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Hasbbin Sughayyer v. City of Chicago

June 6, 2011

HASBBIN SUGHAYYER
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL.



Name of Assigned Judge Sitting Judge if Other or Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan than Assigned Judge

CASE TITLE

DOCKET ENTRY TEXT

Plaintiff's Motions in Limine [89] and Defendants' Motions in Limine [82-88, 90-95] are ruled upon as indicated in the Statement portion of this minute order.

O[ For further details see text below.] Mailed notice.

STATEMENT

Plaintiff Hasbbin Sughayyer filed suit against Defendants the City of Chicago (the "City"), Officer Rudolph Garza, and Officer Sean Campbell, alleging that they violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by using excessive force against her during the course of a traffic stop, falsely arresting her, and denying her equal protection of the laws. Plaintiff further alleges that Officer Garza battered her, and that he and Officer Campbell both subjected her to intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution in violation of Illinois state law. Plaintiff also seeks to recover against the City under theories of respondeat superior and indemnification. The case is set for trial on June 13, 2011.

Currently before the Court are the parties' motions in limine. A motion in limine is "any motion, whether made before or during trial, to exclude anticipated prejudicial evidence before the evidence is actually offered." Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40 n. 2 (1984). See also Mason v. City of Chicago, 631 F. Supp. 2d 1052, 1055 (N.D. Ill. 2009) (citing Wilson v. Williams, 182 F.3d 562, 570 (7th Cir. 1999) ("A motion in limine is a request for the court's guidance concerning an evidentiary question.") District courts have broad discretion in ruling on motions in limine, but evidence should not be excluded before trial unless it is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds. Kiswani v. Phoenix Sec. Agency, Inc., 247 F.R.D. 554, 557 (N.D. Ill. 2008). Otherwise, rulings should be deferred until trial so that questions of foundation, competency, relevancy, and potential prejudice may be resolved in proper context. Id. See also Thomas v. Sheahan, 514 F. Supp. 2d 1083, 1087 (N.D. Ill. 2007).

"The denial of a motion in limine does not mean that the evidence is necessarily admissible, rather, it means only that the party moving in limine has not demonstrated that there is no possible basis for the admission of the evidence." More v. City of Braidwood, No. 08 C 5203, 2010 WL 3547964, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 7, 2010). Accordingly, "[t]rial judges may alter prior 'in limine rulings, within the bounds of sound judicial discretion.'" Kiswani, 247 F.R.D. at 557 (quoting Townsend v. Benya, 287 F. Supp. 2d 868, 872 (N.D. Ill. 2003)). With these principles in mind, the Court addresses each motion in limine below.

PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS IN LIMINE

1. Motion to bar any implication that the amount of verdicts increases taxes or the cost of living

This motion is granted without objection.

2. Motion to bar reference to any conviction of the plaintiff or any of plaintiff's witnesses

This motion is granted. Defendants seek to offer evidence that Plaintiff was arrested in 2001 for driving under the influence of an intoxicating compound, and that she was arrested in 2002 for obstruction of traffic and criminal damage to property. Plaintiff was convicted of the latter charge and sentenced to one year of supervision. Under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), "[e]vidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith." In that regard, "[a]rrests that have not led to convictions are classic candidates for exclusion under [Rule] 404(b)." Gregory v. Oliver, No. 00 C 5984, 2003 WL 1860270, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 9, 2003). At the same time, evidence of other crimes may be admissible "for other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident." Caldwell v. City of Chicago, No. 08 C 3067, 2010 WL 380696, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 28, 2010) (quoting FED. R. EVID. 404(b)).

Defendants first argue that the evidence is admissible because Plaintiff denied engaging in the conduct described in the arrest reports related to these incidents in 2001 and 2002 and claimed the police officers acted inappropriately, just as she has done in connection with her arrest by Defendants Garza and Campbell in July 2008. Defendants therefore argue that the evidence from 2001 and 2002 is admissible under Rule 404(b) to demonstrate Plaintiff's "modus operandi" of making complete denials and accusations. Of course, in making this argument, Defendants assume that the police reports in each instance are accurate and Plaintiff's contrary version of events is not. This Court cannot make such an assumption when deciding the admissibility of evidence, and is not prepared to hold mini-trials concerning the alleged conduct from many years ago. Further, even assuming that Plaintiff's denials of wrongdoing and accusations of inappropriate conduct by the police were false, this Court is not persuaded that a pattern and "modus operandi" is sufficiently shown given that there were only two prior arrests and they occurred over six years before the conduct at issue in this case. It is also worth noting that Plaintiff's claims of inappropriate police conduct in the prior cases were quite different from what is alleged here. In the prior cases, the inappropriate conduct by the police was essentially arresting her without justification. In addition, she said the officers involved in the 2001 arrest failed to tell her why she was arrested and asked her personal questions. The alleged inappropriate conduct in this case goes well beyond this: she claims that one of the officers pressed his body against her so hard that it caused bruising and made sexually and ethnically offensive remarks (among other conduct).

Defendants next argue that the evidence is admissible on the topic of damages. They contend that the jury should be allowed to consider what portion of Plaintiff's claimed emotional distress may be attributable to prior inappropriate conduct by police officers in 2001 and 2002 rather than to Defendants Garza and Campbell in 2008. This Court disagrees that the evidence is relevant for this purpose given the long passage of time between the prior arrests and the arrest at issue in this case, as well as the dissimilarity in the nature of the alleged police misconduct. In light of this, the probative value of the evidence would be substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice under Federal Rule of Evidence 403.

Defendants also note that it is "possible" that they may seek to introduce evidence that Plaintiff was arrested in 2002 for violating an order of protection and subsequently found guilty and sentenced to one year of supervision. Plaintiff states that the conviction was later expunged. Defendants argue that this evidence may relate to the issue of damages, namely, Plaintiff's alleged "fear of police." Defendants also argue that it is possible Plaintiff will open the door to this evidence through other means. Since the Court was not provided with any details concerning the circumstances leading up to the arrest, the Court is unable to rule on the admissibility of such evidence. Defendants may not refer to this evidence without advance permission from the Court.

3. Motion to bar use of police resources to conduct background checks on potential or sitting jurors

This motion is granted without objection.

4. Motion to bar evidence, testimony or argument concerning proof or confirmation of PCP, the Illinois State Police Laboratory Report and the Police Inventory Report regarding suspect PCP

This motion is granted in part and denied in part. To the extent Plaintiff alleges that Defendant police officers planted the vial of liquid in her car, the Court finds it relevant that the vial in fact contained PCP. The Court agrees with Plaintiff that the Illinois State Police Laboratory Report and Police Inventory Report may not be admitted into evidence to prove that the liquid in the vial contained PCP, so this aspect of the motion is granted. But the Court denies the motion to the extent that it seeks to exclude forensic scientist Paul Titus from testifying on this issue. Plaintiff argues that the testimony should be excluded based on a lack of disclosure and failure to provide an expert report from Mr. Titus. The Court disagrees. On November 20, 2009, Defendants disclosed Mr. Titus as a forensic scientist expected to have knowledge about the testing of the evidence impounded in relation to Plaintiff's arrest. At that same time, Defendants disclosed the Laboratory Report of the Division of Forensic Services of the Illinois State Police, which sets forth what the substance of Mr. Titus's testimony would be. Plaintiff did not seek to depose Mr. Titus after this disclosure. On May 18, 2011, Defendants disclosed Mr. Titus under FED.R.CIV.P. 26(a)(2)(C) and confirmed that he was expected to testify consistently with the Laboratory Report; namely, that based upon forensic testing, he found that the liquid in question was PCP. Defendants also informed Plaintiff that they would agree to a deposition of Mr. Titus at some point prior to trial but did not receive a response. Under all the circumstances, this Court finds that the disclosure was adequate and that Plaintiff will not suffer any unfair prejudice if Mr. Titus is allowed to testify.

5. Motion to bar evidence of the circumstances under which the attorney for plaintiff was employed or retained, or the fees or contingent contract under which the attorney has been retained

This motion is granted without objection, except to the extent that Defendants seek to elicit the approximate date when Plaintiff retained her attorney. The Court defers until trial any ruling on the admissibility of evidence concerning when the attorney was retained.

6. Motion to bar any detail concerning history of military service of the defendants or any witnesses

The motion is denied, however, Defendants Garza and Campbell may only briefly describe any military service when summarizing their background and prior employment. The Court defers until trial any ruling on whether the officers may go beyond this in the event that Plaintiff questions Defendant Garza concerning his military service.

7. Motion to bar any attempts to bolster credibility of defendants and other police department personnel through dress or testimony reflecting medals, commendations or other potentially prejudicial information as to the nature of their duties, their character or their record of service

This motion is granted without objection to the extent that it seeks to bar evidence as to commendations, awards, and medals given to Defendants Garza and Campbell. The motion is denied to the extent that it seeks to prohibit Defendants Garza and Campbell from wearing their uniforms in the courtroom. As Defendants point out, both officers were wearing their uniforms when they allegedly committed the acts that are the subject of the lawsuit and are being sued as police officers. The Court defers until trial any ruling as to the admissibility of the officers' training.

8. Motion to bar any reference that plaintiff has asked for a greater amount of money than she actually expects to be awarded and/or any reference to, any comment or mention that an award to the plaintiff would be like winning the lottery, that the plaintiff's request for damages ...


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