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Lamont Shepard v. T. Quillen

March 12, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara A. McAuliffe United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Lamont Shepard ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action is proceeding on Plaintiff's first amended complaint, filed on September 16, 2010, against Defendant T. Quillen for excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Jury trial is set for March 19, 2013, at 8:30 a.m. The parties have consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction.

On March 12, 2013, Plaintiff's motions in limine, along with Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration regarding 602 evidence, and Defendant's motions in limine were heard before the Honorable Barbara A McAuliffe, United States Magistrate Judge. Plaintiff appeared telephonically on his own behalf. Kathleen Williams appeared telephonically on behalf of Defendant Quillen.

I. Motions in Limine

A party may use a motion in limine to exclude inadmissible or prejudicial evidence before it is actually introduced at trial. See Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40 n. 2 (1984). "[A] motion in limine is an important tool available to the trial judge to ensure the expeditious and evenhanded management of the trial proceedings." Jonasson v. Lutheran Child and Family Services, 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997). A motion in limine allows the parties to resolve evidentiary disputes before trial and avoids potentially prejudicial evidence being presented in front of the jury. Brodit v. Cambra, 350 F.3d 985, 1004-05 (9th Cir. 2003).

Motions in limine that exclude broad categories of evidence are disfavored, and such issues are better dealt with during trial as the admissibility of evidence arises. Sperberg v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Co., 519 F.2d 708, 712 (6th Cir. 1975). Additionally, some evidentiary issues are not accurately and efficiently evaluated by the trial judge in a motion in limine and it is necessary to defer ruling until trial when the judge can better estimate the impact of the evidence on the jury. Jonasson, 115 F.3d at 440.

II. Discussion

A. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 1 (ECF No. 116.)

Plaintiff seeks an order allowing him to demonstrate slipping the handcuffs. Plaintiff anticipates that this demonstration (1) will show the jury that he did not injure himself by slipping the handcuffs and (2) will impeach the anticipated testimony of Defendant Quillen and of witness Fujioka that they observed Plaintiff injure himself by slipping the handcuffs.

Defendant opposes the motion for two main reasons. First, Defendant argues that Plaintiff is dangerous and a security risk, and he should not be allowed to demonstrate his ability to slip his handcuffs. To illustrate dangerousness, Defendant reports that Plaintiff was imprisoned in 1996 following his convictions for attempted murder, assault with a firearm and discharge of a firearm in a grossly negligent manner. While in prison, he committed two counts of battery on a non-prisoner. Additionally, on February 7, 2011, he was convicted for a 1995 murder. Exs. A-D to Def's Opp. Defendant also reports that Plaintiff is housed in the Security Housing Unit ("SHU") at Corcoran State Prison. According to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") information, inmates whose conduct endangers the safety of others or the security of the institution are housed in SHU. Ex. E to Def's Opp. Defendant believes that allowing Plaintiff to demonstrate slipping the handcuffs would pose a risk to those in the courtroom because Plaintiff would need to be unshackled.

Second, Defendant argues that the demonstration would be inherently unreliable, misleading, prejudicial and foundationally flawed. Defendant believes that Fed. R. Evid. 403 should render the re-enactment inadmissible. Rule 403 provides that relevant evidence may be excluded "if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the 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. Defendant contends that Plaintiff has made no showing that his re-enactment will be the same or substantially similar to what he did on July 15, 2008, because there is no indication that the handcuffs will be the same, that Plaintiff will be handcuffed in the same manner, that Plaintiff is the same weight and that the handcuffs will fit the same. Defendant therefore contends that any re-enactment may be prejudicial and may confuse the jury. Defendant also believes that if Plaintiff were to injure himself by slipping his handcuffs, he could mislead the jury by essentially hiding any pain or injury.

In this case, there is no dispute that the demonstration is relevant. While Defendant argues that the demonstration has the potential for prejudice, confusion and misleading the jury, it appears that these concerns can be addressed by rebuttal evidence. For example, Defendant can testify regarding his observations of the demonstration and how it differs from the events at issue in 2008. Insofar as Defendant believes that Plaintiff may attempt to hide any injury or pain, the jury will be able to observe Plaintiff throughout the duration of trial, not solely during the demonstration. Accordingly, the probative value of the demonstration is not substantially outweighed by a danger of prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury. Fed. R. Evid. 403.

However, the Court's primary concern is the safety risk posed by the demonstration. The Court therefore DEFERS its ruling until the time of trial. At that time, Plaintiff's transporting officers can be questioned regarding the potential risks of the demonstration.

B. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 2 (ECF No. 119)

Plaintiff seeks an order requiring Defendant Quillen to produce his personnel file at trial. Plaintiff believes that this file is necessary to demonstrate that Defendant Quillen has a history of attacking inmates and has been disciplined for assaulting Plaintiff and other inmates on various dates. Plaintiff argues that Defendant Quillen's history indicates a propensity to be violent with inmates.

The Court previously denied Plaintiff's request for Defendant Quillen's personnel file in the Pretrial Order. (ECF No. 114.) Defendant Quillen opposes the renewed motion for his personnel file for two additional reasons. First, Defendant points out that discovery in this matter closed on November 30, 2011. If Plaintiff wanted Defendant's personnel file and did not receive it, then he should have filed a motion to compel. As Defendant contends, Plaintiff should not be able to circumvent the discovery cut-off date by asking for the documents at trial.

Second, Defendant argues that Plaintiff is requesting the personnel file in an effort to introduce inadmissible character evidence. Evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the ...

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