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Hiramanek v. Clark

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

July 8, 2016

ADIL HIRAMANEK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
L. MICHAEL CLARK, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER REGARDING MOTIONS IN LIMINE AND OTHER PRETRIAL MATTERS RE: DKT. NOS. 606, 607, 617, 618, 619, 620, 621, 622, 623, 624, 625, 626, 628

          RONALD M. WHYTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this case involving allegations of racial discrimination by the clerk of the Sixth District Court of Appeal, the court will hold a further pretrial conference on July 15, 2016. In advance of that conference, defendant Beth Miller submitted two motions in limine, Dkt. Nos. 606-607; plaintiff Adil Hiramanek submitted five motions in limine, Dkt. Nos. 617-620, 628; plaintiff Roda Hiramanek submitted one motion in limine, Dkt. No. 621; and Roda Hiramanek filed three additional motions styled as motions for leave to file motions in limine, Dkt. Nos. 622-624.[1] Each plaintiff filed a joinder to the other plaintiff's motions in limine. Dkt. Nos. 625-626. As promised in the court's June 17, 2016 order, Dkt. No. 629 at 2, the court issues the following rulings in advance of the pretrial conference.

         I. MILLER MOTION IN LIMINE NO. 3: TO BIFURCATE THE ISSUE OF PUNITIVE DAMAGES AND EXCLUDE FINANCIAL EVIDENCE

         Denied. Defendant moves under FRE 403 to bifurcate the issue of punitive damages in the first phase of the trial and exclude any evidence of defendant Miller's financial condition. Dkt. No. 606. Plaintiffs oppose. Dkt. No. 644. Plaintiffs argue that courts routinely try the issues of compensatory and punitive damages together. See Id. at 1-2 (citing Hangarter v. Provident Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 373 F.3d 998, 1021 (9th Cir. 2004)). Plaintiffs also argue that bifurcating compensatory and punitive damages will unfairly prejudice plaintiffs. Id. at 3. Plaintiffs are concerned that if the jury is instructed that a finding for plaintiffs in the first phase of trial will require another phase on punitive damages, the jury may be encouraged to render a liability verdict in favor of defendant to avoid further jury service.

         The court finds that bifurcating the issues of compensatory and punitive damages would not serve the interests of judicial economy. Furthermore, while the court agrees with defendant that her financial condition is irrelevant to whether she is liable for racial discrimination, defendant does not appear to argue that her wealth is irrelevant to the issue of punitive damages.[2]Accordingly, the court declines to preclude plaintiffs from discussing defendant's financial condition with respect to punitive damages. Plaintiffs will not be allowed to discuss defendant's financial condition with respect to any other issue.

         II. MILLER MOTION IN LIMINE NO. 4: TO EXCLUDE EVIDENCE OF CONTENT OF UNSUBSTANTIATED WEBSITES

         Granted. Defendant moves to preclude plaintiffs from referring to, arguing, or attempting to introduce any evidence from unsubstantiated websites or blog posts. Dkt. No. 607. As examples of the evidence defendant seeks to preclude, defendant points to documents that plaintiffs have attached to court filings that contain disparaging remarks about courts in Santa Clara County. In one example cited by defendant, an "anonymous" blog posting contains commentary on this case and an image that appears to be a screen capture from the video record of Miller's deposition. See Dkt. No. 501 Ex. F. Defendant argues that Mr. Hiramanek is behind the blog post in question. Dkt. No. 607 at 2. Plaintiffs oppose defendant's motion and argue, among other things, that the court can take judicial notice of websites. Dkt. No. 645. Plaintiffs misunderstand the purpose of judicial notice, which is to allow the court to consider facts "whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned." FRE 201. For example, the court might take judicial notice of the existence of a website, if that fact were relevant, because that fact would not likely be in dispute. In this case, however, it appears that plaintiffs want the court to accept the truth of content on websites created by authors who are not testifying in court. Plaintiffs will not be allowed to rely on websites or blog posts written by authors who are not present in court-or by plaintiffs themselves-unless they can show that the prohibitions against the introduction of hearsay do not apply and that the probative value of the evidence outweighs the risk of unfair prejudice. See FRE 801-807, 402, 403.

         III. ADIL HIRAMANEK MOTIONS IN LIMINE NOS. 1 AND 5: TO EXCLUDE "PREJUDICIAL EVIDENCE" OF STATE COURT RULINGS

         Granted in Part and Denied in Part. Mr. Hiramanek moves under FRE 402 and 403 to exclude evidence of various state court orders that were adverse to him and his mother. These include, among other things, orders designating Mr. Hiramanek a vexatious litigant, a restraining order entered against him during divorce proceedings, and a judgement in favor of Mr. Hiramanek's ex-wife in a case that Roda Hiramanek filed against the ex-wife. Dkt. No. 617. Defendant opposes and argues that the state court orders are relevant to plaintiffs' damages theories. Dkt. No. 639. For example, defendant notes that Roda Hiramanek is seeking $9, 999, 999.00 for "[l]oss of Roda's claims on 2/28/14 judgment" and that Adil Hiramanek is seeking $10, 950, 000 for "9/10/13 retaliation denied access to his children and legitimate discovery." Id. at 1 (citing plaintiffs' pretrial disclosures, Dkt. No. 611 at ECF p. 14).

         The court tentatively concludes that Mr. Hiramanek's motion in limine no. 1 should be granted. The only issues for the jury to decide at trial are whether defendant Miller unlawfully denied plaintiffs the use of the court restroom because of their race and if so, the appropriate remedy. It is difficult to see how the adverse rulings against plaintiffs in state court are at all relevant to the issues of defendant's liability or the harm plaintiffs allegedly suffered, and the danger of unfair prejudice and waste of time is considerable. While an order finding that Mr. Hiramanek has made frivolous filings in the past may be somewhat relevant to plaintiff's reputation for truthfulness, introduction of such an order would likely cause the jury to waste time considering the merits of plaintiff's past acts.

         If, however, plaintiffs rely on state court rulings in support of their damages arguments or for any other purpose, defendants may be entitled to discuss those rulings. Moreover, while the court does not expect plaintiffs to argue at trial that defendant's racial prejudice against them motivated defendant to conspire with others to frame criminal charges against Mr. Hiramanek, see Dkt. No. 94-1 ¶ 798, if plaintiffs are allowed to make such an argument, defendant will be entitled to rebut those allegations. At the pretrial conference, plaintiffs should be prepared to provide an overview of the damages arguments that they actually plan to present at trial to assist the court in determining whether to refine this ruling.

         In Mr. Hiramanek's motion in limine no. 5, plaintiff moves categorically to exclude any document authored by the state court, presumably including the orders previously discussed. Plaintiff accuses the state court system-Miller's employer-of "purposefully/maliciously" making "fabricated" findings, "gutting the constitutional due process and other federal and human rights, " and issuing rulings akin to "Nazi Party decrees and orders." Dkt. No. 620 at 1. The court agrees with defendant that plaintiff has failed to provide a factual or legal basis in support of these frivolous accusations. Plaintiff's motion in limine no. 5 is denied without prejudice to particular state court orders being excluded as irrelevant or under FRE 403.

         IV. ADIL HIRAMANEK MOTION IN LIMINE NO. 2 AND RODA HIRAMANEK MOTION IN LIMINE NO. 1: EXCLUDE EVIDENCE NOT PRODUCED DURING DISCOVERY

         Denied. Plaintiffs generally move to preclude defendant from relying on any evidence that was denied to plaintiffs during discovery. Dkt. Nos. 618, 621. Mr. Hiramanek further moves for a ruling that "facts underlying the discovery which Def. defied on, or abused, shall be taken as established in favor of Pltfs'" or a ruling striking defendant's answer as a sanction. Dkt. No. 618 at 1. Ms. Hiramanek moves for an order "that all inferences of barred testimony, or evidence authored by persons who were barred to plaintiffs', to [sic] be drawn in plaintiffs' favor." Dkt. No. 621 at 1. Ms. Hiramanek's motion is apparently focused on the fact that she was not able to obtain discovery from sitting state judges in this case. See Id. at 1-2 (mentioning Justice Rushing). Defendant opposes these motions. Dkt. No. 640; Dkt. No. 638 at 2.

         Plaintiffs' motions appear to be improper attempts to re-litigate discovery issues that were decided in defendant's favor. See Dkt. No. 451 (Order Denying Plaintiffs' Discovery Motions). While the court generally agrees that defendant should not be allowed to rely on evidence improperly denied to plaintiffs during discovery, plaintiffs have not pointed to any such evidence. Plaintiffs' motions do ...


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