Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

United States v. Couch

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

August 3, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JOHN PATRICK COUCH, M.D., XIULU RUAN, M.D.,

          ORDER

          CALLIE V. S. GRANADE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action is before the Court on the motion of Defendant Xiulu Ruan for Judgment of Acquittal or, in the Alternative for New Trial (Doc. 528), the motion of Defendant John Patrick Couch for Judgment of Acquittal or, in the Alternative, for New Trial (Doc. 530), and the Government's response to both motions (Doc. 568). For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that Defendants' motions should be denied.

         I. Motion for Acquittal

         Defendants moved for judgment of acquittal Pursuant to Rule 29(c), requesting that the Court set aside the guilty verdicts entered against them. A defendant is entitled to a judgment of acquittal when “the evidence is insufficient to sustain a conviction.” See Fed. R. Crim. P. 29(a) (discussing standard for acquittal before submission to the jury).

In considering a motion for the entry of judgment of acquittal under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(c), a district court should apply the same standard used in reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a conviction. See United States v. Sellers, 871 F.2d 1019, 1020 (11th Cir.1989). The district court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government. See id. (citing Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80, 62 S.Ct. 457, 86 L.Ed. 680 (1942), superceded by rule on other grounds, Bourjaily v. United States, 483 U.S. 171, 107 S.Ct. 2775, 97 L.Ed.2d 144 (1987)). The court must resolve any conflicts in the evidence in favor of the government, see United States v. Taylor, 972 F.2d 1247, 1250 (11th Cir.1992), and must accept all reasonable inferences that tend to support the government's case. See United States v. Burns, 597 F.2d 939, 941 (5th Cir.1979). The court must ascertain whether a reasonable jury could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. See Sellers, 871 F.2d at 1021 (citing United States v. O'Keefe, 825 F.2d 314, 319 (11th Cir.1987)). “ ‘It is not necessary for the evidence to exclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence or be wholly inconsistent with every conclusion except that of guilt, provided a reasonable trier of fact could find that the evidence establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.' ” Sellers, 871 F.2d at 1021 (quoting United States v. Bell, 678 F.2d 547, 549 (5th Cir. Unit B 1982) (en banc), aff'd on other grounds, 462 U.S. 356, 103 S.Ct. 2398, 76 L.Ed.2d 638 (1983)). A jury is free to choose among reasonable constructions of the evidence. See Sellers, 871 F.2d at 1021. The court must accept all of the jury's “reasonable inferences and credibility determinations.” See Id. (citing United States v. Sanchez, 722 F.2d 1501, 1505 (11th Cir.1984)).

United States v. Ward, 197 F.3d 1076, 1079 (11th Cir. 1999) (footnote omitted). In the instant case, both Defendants renew their motions for judgment of acquittal filed at the close of the Government's case-in-chief and incorporate those grounds as well as those stated on the record at trial. Defendants do not offer any additional arguments to support their motions for judgments of acquittal. The Court, after reviewing Defendants' prior motions (Docs. 463 & 465) and considering the arguments made on the record, again finds that a reasonable jury could have found the Defendants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, Defendant's motions for judgment of acquittal will be denied.

         II. New Trial

         Defendants move in the alternative for a new trial pursuant to Rule 33. Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure empowers a district court to vacate a judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice requires. Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). “[T]here are two grounds upon which a court may grant a motion for new trial: one based on newly discovered evidence …; and the other based on any other reason, typically the interest of justice …” United States v. Campa, 459 F.3d 1121, 1151 (11th Cir. 2006). The decision whether to grant or deny such a motion rests in the sound discretion of the trial court. United States v. Champion, 813 F .2d 1154, 1170 (11th Cir.1987). Under Rule 33, the Court “may weigh the evidence and consider the credibility of witnesses.” United States v. Martinez, 763 F.2d 1297, 1312 (11th Cir. 1985). “In evaluating a motion for a new trial, [a] district court need not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict.” United States v. Ward, 274 F.3d 1320, 1323 (11th Cir. 2001) (citations and internal quotations omitted). However, “[t]he court may not reweigh the evidence and set aside the verdict simply because it feels some other result would be more reasonable. The evidence must preponderate heavily against the verdict, such that it would be a miscarriage of justice to let the verdict stand.” Martinez, 763 F.2d at 1312-13. Motions for new trials should be granted “sparingly, ” and only granted in “those really ‘exceptional cases.' ” Id. at 1313.

         In the instant case, Defendants contend that a new trial is warranted for the following reasons: 1) insufficient evidence, 2) erroneous jury instructions, 3) erroneous evidentiary rulings, and 4) improper comments made during closing arguments.

         A. Sufficiency of Evidence

         Defendants argue that a new trial is warranted because the evidence sufficiently preponderates against the convictions for the same reasons outlined in their motions for acquittal. In particular, in relation to Counts Eight, Nine, Eleven and Twelve, Defendant Ruan points to the credibility and competency of the Government's expert witness, Dr. David Greenberg. Greenberg's competency was not raised prior to trial and when the issue was raised after Greenberg testified (Sealed Doc. 448), the Court found on the record that he was competent to testify. (TR 1-17-2017). Defendant Ruan contends Greenberg's testimony was incredible, but the Court disagrees. During his testimony Greenberg sometimes seemed confused about details and appeared to have trouble locating specified pages in reports and exhibits when questioned by the attorneys, but his analysis and conclusions appeared to be sound. The jury was free to consider Greenberg's apparent confusion in determining whether the evidence established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the Court presumes that the jurors were capable of evaluating the credibility of the witness's testimony.

         Defendant Ruan also questions the sufficiency of evidence regarding particular elements of the charges in Count Four - for conspiracy to distribute Schedule III Controlled Substances and the charges in Count Sixteen - for conspiracy to violate anti-kickback statutes. However, the Court finds there was sufficient evidence to support both of these charges.

         As to Count Four, Defendant argues that the Government failed to submit that any prescriptions for Schedule III Controlled Substances were distributed outside the usual course of his professional practice and for no legitimate medical purpose in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. However, the Court disagrees. There was significant evidence at trial that prescriptions were distributed outside the usual course of professional practice and for no legitimate medical purpose. Moreover, Count Four does not charge a substantive violation, but instead alleges that Defendants conspired to distribute and dispense Schedule III Controlled Substances outside the usual course of professional medical practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose. Thus, under Count Four, the evidence must only show that each Defendant agreed with others to try to accomplish the unlawful act.

         As to Count Sixteen, Defendant contends that there was no evidence: 1) that a Federal health care program was involved, 2) of any payment by a Federal health care program for the Controlled Substance, or 3) that a referral was involved. However, the Court finds there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that all of the required elements were met. There was sufficient evidence that the Defendants received remuneration in exchange for referring an individual for the furnishing or arranging for the furnishing of an item or service that was covered by a federal health care program. The Court is not persuaded that there was insufficient evidence to establish Defendants' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on any of the charges for which the jury returned a guilty verdict.

         B. Jury Instructions

         Defendant Couch[1] contends that a new trial should be granted because this Court's instructions concerning the Controlled Substances Act were erroneous. The Eleventh Circuit has stated that “[g]enerally district courts ‘have broad discretion in formulating jury instructions provided that the charge as a whole accurately reflects the law and the facts, ' and we will not reverse a conviction on the basis of a jury charge unless ‘the issues of law were presented inaccurately, or the charge improperly guided the jury in such a substantial was as to violate due process.' “ United States v. Prather, 205 F.3d 1265, 1270 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting United States v. Arias, 984 F.2d 1139, 1143 (11th Cir. 1993)). “The court should order a new trial where [its jury] instructions do not accurately reflect the law, and the instructions as a whole do not correctly instruct the jury so that [the court is] left with a substantial and ineradicable doubt as to whether the jury was properly guided in its deliberations.” United States v. AseraCare Inc., 153 F.Supp.3d 1372, 1384 (N.D. Ala. 2015) (quoting Broaddus v. Fla. Power Corp., 145 F.3d 1283, 1288 (11th Cir.1998) (internal quotations omitted)). This Court has previously described the legal standard for a new trial based on erroneous jury instructions as follows:

“A district court has broad discretion in formulating jury instructions.” Toole v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 235 F.3d 1307, 1313 (11th Cir.2000) (citing Christopher v. Cutter Laboratories, 53 F.3d 1184, 1190 (11th Cir.1995)). Indeed, the law is clear that the trial judge “is not bound to parrot either counsel or appellate courts, ” that “his wide discretion permits him to select his own words and to charge in his own style, ” and that he is required only to “communicate[ ] the substance of the law correctly.” Bass v. International Broth. of Boilermakers, 630 F.2d 1058, 1061 (5th Cir.1980); see also Farley v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 197 F.3d 1322, 1329 (11th Cir.1999) (“we accord the trial judge wide discretion as to the style and wording employed in jury instructions and verdict forms”) (citation omitted). Not surprisingly, then, “[m]otions for new trial on the basis of erroneous and prejudicial jury instructions are committed to the discretion of the trial court and reviewed to ascertain whether there has been a clear abuse of that discretion.” Toole, 235 F.3d at 1313 (citing Christopher, 53 F.3d at 1190)). A new trial should be granted if the jury instructions “did not accurately reflect the law in such a way that we are left with a substantial and ineradicable doubt as to whether the jury was properly guided in its deliberations.” Cleveland v. Home Shopping Network, Inc., 369 F.3d 1189, 1196 (11th Cir.2004) (citation omitted) (affirming denial of motion for new trial where appeals court was not left with substantial and ineradicable doubt that the jury was misled by the instruction given). “[T]he trial court's refusal to give a requested instruction is not error where the substance of that proposed instruction was covered by another instruction which was given.” Merchants Nat. Bank of Mobile v. United States, 878 F.2d 1382, 1388 (11th Cir.1989). Even if a refused instruction (a) is not adequately covered by the existing charge, (b) is a correct statement of law, and (c) deals with an issue that is properly before the jury, “there still must be a showing of prejudicial harm as a result of the instruction not being given before the judgment will be disturbed.” Merchants, 878 F.2d at 1389; see also Bass, 630 F.2d at 1062 (“Only if the trial judge's instructions to the jury, taken as a whole, give a misleading impression or inadequate understanding of the law and the issues to be resolved, is a new trial required.”); Boyd v. Illinois State Police, 384 F.3d 888, 894 (7th Cir.2004) (to win a new trial based on erroneous ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.