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Hantak v. Village of Pontoon Beach

December 14, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


Trial in this civil action is set to commence on December 27, 2010, with jury selection on December 23, 2010. Now before the Court is Defendants' motion(s) in limine (Doc. 55) and Plaintiff's response (Doc. 58).

The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow the trial court to rule on the relevance and admissibility of evidence before it is offered at trial. See Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41, n.4 (1984)("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"); Fed. R. Evid. 104(a)("Preliminary questions concerning the qualification of a person to be a witness ... or the admissibility of evidence shall be determined by the court....").

Although found neither in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure nor in the Federal Rules of Evidence, Deghand v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 980 F. Supp. 1176, 1179 (D. Kan. 1997), motions in limine aid the trial process "by enabling the Court to rule in advance of trial on the relevance of certain forecasted evidence, as to issues that are definitely set for trial, without lengthy argument at, or interruption of, the trial." Palmieri v. Defaria, 88 F.3d 136, 141 (2d Cir. 1996). Motions in limine also may save the parties time, effort and cost in preparing and presenting their cases. Pivot Point Intern., Inc. v. Charlene Products, Inc., 932 F. Supp. 220, 222 (N.D. Ill. 1996). Often, however, the better practice is to wait until trial to rule on objections, particularly when admissibility substantially depends upon facts which may be developed there. See Sperberg v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 519 F.2d 708, 712 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 987 (1975).

The movant has the burden of demonstrating that the evidence is inadmissible on any relevant ground, "for any purpose." Plair v. E.J. Brach & Sons, Inc., 864 F. Supp. 67, 69 (N.D. Ill. 1994). The court may deny a motion in limine when it "lacks the necessary specificity with respect to the evidence to be excluded." Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh v. L.E. Myers Co. Group, 937 F. Supp. 276, 287 (S.D.N.Y. 1996). However, "[d]enial of a motion in limine does not necessarily mean that all evidence contemplated by the motion will be admitted at trial." Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Tech., Inc., 831 F. Supp. 1398, 1401 (N.D. Ill. 1993). Denial only means that the court cannot decide admissibility outside the context of trial. Plair, 864 F. Supp. at 69.

Clearly, a court may reserve judgment until trial, so that the motion in limine is placed "in an appropriate factual context." Nat'l Union, 937 F. Supp. at 287. Stated another way, motion in limine rulings are "subject to change when the case unfolds" at trial. Luce, 469 U.S. at 41. Indeed, "even if nothing unexpected happens at trial, the district judge is free, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, to alter a previous in limine ruling." Id. At bottom, the court may alter an in limine ruling based on developments at trial or sound judicial discretion. Luce, 469 U.S. at 41.

With these principals in mind, the Court rules as follows:

Doc. 55:

Subpart I:

"This court should bar evidence or testimony regarding any prior or subsequent causes of action or complaints brought against any of the Defendants."

GRANTED as to the McCann (alleged false arrest) and Blakely (alleged unconstitutional search) cases. As to the Matthews case, the Court RESERVES RULING at this time. The admissibility of this evidence substantially depends upon the facts developed at trial and the laying of an appropriate foundation. Therefore, a ruling at this juncture would be premature. Because of the age of this case, which lessens its relevance, plaintiff's counsel needs to lay a foundation outside the presence of the jury before mentioning it or seeking its admission under Fed. R. Evid. 404(b).

Subpart II:

"This court should bar evidence or testimony regarding Officer Modrusic's 30-day suspension."

GRANTED. The 30 day suspension for alleged mistreatment of a prisoner was ultimately overturned and Modrusic's lost pay reinstated. The probative value of this specific evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues or misleading the jury. Fed. R. Evid. 403

Subpart III:

"This court should bar testimony or evidence that Officer Morgan, Officer Hartman, and Officer Modrusic drove to Springfield and met with a PBPA attorney prior to submitting their reports of the incident in question."

DENIED. The temporal relationship and circumstances surrounding the officers' activities prior to submitting their reports is admissible under Fed. R. Evid. 402. For no other reason than they show the deliberative nature of the officers prior to report submission and tend ...

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