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Gevas v. McCann

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division.

June 27, 2014

David Gevas, Plaintiff,
v.
Terry McCann, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RONALD A. GUZMAN, District Judge.

1. Plaintiff's Motion to Bar Certain Evidence Regarding his 1993 Felony Convictions

Plaintiff was convicted of two counts of murder in 1993 for which he is currently incarcerated. For our purposes, Federal Rule of Evidence ("Rule") 609 allows for the admission of prior convictions for the purpose of attacking the credibility of a witness if: (1) the conviction or the release of the witness from the confinement imposed for that conviction is not be more than 10 years old; or (2) the conviction was for a crime involving dishonesty or false statement, then it may be admitted against any witness. A prior conviction for any other type of crime ( i.e., not involving dishonesty or false statement) may be admitted if the crime was punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year and its probative value is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.

Plaintiff's conviction meets the first requirement as it is less than 10 years since he was released from incarceration. It does not meet the second requirements because it is not a conviction for dishonesty or false statement. Therefore, to be admissible, it must be for a crime that was punishable by death or imprisonment in excess of one year and its probative value is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative of evidence. Murder is a crime punishable by more than one year imprisonment. In determining whether the prior conviction's probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence, the Court finds that while the impeachment value of the prior conviction is not great, it is not negligible. Plaintiff's prior conviction is for a crime of violence that does not involve an element of dishonesty per se. However, his conviction for murder does reflect a lack of respect for society's rules and norms and a factfinder could infer that such a person is, at least, more likely to break other societal standards, such as lying under oath, than a person who has throughout his life adhered to society's basic rules. Although the conviction was twenty-one years ago, the plaintiff has been incarcerated during that entire period and, thus, no evidence of rehabilitation or a change in lifestyle or character that would diminish the probative value of the prior conviction has been presented to the Court.

The conviction was for actions totally unrelated to this civil matter and, therefore, the likelihood of prejudice in the sense that the jury might be led to believe that the plaintiff had a propensity to act in a certain manner is nonexistent. This trial revolves around the credibility of occurrence witnesses, most of whom are parties to the case. What each of these parties/witnesses said or did will determine the issue of deliberate indifference. They most likely will all testify and present contradictory versions of the events at issue. Thus, the jury is entitled to have as much information as possible in order to evaluate the truthfulness of all of the witnesses. Furthermore, it is necessary to the plaintiff's cause of action to establish that he was incarcerated at the time of the events in question. Given the conflicting considerations in this case, the Court rules that the jury may be told that the plaintiff has been convicted of a felony and was a resident of the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") during the timeframe of the alleged deliberate indifference claim.

The plaintiff is authorized to wear street clothes during the trial so long as the clothes and the manner in which they are provided to him comply with the rules and regulations of the United States Marshal's Office. With respect to the issue of restraints, the Court will consult with the Marshal's Office and the guards from IDOC regarding the relevant risks and will issue a ruling after doing so.

2. Plaintiff's Motion to Bar Any Reference to his Last Name

Because his conviction in 1996 for murdering his infant children was publicized and can be referenced on the Internet, the plaintiff seeks to bar the use of his last name during the course of the trial. In other words, the plaintiff wishes to remain anonymous to the jury. Such an order is almost completely unworkable as it would require redaction of virtually all of the prison and medical/dental records and other relevant documents in the case and admonishing all witnesses against using the plaintiff's last name. As to the latter, not only would such a request likely be unsuccessful, it could easily lead to confused and stilted testimony. The Court is aware of no precedent for such an order, and the plaintiff has cited none. Generally speaking, the Constitution requires that Court proceedings remain open to the public, which includes the public's right to know the identity of the litigants. Moreover, given the length of time since the events that led to the plaintiff's conviction, it is doubtful that any potential juror will recall the plaintiff or the facts surrounding his case, but that determination can be made during voir dire. With respect to the possibility that the jurors will investigate the facts and circumstances of this case on their own, this concern arises in every case and is adequately dealt with by appropriate instructions to the jury prohibiting them from performing any outside research or investigation. Therefore, the motion is denied.

3. Plaintiff's Motion to Bar Any Reference to the Prior Trial or Verdict

The Court agrees with the general proposition that evidence of the prior trial is irrelevant to the issues in this trial. However, the defendants assert that to the extent that the jury in the prior trial resolved a particular issue of fact, collateral estoppel may bar the plaintiff from retrying this same issue. In particular, defendant Selmer argues that the plaintiff should be collaterally estopped from claiming that Henderson refused to let him out of his cell to attend the March 28, 2007 dental appointment. For collateral estoppel to apply to preclude the litigation of an issue, the previous litigation must meet the following four requirements: (1) the issue must be the same as the issue in the present litigation; (2) the issue must have been actually litigated; (3) the issue must have been essential to the final judgment; and (4) the party who is precluded from litigating the issue must have been fully represented in the prior action. Life Plans, Inc. v. ING U.S., Inc., 13 C 7864, 2014 WL 2118748, at *2 (N.D. Ill. May 21, 2014)

Defendant's bid to estop the plaintiff from presenting evidence that prevented him from attending the March 28, 2007 dental appointment fails at step one. The verdict for Henderson in the prior trial does not establish that he did not prevent the plaintiff from attending the March 28, 2007 dental appointment. The jury in the prior trial was told that in order to find that Henderson was deliberately indifferent, it would have to conclude that Henderson actually knew that plaintiff's dental condition posed a substantial risk of serious harm and that he consciously disregarded that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to deal with it. The jury could, therefore, have based its ruling in favor of Henderson on a finding that the plaintiff did not have a serious medical need, or that Henderson was not aware that the plaintiff's dental condition posed a substantial risk of serious harm to plaintiff's health. In that case, the jury may not even have reached the question of whether Henderson barred plaintiff from attending his dental appointment - the only factual determination relevant to this trial - or if he did, the jury could have found he did so without the requisite knowledge of the severity of plaintiff's condition. Because the basis for the jury's decision to exonerate Henderson is unknown, the Court cannot conclude that the relevant factual issue has been previously decided. Therefore, the plaintiff's motion to bar evidence of Henderson's acts which allegedly prevented plaintiff from attending the March 28, 2007 dental appointment is denied.

4. Plaintiff's Motion to Bar Reference to Other Cases He Has Filed

The plaintiff seeks to preclude the defendants from introducing evidence of other cases he has brought. The Court can think of no relevance for such evidence and therefore grants the motion to bar unless the defendants can show relevance. If they do so, the Court will undertake an analysis under Rule 403 to determine if the probative value of the evidence of the prior cases is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfairly prejudicing the plaintiff by exposing him to the possibility that the jury will believe he is a chronic litigant who files baseless claims.

The defendants indicate they may seek to introduce evidence of the jury verdict in favor of Officer Henderson in this case. As we have previously discussed, we do not believe that the previous verdict in favor of Henderson constitutes collateral estoppel on the issue of his actions on March 28, 2007, nor can the Court conceive of any ...


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