff had been injured during an arrest which took place just outside plaintiff's residence after he was approached by two police officers, ostensibly for his holding an open can of beer. Plaintiff was ultimately charged only with disorderly conduct which was dismissed at trial at the close of the People's case. The opinion includes an in-depth discussion of the elements of malicious prosecution, including the distinct “lack of probable cause to arrest” and “malice” elements. The court noted that the trial court improperly substituted its own factual judgments for the jury's. The court explained:
The actual malice element “does not require a plaintiff to prove that the defendant was motivated by spite or hatred, although it will of course be satisfied by such proof” … . Since “[a]ctual malice is seldom established by direct evidence of an ulterior motive” … , it “may be proven by circumstantial evidence” … , and depends “upon inferences to be reasonably drawn from the surrounding facts and circumstances” … . Actual malice may also be inferred from a total lack of probable cause … or from defendant's intentionally providing false information to law enforcement authorities … . It is important to note that the lack of probable cause and actual malice elements are independent, and “a jury may, but is not required to, infer the existence of actual malice from the fact that there was no probable cause to initiate the proceeding” … . As a result, it is advisable to separate the questions of probable cause and malice on a verdict sheet … . Here, however, while there was only one question, the trial court did charge the jury on both the elements of probable cause and malice, and instructed the jury that only if they found that “plaintiff  prove[d] both that the defendants did not have probable cause and that they acted maliciously” (emphasis added) should they move on to consider damages, which they did.
Based on the foregoing, and contrary to the trial court's finding, the jury's verdict on malicious prosecution was improperly set aside as insufficient as a matter of law. It cannot be said that there was no valid line of reasoning that could possibly have led rational people to the conclusion reached by the jury on the basis of the evidence at trial. Moreover, the court impermissibly usurped the jury's role and made factual determinations. The court's statement that the plaintiff “refus[ed] to submit to the authority of the police” is a clear example of the court substituting its judgment for that of the jury. When the facts give rise to conflicting inferences, as they do here, it is for the jury, not the court, to resolve those conflicts. Cardoza v City of New York, 2016 NY Slip Op 02766, 1st Dept 4-12-16