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Louis Bruce v. City of Chicago

July 29, 2011

LOUIS BRUCE
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL.



Name of Assigned Judge Sitting Judge if Other or Magistrate Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr. than Assigned Judge

CASE TITLE

DOCKET ENTRY TEXT

For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motions in limine [32] and grants Defendants' motion to direct and allow evidence [38]. The Court also grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's motions in limine [33].

O[ For further details see text below.] Docketing to mail notices.

STATEMENT

This case arises from two incidents that occurred on August 13 and August 16, 2008, in the City of Chicago. Plaintiff subsequently brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants Vincent Vogt, Joseph Foley, and Mark Wesselhoff violated his constitutional rights by unreasonably seizing him, falsely arresting him, and maliciously prosecuting him. Defendants deny Plaintiff's allegations and maintain that there was probable cause for Plaintiff's arrest. The parties have submitted their proposed Final Pre-Trial Order and have fully briefed a number of motions in limine, which the Court addresses below.

I. Standard

The Federal Rules of Evidence do not explicitly authorize in limine rulings. However, the District Court has inherent authority to manage the course of trials. Fed. R. Evid. 103(c); Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). District courts have broad discretion in ruling on motions in limine. Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F. 3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). However, evidence should be excluded only when inadmissible on all possible grounds. Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Techs., Inc., 831 F. Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D. Ill. 1993). As a result, in some instances courts should defer rulings until trial, particularly where context would be helpful in determining matters such as relevancy, foundation, and potential prejudice. See id. A pre-trial ruling denying a motion in limine does not automatically mean that all evidence contested in the motion will be admitted at trial. Id. at 1041. And while a pre-trial ruling granting a motion in limine does bar the introduction of certain evidence, trial judges remain free to alter previously issued in limine rulings, within the bounds of sound judicial discretion. Luce, 469 U.S. at 41-42.

II. Defendants' Motions in Limine [32]

1. To Bar Any Evidence of Chicago Police Department General Orders, Rules, and Regulations

STATEMENT

The seminal case in this Circuit on the admissibility of testimony, evidence, and argument pertaining to rules, regulations, standards, and General Orders of police or sheriff's departments is Thompson v. City of Chicago, 472 F.3d 444 (7th Cir. 2006). Thompson involved a § 1983 claim (for excessive force) and a state law claim (for wrongful death) arising out of the arrest of the plaintiff. The district court granted a motion in limine seeking to "exclude any reference in testimony, evidence, or argument to the CPD's General Orders, policies, and procedures." Id. at 449 & n.12 (explaining the slight discrepancy between the motion that the court granted and the text of the docket entry reflecting the granting of the motion). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling, both with respect to the use of General Orders as evidence of the federal constitutional violation and as evidence in support of the state law claim.

As to the constitutional violation, the Seventh Circuit categorically stated that "the violation of police regulations or even a state law is completely immaterial as to the question of whether a violation of the federal constitution has been established." Thompson, 472 F.3d at 455 (emphasis added); see also Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 815 (1996) (holding that internal police department rules are an unreliable guide to measuring the reasonableness of police conduct); Scott v. Edinburg, 346 F.3d 752, 760 (7th Cir. 2003) (holding that § 1983 "protects plaintiffs from constitutional violations, not violations of state laws or, in this case, departmental regulations and police practices"). In elaborating on its ruling, the Seventh Circuit explained that while evidence, testimony, or argument concerning possible violations of General Orders, rules, or regulations may be relevant to "discipline, promotion, or salary decisions" made by the Defendants' superiors, that kind of information is "immaterial" in proceedings before a district court on claims of constitutional violations and therefore "properly excluded" in rulings on motions in limine. Thompson, 472 F.3d at 455. For all of these reasons, the existence of the General Orders cannot be used in this case to show that the Plaintiff's constitutional rights were violated.

Defendants also contend that testimony, evidence, and argument pertaining to rules, regulations, standards, and General Orders would be improper as to Plaintiff's state law claims. In Thompson, the Seventh Circuit "assume[d], without deciding, that the CPD's General Orders were relevant to [Plaintiffs'] wrongful death claim," but nevertheless "conclude[d] that they were properly excluded under Rule 403." 472 F.3d at 456. Although the statutory wrongful death claim at issue in Thompson appears to impose liability under a negligence standard (see id. at 457; see also 740 ILCS 180/1; Leavitt v. Farwell Tower Ltd. P'ship, 252 Ill. App. 3d 260, 264 (1993)), the Seventh Circuit relied on Illinois case law holding that "violation of self-imposed rules or internal guidelines * * * does not normally impose a general duty, let alone constitute evidence of negligence, or beyond that, willful and wanton conduct." Thompson, 472 F.3d at 457 (emphasis added) (quoting Morton v. City of Chicago, 286 Ill. App. 3d 444 (1997)). Moreover, in completing its Rule 403 analysis, the Seventh Circuit expressly addressed -- and rejected -- the notion that a limiting instruction could render evidence of a failure to adhere to General Orders admissible. Id. As the court explained, "[a]ny limiting instruction explaining to the jury that, although General Orders do not create a duty on the part of an officer and can only be used as evidence of a breach of protocol in a disciplinary proceeding -- and that they could not be considered in conjunction with the plaintiffs' § 1983 claims -- would have led to unnecessary and detrimental jury confusion." Id.

Thus, on the basis of the Seventh Circuit's decision in Thompson, any attempt to use General Orders, rules, or policies of the CPD as evidence of a federal constitutional violation appears to be forbidden under Rule 401. Thompson, 472 F.3d at 454. In addition, under Thompson, any effort to use such General Orders, rules, or policies in support of a state law cause of action that applies a negligence or willful and wanton standard appears to face, at a minimum, a very high hurdle under Rule 403. Id. at 457.

In his opposition to Defendant's motion, Plaintiff cites several cases from this district in which violations of General Orders or rules have been permitted to be brought to the jury's attention. However, all of those cases were decided prior to Thompson and some of them are flatly inconsistent with Thompson's teachings. Compare Charles v. Cotter, 867 F. Supp. 648, 664 (N.D. Ill. 1994) (finding that "evidence that the defendants violated police rules, regulations, etc. to be relevant and probative with respect to [plaintiff's] claim that the defendants violated his constitutional rights" and denying motion in limine on that basis) with Thompson, 472 F.3d at 455 (stating flatly that "the violation of police regulations or even a state law is completely immaterial as to the question of whether a violation of the federal constitution has been established") (emphasis added); id. ("Whether Officer Hespe's conduct conformed with the internal CPD General Orders concerning the use of force on an assailant was irrelevant to the jury's determination" of whether the officer's actions violated the Fourth Amendment) (emphasis added).

While it is clear under Thompson that (i) the proponent of such evidence, testimony, or argument has a heavy burden to shoulder under Rule 401 and Rule 403, and (ii) limiting instructions may not be a viable means of overcoming Rule 403 issues, the Court cannot conclude definitively that there is no scenario in which General Orders, rules, or regulations conceivably could come into this case. Put differently, to the extent that the door remains open under Thompson, it is only slightly ajar. See Via, 2007 WL 495287, at *6 ("Thompson did not address the potential admissibility of evidence showing a violation of internal agency rules and procedures with regard to a claim for punitive damages").

In light of the foregoing, the Court grants in part Defendants' motion in limine and bars any testimony, evidence, or argument regarding any CPD General Orders, policies, or procedures in support of Plaintiff's § 1983 liability claims. The Court reserves its decision as to any such testimony, evidence, or argument in support of a punitive damages claim or in other circumstances not foreclosed by Thompson and Morton. Should Plaintiff seek to introduce testimony, evidence, or argument regarding any CPD Office General Orders, policies, or procedures in those limited circumstances, counsel for Plaintiff must notify the Court and counsel for Defendants outside the presence of the jury and with sufficient advance notice to permit analysis under Rules 401 and 403 in light of the applicable Seventh Circuit or Illinois case law.

2. To bar any mention of indemnity and motion to strike the City of Chicago from the case caption

The City of Chicago is responsible for indemnifying compensatory damage awards Plaintiff may receive against Defendants, because it is undisputed that Defendants were acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the incident that gave rise to this action. Defendants seek to exclude any references to the City of Chicago's indemnification obligations on the ground that such obligations are irrelevant to the issues of liability that are at issue in this case. Defendants further contend that they would suffer prejudice if the jury were apprised of the City's indemnity obligations, because jurors may be more likely to find for Plaintiff on liability or inflate a compensatory damages award if they knew that Defendants themselves would not be on the hook financially.

The Seventh Circuit has sided with Defendants on this issue to a point, holding that "[i]n the general case courts exclude evidence of indemnification out of a fear that it will encourage a jury to inflate its damages award because it knows the government -- not the individual defendants -- is footing the bill." Lawson v. Trowbridge, 153 F.3d 368, 379 (7th Cir. 1998); see also Kemezy v. Peters, 79 F.3d 33, 37 (7th Cir. 1996) ("When the defendant is to be fully indemnified, such evidence, far from being required, is inadmissible"). However, when defendants who benefit from a right to indemnification nevertheless claim an inability to pay damages, such defendants are deemed to have "opened the door" to evidence of the statutory entitlement to indemnification. In their reply brief, Defendants stated that they "do not plan to put into evidence any information concerning the Defendant Officer's finances." Thus, the Court grants in part Defendant's motion in limine #2. Evidence of indemnification is inadmissible unless defendants open the door by injecting their personal financial circumstances into the case. Additionally, if Defendants choose to "apprise the jury of the fact that the individual officers will have to bear [punitive] damages out of their own pockets," then "fairness would dictate that the jury also be informed of the true situation (indemnification) as to compensatory damages" (Galvan, 2006 WL 1343680, at *2), subject to an appropriate limiting instruction that "Defendants' finances address punitive damages only." Townsend, 287 F. Supp. 2d at 874.

At this time, the Court will not strike the City of Chicago from the caption because Plaintiff has asserted a state law claim for respondeat superior against the City. The City is a party to the case and should remain in the case caption. The portion of motion in ...


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