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Robert Morris v. Officer Christopher Long

April 27, 2012

ROBERT MORRIS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER CHRISTOPHER LONG,
DEFENDANT.



ORDER RE: MOTIONS IN LIMINE (Docs. 186 and 187)

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Robert Morris (hereinafter referred to as "Plaintiff") and defendant Officer Christopher Long (hereinafter referred to as "Defendant") have filed competing motions in limine. For reasons discussed below, the motions shall be granted in part and denied in part.

II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 11, 2012, Plaintiff filed his ninth amended complaint, asserting one cause of action against Defendant for federal civil rights violations (in particular, excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In the ninth amended complaint, Plaintiff alleged as follows:

"4. . . . [P]laintiff was taken by Officer Long to a Fresno Police Department facility located near Shaw Avenue and 6th Street for purposes of a forced blood draw. During the course of said blood draw, Officer Long unnecessarily and with extreme force administered a control hold on plaintiff's left arm while blood was being drawn from his right arm. Officer Long continued this extreme use of force for a prolonged time, resulting in severe and permanent injuries to plaintiff's left arm and shoulder. [¶] 5. Officer Long's use of force in connection with the forced blood draw was totally unnecessary, as plaintiff was cooperative throughout his interaction with Officer Long, even though he had been the victim of a battery and robbery . . . ."

On March 13, 2012, the parties filed their motions in limine. The parties filed their oppositions and replies on April 23, 2012 and April 26, 2012, respectively.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Motions in limine may be "made before or during trial, to exclude anticipated prejudicial evidence before the evidence is actually offered." Luce v. U.S., 469 U.S. 38, 40 n. 2, 105 S.Ct. 460, 83 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984). "Although the Federal Rules of Evidence do not explicitly authorize in limine rulings, the practice has developed pursuant to the district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials." Id. at 41 n. 4. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, "[t]he court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." Fed. R. Evid. 403."Evidence is relevant if [¶] (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and [¶] (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action." Fed. R. Evid. 401.

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's motions in limine

1. Motion in limine #1: Untimely disclosed or undisclosed witnesses and evidence -- Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a) and (e), Plaintiff first moves to exclude "any evidence or witnesses not timely disclosed during discovery." Plaintiff contends, "A review of the pretrial order shows that defense document numbers 20, 21, 22, 23 (in part), 24, 27, 28, and 29 have not been disclosed to the plaintiff." Plaintiff further contends, "Also, defense witnesses 14 and 17-58 have not been disclosed during discovery with reasonable particularity, either in the defendant's initial disclosures or discovery responses. These exhibits and witnesses should therefore be excluded." In opposition, Defendant contends the motion should be denied because "[m]any of the witnesses and much of the evidence listed by the defense in the pretrial order was done [sic] out of an abundance of caution for purposes of impeachment depending upon how Plaintiff testifies during trial and thus were not required to be disclosed." Defendant further contends, "[T]he names of defense witnesses 14 and 17-58 identified in the pretrial order were either available to Plaintiff through documents he produced during discovery to the defense or through records subpoenas, which Plaintiff had equal opportunity to obtain copies of the subpoenaed records. Similarly, defense exhibits numbers 20-24, and 27-29 from the pretrial order were obtained by means of a record subpoena and thus such information was made known to and equally available to Plaintiff through the discovery process."

Having reviewed the pleadings of record and all competent and admissible evidence submitted, the Court finds it impossible to adjudicate this motion at the present time. Rule 26(a) requires a party provide the opposing party with "the name and, if known, the address and telephone number of each individual likely to have discoverable information -- along with the subjects of that information -- that the disclosing party may use to support its claims or defenses, unless the use would be solely for impeachment." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(1)(A)(I). Under Rule 26(e), a party is under a continuing obligation to supplement its discovery responses. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(e)(1). If a party fails to identify a witness or make a disclosure that is required under Rule 26(a) or (e), Rule 37(c)(1) provides "the party is not allowed to use that information or witness to supply evidence on a motion, at a hearing, or at a trial, unless the failure was substantially justified or is harmless." Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c)(1). Plaintiff contends the documents numbers and witnesses at issue were not disclosed in discovery by Defendant in violation of Rule 26, but has provided no evidence (in the form of his own declaration or a declaration from counsel) to show this was the case. Defendant, conversely, contends many of the witnesses at issue will be used solely for impeachment and were therefore not required to be disclosed under Rule 26, but Defendant has not identified which witnesses these will be. Defendant has also not provided any evidence to show that the identities of the witnesses at issue were known to Plaintiff through documents Plaintiff produced in discovery, nor has Defendant provided evidence to show the documents and witnesses at issue were equally available to Defendant through records subpoenas. Thus, the Court reserves ruling on Plaintiff's motion in limine #1.

2. Motion in limine #2: "Character evidence" -- Contending such evidence constitutes impermissible "character evidence," Plaintiff further moves to preclude Defendant from introducing "(1) any evidence suggesting that [Plaintiff] has ever used alcohol excessively; (2) evidence of [Plaintiff's] prior arrests unrelated to the subject incident; (3) evidence of confrontations with police officers unrelated to the subject incident; (4) evidence of [Plaintiff's] mental health hospitalization and history unrelated to the incident and his damages resulting therefrom; and (5) evidence of [Plaintiff's] medical history unrelated to the incident and his damages resulting therefrom."

(I) Evidence suggesting that Plaintiff used alcohol excessively -- Plaintiff contends such evidence "would only serve to label the plaintiff as a 'bad person' and unduly prejudice him under Rule 403." In response, Defendant contends evidence of Plaintiff's alcohol use has probative value on the issue of damages in that "[s]uch evidence is relevant to Plaintiff's ability to become employed and remain employed as employment for many businesses is contingent upon passing a drug test, which often includes testing for alcohol." Defendant further contends, "[M]any employers require a valid drivers license, especially where the employment requires any kind of travel, which is a difficult proposition where multiple DUIs are involved resulting in a suspended or revoked license." Having reviewed the pleadings of record and all competent and admissible evidence submitted, the Court is inclined to agree with Defendant. Defendant's argument, in essence, is evidence of Plaintiff's alcohol use should be admissible because it affects Plaintiff's work life expectancy and earning capacity, which affect the calculation of damages. Such evidence is relevant and probative on the issue of damages for future lost income. Butler v. French, 83 F.3d 942, 945 (8th Cir. 1996) (citing Haney v. Mizell Memorial Hospital, 744 F.2d 1467, 1475 (11th Cir. 1984)). The Court agrees such evidence could pose a risk of unfair prejudice by casting Plaintiff in a negative light. Problematically for Plaintiff, the ninth amended complaint requests compensatory damages for ...


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