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Brown v. Wimberly

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 29, 2017

DANNY BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
AUBREY WIMBERLY, Defendant.

          ORDER ON THE MOTIONS IN LIMINE (DOCS. 57, 59, 60)

          JENNIFER L. THURSTON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. 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 do not preclude either party from raising the admissibility of the evidence discussed here, if the evidence adduced at trial demonstrates 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 on the moving party.

         II. Defendant's Motions in Limine

         A. Defendant's Motion in Limine to exclude the testimony of Kathy Brown and Pastor William Ray Lewis

         The defendant seeks to preclude testimony from Kathy Brown, the plaintiff's wife, and William Ray Lewis, the plaintiff's pastor. (Doc. 57) The defendant argues that because these witnesses asserted privileges at their deposition and refused to answer questions based thereon, they should not be permitted to testify at trial as to matters upon which they refused to answer at their deposition.

         The Court agrees that neither witness will be permitted to testify as to matters as to which the plaintiff asserted a privilege at their depositions. As to Mrs. Brown, it appears that these topics include: why the plaintiff stopped working for Pinkerton, whether he was fired from the Department of Corrections for the use of excessive force, whether his position as a union rep while working for the Department of Corrections caused him to be in conflict with management, discussions with the plaintiff regarding frustration he may have suffered about finding a job after being fired from the Department of Corrections, how Mrs. Brown learned the City of Wasco eliminated the Economic Development Department, the plaintiff's job duties for the City of Wasco, whether there were any significant events that occurred at board meetings at the park's district, discussions with the plaintiff about the letters submitted by coworkers, discussions with the plaintiff about videotaping in the girls' locker room, whether Mrs. Brown knows which coworkers submitted letters about the plaintiff, the extent to which the plaintiff denied the content of the letters presented by coworkers was untrue or defamatory, discussions about the plaintiff's search for work after he was fired by the parks district and what the plaintiff discussed with his pastor.

         Notably, as previously determined by this Court (Doc. 40 at 4), the marital privilege and the clergy-penitent privilege both concern communications; they do not preclude testimony related to observations. However, as to the topics described above, Mrs. Brown asserted that she could only answer the questions if she relied upon statements from her husband and, therefore, had no observations about which she could testify. Thus, she will not be permitted to testify as to these matters.

         On the other hand, the Court has determined previously that Mrs. Brown may testify as to martial communications as to which she and the plaintiff have waived the privilege. However, the defendant contends that Mrs. Brown was not permitted to testify about whether she observed any emotional upset caused by him losing his jobs at the Department of Corrections or the City of Wasco. However, the defendant fails to cite to the deposition transcript where that occurred. Rather, Mrs. Brown testified she didn't recall whether the plaintiff suffered loss of sleep or appetite while looking for work after being fired from the Department of Corrections (Doc. 57-2 at 9). Likewise, Mrs. Brown testified she did not recall that the plaintiff appeared frustrated while looking for work after leaving the City of Wasco. Id. at 12. She indicated that she did not know whether the plaintiff sought counseling after he lost his jobs with the Department of Corrections and the City of Wasco. Id. Though she testified he suffered loss of sleep after losing his job with the Parks District, she reported that he had not done so in the past. Id. at 22. There were no other questions related to the plaintiff's emotional state related to his loss of job at the Department of Corrections or the City of Wasco.

         As to Pastor Lewis, he refused to answer questions about the content of counseling he provided to the plaintiff that was unrelated to his firing[1] from the Parks District. (Doc. 57-3 at 16) However, he answered questions about counseling sessions he provided to the plaintiff in general. Id. In particular, he refused to answer whether the plaintiff felt he was wrongfully terminated from the Department of Corrections, whether that firing was stressful for the plaintiff and, if so, for how long the plaintiff suffered stress or whether it resolved. However, he clarified that before the events with the defendant, the last time he counseled the plaintiff was when he was fired from the Department of Corrections, years before. (Doc. 57-3 at 18)

         Lewis testified that the plaintiff felt angry about having his contract terminated by the Parks District, that he was overwhelmed by the stress of it and that it was causing problems at home due to stress-related arguments with his wife. (Doc. 57-3 at 14; Doc. 57-3 at 15-16) He reported also that the termination caused the plaintiff stress because he could not understand how he came to be fired despite that he had “put his all into that job.” Id. at 15. Pastor Lewis reported that the plaintiff still feels mistreated as a result of the termination. Id. at 16. However, the plaintiff never expressed concerns about having suffered job losses from the two earlier positions. Id. at 18. Pastor Lewis reported also that the plaintiff never expressed concerns about not finding work after having been fired the Department of Corrections or from the Parks District or after he lost his job with the City of Wasco. Id ...


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