6 PJI 4.5 | SECTION 1981 | NOMINAL DAMAGES
If you return a verdict for [plaintiff], but [plaintiff] has failed to prove actual injury and therefore is not entitled to compensatory damages, then you must award nominal damages of $ 1.00.
A person whose federal rights were violated is entitled to a recognition of that violation, even if [he/she] suffered no actual injury. Nominal damages (of $1.00) are designed to acknowledge the deprivation of a federal right, even where no actual injury occurred.
However, if you find actual injury, you must award compensatory damages (as I instructed you), rather than nominal damages.
Nominal damages may be awarded under Section 1981. See Erebia v. Chrysler Plastic Products Corp., 772 F.2d 1250, 1259 (6th Cir. 1985) (award of nominal damages proper in absence of absent proof of compensable injury) An instruction on nominal damages is proper when the plaintiff has failed to present evidence of actual injury. However, when the plaintiff has presented evidence of actual injury and that evidence is undisputed, it is error to instruct the jury on nominal damages, at least if the nominal damages instruction is emphasized to the exclusion of appropriate instructions on compensatory damages. Thus, in Pryer v. C.O. 3 Slavic, 251 F.3d 448, 452 (3d Cir. 2001), the district court granted a new trial, based partly on the ground that because the plaintiff had presented “undisputed proof of actual injury, an instruction on nominal damages was inappropriate.” In upholding the grant of a new trial, the Court of Appeals noted that “nominal damages may only be awarded in the absence of proof of actual injury.” See id. at 453. The court observed that the district court had “recognized that he had erroneously instructed the jury on nominal damages and failed to inform it of the availability of compensatory damages for pain and suffering.” Id. Accordingly, the court held that “[t]he court's error in failing to instruct as to the availability of damages for such intangible harms, coupled with its emphasis on nominal damages, rendered the totality of the instructions confusing and misleading.” Id. at 454.
Nominal damages may not exceed one dollar. See Mayberry v. Robinson, 427 F. Supp. 297, 314 (M.D. Pa. 1977) ("It is clear that the rule of law in the Third Circuit is that nominal damages may not exceed $1.00.") (citing United States ex rel. Tyrrell v. Speaker, 535 F.2d 823, 830 (3d Cir. 1976)).
(Last Updated March 2018)
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