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Trevino v. City of Bakersfield

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 18, 2016

CITY OF BAKERSFIELD, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTIONS IN LIMINE (DOCS. 46, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52)


         Plaintiff Jesse Trevino, who is deaf, asserts that Bakersfield Police Officer Ryan Miller used excessive force in the course of detainment.

         II. Legal Standards Governing Motions in Limine

         “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, 40 n. 2 (1984). The Ninth Circuit explained motions in limine “allow parties to resolve evidentiary disputes ahead of trial, without first having to present potentially prejudicial evidence in front of a jury.” Brodit v. Cabra, 350 F.3d 985, 1004-05 (9th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted).

         Importantly, motions in limine seeking the exclusion of broad categories of evidence are disfavored. See Sperberg v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., 519 F.2d 708, 712 (6th Cir. 1975). The Court “is almost always better situated during the actual trial to assess the value and utility of evidence.” Wilkins v. Kmart Corp., 487 F.Supp.2d 1216, 1218 (D. Kan. 2007). The Sixth Circuit explained, “[A] better practice is to deal with questions of admissibility of evidence as they arise [in trial]” as opposed to ruling on a motion in limine. Sperberg, 519 F.2d at 712. Nevertheless, motions in limine are “an important tool available to the trial judge to ensure the expeditious and evenhanded management of the trial proceedings.” Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Services, 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997).

         “[A] motion in limine should not be used to resolve factual disputes or weigh evidence, ” C & E Services, Inc. v. Ashland Inc., 539 F.Supp.2d 316, 323 (D. D.C. 2008), because that is the province of the jury. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

         Moreover, the rulings on the motions in limine made here does not preclude either party from raising the admissibility of the evidence discussed here, if the evidence adduced at trial demonstrate a change of circumstances that would make the evidence admissible. In this event, the proponent of the evidence SHALL raise the issue outside the presence of the jury. Finally, the rulings made here are binding on all parties and not merely to the moving party.

         II. Plaintiff’s Motions in Limine

         A. Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine #1 to exclude evidence not known to Miller at the time of the use of force

         The plaintiff seeks to exclude any evidence of which Officer Miller was unaware at the time he decided to use force. (Doc. 48) In particular, he seeks to exclude evidence related to the events leading up to the encounter, “including his court appearance and arguments with family members, ” images of the front door to the plaintiff’s apartment with a rock nearby that is claimed to have been used by the plaintiff to gain entry, and any information about his prior contacts with any BPD officers including David Brantley and Deron Miller. Id. at 4.

         Defendants argue the evidence is pertinent to the plaintiff’s damage claim, that it corroborates their position that the plaintiff was acting erratically and to impeach the plaintiff’s claim that he cannot hear. (Doc. 56 at 4)

         Notably, officers’ conduct is evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene regardless of the actual motivation of the particular officers. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). “Subjective intentions play no role in ordinary, probable-cause Fourth Amendment analysis.” Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 806 (1996). Instead, liability may not attach unless his actions were objectively unreasonable, regardless of the officer’s motivation. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731 (2011) [“the Fourth Amendment regulates conduct rather than thoughts . . .]

         On the other hand, what is known to the officer at the time bears on the facts and circumstances of the event. Ruvalcaba v. City of Los Angeles, 64 F.3d 1323, 1328 (9th Cir. 1995). Thus, any evidence known to Ryan Miller is admissible but information not known to him, is not.

         1. Pictures of the rock and the damaged door

         Defendants argue these pictures should be admitted because they demonstrate that the plaintiff was attempting to break into the apartment. (Doc. 56 at 5) However, there is no dispute that this was the case. Likewise, there is no dispute that Ryan Miller was told by the dispatcher that the plaintiff was attempting to break into an apartment.

         However, there is no showing that Ryan Miller was or was not aware that the plaintiff attempted to gain entry into the apartment by using a rock or that the plaintiff damaged the apartment’s door. On the other hand, the plaintiff’s conduct was such that it gained the attention of a neighbor who called 911 as a result.

         The Court presumes that the plaintiff will testify that he attempted to break into his apartment using a rock. If this is the case, the pictures of the damaged door and rock are relevant if only to allow the jury to see where the “break-in” attempt occurred. Moreover, though the photos are of minimal probative value, their prejudicial effect is even slighter. Thus, the motion as to the photos is DENIED.

         2. Earlier contacts with the police

         The defendants note that five days before the incident, a tenant made a report that the plaintiff was “acting suspiciously” outside of another apartment and may have attempted to open the front door. (Doc. 56 at 5-6) They claim also was that he opened a package and took a blanket left on the neighbor’s porch. Id. at 6.

         The defendants report that four days before the incident, the plaintiff “loitered” near a fire hydrant on the property and when the police arrived, he attempted to remove his pants and shoes and told police he was going swimming. (Doc. 56 at 6.) He was arrested on this day after the officer discovered the plaintiff had an outstanding warrant. Id.

         Neither of these incidents bears on whether Ryan Miller used force appropriate to the circumstances and, therefore, may not be introduced for this purpose. At the hearing, the plaintiff’s counsel clarified that the plaintiff was not claiming that the incident with Officer Miller or the resulting physical injuries impact his ability to form relationships-only that the remnants from the physical injury impact, for example, whether he can pick up his grandchild. Thus, the evidence does not bear on the question of damages as suggested by the defendants. Thus, the motion is GRANTED. However, in the event the plaintiff seeks to demonstrate that the damages he suffered in the incident impacts his relationships with others, then the defendants would be entitled to introduce this evidence to demonstrate the plaintiff’s ability to engage in such relationships.

         B. Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine #2 to exclude evidence that the plaintiff appeared to hear

         The plaintiff seeks to exclude evidence of a contact with Samantha Hsu, a MET worker called to the scene to evaluate the plaintiff after the incident. (Doc. 49 at 1) The plaintiff reports that Ms. Hsu noted that she believed the plaintiff was able to hear some of the questions she asked him. Id. Likewise, the plaintiff seeks to preclude introduction of excerpts of his own deposition which, apparently, defendants contend bears on whether he appears to hear. Id.

         The plaintiff argues that the evidence from Ms. Hsu-who is not qualified to determine whether the plaintiff is or is not deaf-would constitute an attempt to offer lay opinions on a topic reserved to an expert.

         The defendants argue the evidence should be admitted to impeach the plaintiff’s claims that he is deaf. However, the question is not whether the plaintiff is deaf but whether it reasonably appeared to Officer Miller that the plaintiff heard the orders Miller gave him. Moreover, it does not appear that the defendants have a good faith belief that the plaintiff is not, indeed, deaf. Rather it appears the defendants would introduce the evidence only to show that in the circumstances of the contact between Hsu and the plaintiff or in the deposition setting, that they and Hsu thought that the plaintiff could hear some of the questions. These circumstances are not similar to those confronting Ryan Miller or confronting the plaintiff at the time of his interaction with Officer Miller.[1] Thus, the motion is GRANTED and the evidence may not be introduced to demonstrate corroborate Officer Miller’s perception that the plaintiff can hear.[2]

         C. Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine #3 to exclude evidence that the plaintiff appeared toact ...

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