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Case v. Town of Cicero

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

October 16, 2013

SAMANTHA CASE, et al. Plaintiffs,
THE TOWN OF CICERO, et al. Defendants.


DANIEL G. MARTIN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Samantha Case has brought this action against the Town of Cicero, as well as City of Berwyn police officers Cruz, Ingve, Ko, and Garcia, for alleged battery and violations of her rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. She brings these claims individually and as the guardian of her minor son, Nicholas Santiago, Jr. Case claims that, while executing a search warrant at the residence of Nicholas Santiago on March 15, 2010, the officers used excessive force in handcuffing her and pushing her to the ground. Case was pregnant at the time. She later gave birth prematurely to a child who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Both sides agree that Nicholas Santiago, Jr.'s condition was caused by the premature birth. They disagree on why Case gave birth prematurely. Plaintiffs allege that it was the direct result of the alleged excessive force and seek $28, 341, 851.05 in damages.

Both sides have presented multiple motions in limine to bar evidence at trial. A court excludes evidence on a motion in limine only if it is clearly inadmissible for any purpose. Betts v. City of Chicago, Ill., 784 F.Supp.2d 1020, 1023 (N.D. Ill. 2011). Courts have broad discretion to decide such matters. Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). If it is not apparent that a motion should be granted, a ruling should be deferred until trial so that all considerations of foundation, relevance, and potential prejudice can be properly considered. Kiswani v. Phoenix Sec. Agency, Inc., 247 F.R.D. 554, 557 (N.D. Ill. 2008). Rulings on motions in limine are only preliminary determinations that a court may alter during the course of the trial. Farfaras v. Citizens Bank and Trust of Chicago, 433 F.3d 558, 565 (7th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted); Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41-42 (1984) ("Trial judges may alter prior in limine rulings, within the bounds of sound judicial discretion.") (internal quote and citation omitted).

I. Plaintiffs' Motions

A. Motion No. 1: Plaintiffs seek to bar Defendants from offering an apology to the jury for Plaintiffs' injuries. The motion is GRANTED as unopposed.

B. Motion No. 2: Plaintiffs seek to bar suggestions that Plaintiffs' counsel acted improperly by interviewing witnesses in this suit. The motion is GRANTED as unopposed.

C. Motion No. 3: Plaintiffs seek to bar under Rule 609 evidence concerning the prior criminal history of any witness at trial. Federal Rule of Evidence 609 allows a party to impeach a witness's "character for truthfulness" by introducing evidence of certain types of prior convictions. Under subdivision (a)(2), crimes whose defining elements "required proving - or the witness's admitting - a dishonest act or false statement" must be admitted without considering the potential for undue prejudice. Fed.R.Evid. 609(a)(2). Crimes involving robbery or narcotics possession are ordinarily excluded from this category of prior convictions, as they do not involve a showing of false statements or dishonesty. See Coles v. City of Chicago, 2005 WL 1785326, at *1 (N.D. Ill. July 22, 2005) (citing cases).

To be admissible under subdivision (a)(1), a conviction must be punishable by imprisonment for more than one year and, in a civil case, must also be admissible under the standards of Rule 403. Fed.R.Evid. 609(a)(1). Rule 403 allows a court to exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is "substantially outweighed" by unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or its potential for misleading a jury. Unlike subdivision (a)(2), convictions under subdivision (a)(1) are not limited to crimes that require a showing of dishonesty. Such convictions are admissible under the assumption "that criminals are more likely to testify untruthfully." Gora v. Costa, 971 F.2d 1325, 1330 (7th Cir. 1992).

Nevertheless, a court must determine that a conviction is actually relevant to a witness's credibility before allowing it to be introduced. See United States v. Neely, 980 F.2d 1074, 1080 (7th Cir. 1992) ("[T]he purpose of admitting prior arrests or convictions is not to show that the witness is a bad person or a non-saint, ' but to impeach his credibility."). Drug convictions may, or may not, meet this standard. See United States v. Galati, 230 F.3d 254, 262 (7th Cir. 2000). Courts also limit the amount of evidence that can be given concerning convictions. Ordinarily, "the details of the prior conviction should not be exposed to the jury." United States v. Douglas, 408 F.3d 922, 929 (7th Cir. 2005) (internal quote and citation omitted). The introducing party may only identify the particular felony involved, its date, and the disposition of the prior conviction. United States v. Barnhart, 599 F.3d 737, 747 (7th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

At the pretrial hearing, the parties discussed a retail theft conviction within the past 10 years against Ronald Santiago, and a conviction against Nicholas Santiago for vehicular theft. Stealing a car, like all acts of theft, can be used under appropriate circumstances to impeach a witness's truthfulness. United States v. Evans, 2010 WL 2104171, at *4 (N.D. Ill. May 25, 2010). No absolute rule exists, however, and not all such acts are automatically admissible. S ee Barber v. City of Chicago, 725 F.3d 702, 714-15 (7th Cir. 2013) (noting that a "felony conviction for possession of stolen property (or possession of a stolen motor vehicle) is not a crime of dishonesty per se").

Nicholas Santiago was also convicted for drug possession as a result of the events that transpired in this case. This presents a more difficult issue. Some courts have excluded the introduction of criminal charges in excessive force cases when they arise from the events that form the basis for the ยง 1983 claim. See Jackson v. Webb, 2012 WL 3204608, at *2-3 (N.D. Ind. Aug. 3, 2012). Testimony on a witness's crime that coincided with the plaintiff's allegations runs the risk of tainting the jury's view of the plaintiff and potentially confusing the jury on the relevant issues. See Neely, 980 F.2d at 1081 (noting that "evidence that a witness has used illegal drugs may so prejudice the jury that it will excessively discount the witness' testimony").

That said, Santiago is also Plaintiffs' primary eye-witness for the events that took place on March 15, 2010. Defendants argue that they should be able to impeach his truthfulness concerning the identity of the officer, claiming that they are entitled to demonstrate a potential bias against the officers who arrested him. Some courts have found that prior convictions should not be admitted to show bias against police officers, absent more than a generalized claim that the witness will be biased. See Thompson v. Martin, 2011 WL 1938169, at *2 (N.D. Ind. May 20, 2011) (citing cases). That caution is well taken here. The parties' briefs and discussion at the pretrial conference were not sufficient to find at this stage that Santiago's prior narcotics convention is admissible under Rule 609. In addition, the parties suggested that other witnesses who have not yet been discussed may also be part of the instant motion. The Court will reserve a ruling on the issue until the time of trial.

The Court also declines to rule on the merits of the motion because Plaintiffs claim that Defendants should be prevented from introducing Santiago's prior criminal record due to alleged discovery violations. The details of Plaintiffs' allegations are not fully clear, though the Court noted at the conference that it was disinclined to strike potentially important evidence on this ground. For these reasons, the Court defers deciding any part of Plaintiffs' motion at this time.

D. Motion No. 4: Plaintiffs seek to bar evidence that Defendant officers Ingve, Cruz, Garcia, and Ko have received commendations or awards. The motion is GRANTED.

E. Motion No. 5: Plaintiffs seek to bar evidence or any argument at trial that Samantha Case or any witness used or possessed alcohol or drugs, either before or after the events that form the basis of this suit. It is undisputed that Case did not use or possess either illegal drugs or alcohol at the time of the arrest. Defendants argue that evidence of other drug use should not be excluded because it is relevant to the circumstances that the arresting officers faced at the time. The search warrant that allowed the officers to enter Nicholas Santiago's home involved, at least in part, narcotics.

The Court agrees that evidence of drug or alcohol use discovered after the relevant events in this case should be barred. Fourth Amendment excessive force claims must be analyzed under the objective reasonableness standard. "This standard requires that a fact finder analyze whether the officer's actions are objectively reasonable in light of the facts and under the circumstances confronting the officer at the time of the incident, without regard to the underlying motive or intent of the officer, and without the benefit of hindsight. " Common v. City of Chicago, 661 F.3d 940, 943 (7th Cir. 2011) (emphasis added). The presence of drugs or alcohol after Case's arrest is not relevant to what the Defendant officers knew at the time of the alleged events. See Sherrod v. Berry, 856 F.2d 802, 804 (7th Cir. 1988) (stressing that facts learned after the event should not be considered).

However, the Court cannot find at this point that all knowledge the arresting officers had prior to the events that occurred in this case has no possible relevance. Defendants point to a pre-raid report stating that drugs were present at the home of Nicholas Santiago, where the facts of this case unfolded. Citing Seventh Circuit authority, they claim that the officers had reason to believe that anyone in the house where the search warrant was executed posed a heightened risk of danger. See United States v. Bullock, 632 F.3d 1004 (7th Cir. 2011) ("Drug crimes are associated with dangerous and violent behavior and warrant a higher degree of precaution."). Id. at 1016. However, this issue cannot be determined based on generalities; it must be seen in light of the specific facts that were in place when the officers arrived at the scene. That evidence is not sufficiently clear for the Court to conclude now that pre-event evidence of drug and alcohol use have no relevance to the objective reasonableness standard. The Court reserves a ruling until trial.

F. Motion No. 6: Plaintiffs seek to bar any evidence concerning the financial status of Samantha Case. The motion is GRANTED as unopposed.

G. Motion No. 7: Plaintiffs ask to bar all evidence concerning any collateral payment for medical expenses or injuries that allegedly resulted from the acts that form the basis of this suit. The motion is GRANTED as unopposed.

H. Motion No. 8: Plaintiffs seek to bar any argument at trial that the taxpayers should not have to pay for costs or damages associated with the underlying ...

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