United States District Court, E.D. California
ORDER (ECF NOS. 149, 151, 152, 153, 154)
CAROLYN K. DELANEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
before the court are the plaintiffs' motion to bifurcate
the trial between liability and damages phases (ECF No. 154)
and the parties' respective motions in limine (ECF Nos.
149, 150-153). On October 28, 2019, the court conducted a
hearing concerning the present motions. For the reasons
stated herein, the court orders as follows.
MOTION TO BIFURCATE (ECF No. 149)
move to bifurcate the trial between liability and damages.
Defendants oppose, arguing that judicial economy would be
served without bifurcation and that the liability and damages
issues are intertwined.
to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 42(b), a court may order a separate
trial of one or more separate issues for the sake of
“convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and
economize.” A court might bifurcate a trial to
“avoid a difficult question by first dealing with an
easier, dispositive issue, ” Danjaq LLC v. Sony
Corp., 263 F.3d 942, 961 (9th Cir. 2001), or to avoid
the risk of prejudice. See Quintanilla v. City of
Downey, 84 F.3d 353, 356 (9th Cir. 1996). Further,
“[i]t is clear that Rule 42(b) gives courts the
authority to separate trials into liability and damage
phases.” De Anda v. City of Long Beach, 7 F.3d
1418, 1421 (9th Cir. 1993).
court finds bifurcation is appropriate in this matter. While
the court is mindful that that there is some potential
overlap between evidence related to damages and evidence
regarding plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment claims, the
nature of the facts of this case and the threat of potential
prejudice to plaintiffs strongly cautions towards
bifurcation. The threat of prejudice is particularly
conspicuous when the evidence consists of the prior bad acts
or criminal history of a decedent. See Estate of Diaz v.
City of Anaheim, 840 F.3d 592, 601 (9th Cir. 2016).
the liability phase of the trial, both parties will be
permitted to present evidence regarding plaintiffs'
relationship with decedent. As the plaintiffs bear the burden
of proving a familial relationship to establish their rights
for their Fourteenth Amendment claim, both parties will be
permitted to introduce evidence relative thereto. However,
given that much of the evidence the defendants seek to
introduce will be quite prejudicial (the decedent's
significant criminal history, for example), the court must
weigh the probative value of such evidence against the
prejudicial value. Therefore, in the liability phase of
trial, defendants will not be permitted to offer evidence
that is only tangentially related to plaintiffs'
relationship to decedent or, even if somewhat probative, is
overly prejudicial. For example, defendants are prevented
from introducing evidence of decedent's alleged drug use,
gang affiliation, and the details of decedent's criminal
history. See Diaz, 840 F.3d at 601 (finding
reversible error for trial court to deny motion to bifurcate,
when evidence was introduced of decedent's drug use, gang
affiliation, and criminal history).
there be a damages phase of trial, the court will revisit
these issues, and hear further argument from the parties
regarding any additional evidence the parties seek to
introduce regarding damages.
MOTIONS IN LIMINE
PLAINTIFFS' MOTION IN LIMINE NO. 1. (ECF No.
first motion in limine seeks to exclude from the liability
phase of trial 12 pieces of evidence unknown to defendant
officers. Plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED IN PART AND
DENIED IN PART.
discussed at the hearing on this matter, plaintiffs must
establish a familial relationship with decedent to submit a
case under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Wheeler v. City
of Santa Clara, 894 F.3d 1046, 1058 (9th Cir. 2018).
Thus, although some of the evidence plaintiffs request be
excluded was not known to defendants, and therefore has no
value in determining whether the officers' use of force
was reasonable, it is potentially probative to
plaintiffs' relationships with decedent. The court rules
on plaintiffs' requests as follows.
are permitted to present evidence that decedent had been
incarcerated but are not permitted to present evidence on the
specifics of the decedent's criminal charges.
are not permitted to present evidence regarding alleged
crimes committed by decedent on June 3, 2010 and June 4,
court defers ruling on the admissibility of the wanted poster
are not permitted to present evidence of a robbery at
gunpoint and report of vandalism on July 20, 2010, allegedly
committed by decedent.
are permitted to introduce evidence of allegations that
decedent committed a carjacking with a shotgun on July 21,
can present evidence that James Rivera Sr. was serving a
prison sentence, but only to the extent the evidence is
probative to the existence, or non-existence, of a familial
relationship. Evidence regarding the crimes for which Mr.
Rivera Sr. was serving sentence will not be admitted, nor
will evidence that the sentence initially imposed was a life
can present evidence that Dionne Smith-Downs temporarily
ceded custody of ...