Update: Comments from Bradley J. Edwards of Edwards Pottinger LLC about the case were added to the story.
A rapper who sexually assaulted a contestant competing on his reality television show and told her to “be a woman and shut up” when she complained must pay $7.1 million in damages.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld an award of $1,130,100 in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages a jury made to Priscilla Rainey in her lawsuit against Jayceon Terrell Taylor.
Taylor is a Grammy-nominated rap artist who performs under the name “The Game.” Rainey was a contestant on “She’s Got Game,” Taylor’s short-lived VH1 reality dating show patterned on “The Bachelor.”
In May 2015, Taylor took Rainey on an off-camera date to a Markham sports bar — an apparent violation of the show’s rules — where he sexually assaulted her by repeatedly lifting her skirt and rubbing her vagina and buttocks. He also “juggled” her breasts.
The two were under a stage light at the time in full view of other patrons.
Three days later, in a videotaped confrontation on the show’s tour bus, Taylor refused to talk about the incident and instead cursed at Rainey and threatened to strangle her.
At one point, Taylor said: “What you can do is be a woman and shut up, like you can shut up right now.”
What Rainey did was file a suit in federal court in Chicago in August 2015 accusing Taylor of sexual battery.
A jury in U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman’s courtroom returned the verdict against Taylor in November 2016.
In August 2018, Feinerman denied Taylor’s motion for a new trial or for a reduction of the damages.
A 7th Circuit panel upheld the verdict Thursday.
“Taylor did not take the litigation seriously,” Judge Diane S. Sykes wrote for the panel. “He evaded process, trolled Rainey on social media, dodged a settlement conference and did not bother to show up at trial.”
Feinerman authorized alternative service after five process servers in three states failed multiple times to serve Taylor with the complaint and summons.
Taylor sought to reschedule a settlement conference — which later was canceled for other reasons — “feigning concern for his safety based on Chicago’s gun-violence problem,” Sykes wrote.
Feinerman twice denied Taylor’s motions for a continuance before the trial began on a Monday in November 2016.
Taylor did not appear for the first day of trial, but his attorney said he would be in court the next day.
Taylor, however, did not appear on Tuesday and his lawyer asked for a continuance. The lawyer said he had learned his client underwent an emergency dental procedure in California the previous day.
Feinerman telephoned the clinic where the procedure was performed and an endodontist said Taylor had two root canals on Monday after calling the clinic’s hotline Sunday evening.
But it was not clear if Taylor’s dental problem was actually an emergency. And Taylor’s Snapchat account included photos of him partying at 2:44 a.m. Monday, just a few hours after he called the hotline and a few hours before he was due in court.
Feinerman denied the motion for a continuance and Taylor did not appear in court on Wednesday. His lawyer renewed the motion for a continuance and presented airline and hotel reservations in an attempt to show his client had intended to attend the trial.
The reservations, however, had Taylor arriving in Chicago early Tuesday morning and leaving Wednesday night for a trial expected to last a week.
Feinerman denied the renewed motion for a continuance and the trial proceeded.
After the parties rested on Friday, Feinerman noted Taylor had not testified and instructed jurors that they could — but were not required to — assume Taylor’s testimony would have been unfavorable to himself.
After the jury returned the verdict, Taylor asked for a new trial on grounds that included the denial of a continuance and the “missing witness” instruction. In the alternative, he asked for a remittitur of damages.
Taylor appealed after Feinerman denied the motions and entered judgment in the case.
In its opinion, the 7th Circuit rejected the argument that Feinerman erred when he denied Taylor’s continuance motions.
“Taylor’s claim that he had a dental emergency on Sunday was not substantiated by reliable evidence and was hard to take seriously given Taylor’s evasive litigation conduct and the Snapchat photos,” Sykes wrote.
The panel also held Feinerman “was on solid ground” in giving the missing witness instruction.
“Taylor was in complete control of his own appearance at trial,” Sykes wrote.
And the panel upheld the award of damages.
The $1.13 million award in compensatory damages, Sykes wrote, “represents a fair and reasonable compensation for this intentional tort.”
Rainey testified that she suffered extreme emotional distress and needed treatment for anxiety, depression and nightmares, Sykes wrote. She wrote Rainey’s business partner in a spa in Miami testified the assault seriously hampered Rainey’s personal and professional life.
The panel rejected the argument that the award of $6 million in punitive damages violates the due process clause.
Punitive as well as compensatory damages are justified if Taylor’s conduct “is so reprehensible as to warrant the imposition of further sanctions to achieve punishment or deterrence,” Sykes wrote, quoting State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408 (2003).
Using terms that included “malicious,” “vile” and “vulgar,” Sykes wrote Taylor’s conduct satisfied that standard.
After subjecting Rainey to the sexual assault, Taylor added to her pain by viciously attacking her on social media, Sykes wrote.
And she wrote the “truly egregious nature of Taylor’s conduct” supports the award of punitive damages.
Joining the opinion were Chief Judge Diane P. Wood and Judge Joel M. Flaum. Priscilla Rainey v. Jayceon T. Taylor, Nos. 16-4153 and 18-2990.
Andrew Williams of The Williams Law Group in Miami argued the case before the 7th Circuit on behalf of Taylor. He could not be reached for comment.
Paul Cassell, a professor at the University of Utah College of Law, argued the case on behalf of Rainey.
Cassell referred questions to Bradley J. Edwards of Edwards Pottinger LLC in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “We were all proud to represent Priscilla through the trial and appeal,” Edwards wrote in an email. “And we are very proud to have brought her one step closer to the justice she deserves.”