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Reed v. City of Modesto

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 24, 2015

BRIAN REED, B.R., a minor, by her guardian ad litem, Roxanne Sayer, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF MODESTO, a municipal corporation, Chief of Police HARDEN, in his individual capacity; Police Officer RON ZIYA, Police Officer CAELI KOEHLER, in their individual and official capacities, Defendants.

ORDER RE: MOTIONS IN LIMINE AND MOTION TO BIFURCATE TRIAL

ANTHONY W. ISHII, Senior District Judge.

I. Background

On December 30, 2010, police officers were called to the residence of Plaintiff Brian Reed and Susan Nava. Nava informed the police operator that Plaintiff Reed was suicidal and sought help to stop him from hurting himself. Upon arrival, Defendant Ron Ziya and Officer Caeli Koehler saw Nava and Plaintiff Reed inside; Plaintiff Reed had a knife. Nava exited the room. Defendant Ziya and Koehler told Plaintiff Reed to drop the knife but he did not comply. Plaintiff Reed took a small step toward the police officers and Defendant Ziya shot at him multiple times, hitting him twice. Another police officer, Michelle Baker, then arrived and shot a taser at Plaintiff Reed. Plaintiff Reed's minor daughter, Plaintiff B.R., was outside during this course of events. After the shooting, Plaintiff Reed lapsed into a coma for an extended period of time. Consequently, he does not have a firm recollection of these events.

Plaintiff Reed and Plaintiff B.R. filed suit under a federal claim of 42 U.S.C. §1983 alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and state law claims of battery, Cal. Civ. Code §52.1, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. All claims against Police Chief Harden and Officer Koehler were dismissed from this suit; the Section 1983 claims against Defendant City of Modesto were also dismissed. Doc. 119. The remaining defendants are Ron Ziya, on federal and state claims, and the City of Modesto, on the state law claims. This order deals with the second round of motions in limine filed by the parties. An earlier round of motions were heard and ruled on at a November 24, 2014 hearing. The trial, scheduled for December, had to be postponed as a criminal trial scheduled for the same day took precedence. The parties agreed to more depositions and a second set of motions in limine in light of the additional evidence. Oral argument on these motions in limine were held on April 20, 2015. After the hearing, Defendants filed an ex parte motion to have the trial bifurcated. Trial is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, April, 28, 2015.

II. 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. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40 n.2 (1984). Fed. Rule Evid. 403 states generally that, "The 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." "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." Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). The parties must abide by the court's rulings but may ask for reconsideration as trial progresses. "[A] ruling on a motion in limine is essentially a preliminary opinion that falls entirely within the discretion of the district court. The district court may change its ruling at trial because testimony may bring facts to the district court's attention that it did not anticipate at the time of its initial ruling." United States v. Bensimon, 172 F.3d 1121, 1127 (9th Cir. 1999), citing Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41-42 (1984).

III. Discussion

A. Plaintiffs' Motions in Limine

At the earlier hearing, Plaintiffs' first motion in limine (to exclude evidence Plaintiff Reed was huffing gas') was granted. Plaintiffs' five other motions in limine are discussed below.

1. Reconsideration of Plaintiffs' Motion in Limine 2

Plaintiffs' second motion in limine sought to "preclude Defendants introducing any evidence at trial that Plaintiff BRIAN REED entered an alcohol treatment program around eight years ago or that he made some suicide threats at around that same time on the ground that such evidence would be irrelevant to any issue in the case and that even if it was relevant to some issue, its probative value would be substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect to Plaintiff." Doc. 74, Plaintiffs Motion, 1:24-2:2. Defendants opposed the motion arguing the information was relevant to support Dr. Emily Keram's expert testimony on suicide by cop. Doc. 84, Defendants Opposition, 2:8-4:12. At the hearing, the motion was granted as "looking at the Graham v. Connor basic standards, any prior use of intoxicants, any prior drug or alcohol treatment programs, really does not fit within the parameters of the use of force analysis." Doc. 106, Transcript, 18:1-4.

Defendants seek reconsideration, arguing that this information is relevant in determining damages: "Plaintiffs' neuropsychology expert, Dr. Eric Morgenthaler, has opined that Mr. Reed suffered a decline in his cognitive abilities as a result of the shooting. The Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion in Limine No. 2 before Dr. Morgenthaler was deposed in this matter....During his deposition testimony, Dr. Morgenthaler conceded that a number of factors can cause an individual to suffer cognitive decline. Those factors include substance abuse and mental illness, both of which were present in Mr. Reed's life both before and after the shooting." Doc. 123, Defendants Motion, 3:22-4:3. Morgenthaler did not state that Plaintiff Reed's cognitive decline was due to any substance abuse but he did state that such activities could have that negative result:

Q....can mental illness in a person cause cognitive decline?
A. Yes.
Q. Can substance abuse cause cognitive decline?
A. Yes.
... ...

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