United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
BRUCE M. BRADFORD, Plaintiff,
VILLAGE OF LOMBARD, POLICE CHIEF RAY BYRNE, individually, and BOARD OF FIRE AND POLICE COMMISSIONERS OF THE VILLAGE OF LOMBARD, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
SHEILA FINNEGAN, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Bruce M. Bradford claims that Defendants the Village of Lombard (the "Village") and Police Chief Ray Byrne ("Chief Byrne"), in his individual capacity, caused his termination as a police officer in retaliation for filing a prior lawsuit for unpaid overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. Currently before the Court are the parties' motions in limine to bar certain evidence from trial. For the reasons set forth here, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.
A. Standard of Review
A motion in limine is Aany 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) (AA 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. Betts v. City of Chicago, Ill., 784 F.Supp.2d 1020, 1023 (N.D. Ill. 2011). 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 [to bar evidence] 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.@ Austin v. Cook County, No. 07 C 3184, 2012 WL 1530452, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 30, 2012). Accordingly, A[t]rial judges may alter prior >in limine rulings, within the bounds of sound judicial discretion.=@ Kiswani v. Phoenix Sec. Agency, Inc., 247 F.R.D. 554, 557 (N.D. Ill. 2008) (quoting Townsend v. Benya, 287 F.Supp.2d 868, 872 (N.D. Ill. 2003)).
1. Cross-Motions Related to Board Hearing and Decision
The parties have filed competing motions relating to evidence of the October 23, 2010 administrative hearing before the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners of the Village of Lombard (the "Board") and the Board's subsequent findings and determinations made on December 2, 2010. Plaintiff argues that the jury should not hear any such evidence, describing it as irrelevant because it was "of course not known to Defendant [Byrne] at the time he made the disputed decision" to file charges against Plaintiff in July 2010. (Doc. 232, at 2). Relying on Federal Rule of Evidence ("FRE") 403, Plaintiff says it would be unfair to require him to "meet Defendants' offensive use of the [Board's] findings with acquiescence, " and he proposes a limiting instruction stating that he disputes them. (Doc. 242, at 2-3). He also raises concerns about jury confusion and wasted trial time stemming from his need to present evidence that the Board did not consider that "may have exonerated" him such as "video footage of the parking lot where [Plaintiff] allegedly exited his truck and check [sic] damage to it [and] hand written notes of key interviews that were destroyed, etc.)." Plaintiff would argue that the Board did not consider such evidence because "Defendants did not take logical, reasonable and customary steps to locate and secure such evidence." (Doc. 232, at 4). Further, Plaintiff states that he would offer evidence "showing [during the investigation] repeated failure to follow department general orders, failure to properly interrogate witnesses, prejudging of Bradford's guilt before the investigation even started, and failing to bring Board charges against Officers Rojas, Statkus and Kelly, and Sgt. Abenante, after they committed more serious rule violations than Bradford." (Doc. 232, at 4). Defendants, on the other hand, insist that issue preclusion operates to bar Plaintiff from presenting any evidence that is inconsistent with the Board's factual findings. (Doc. 225).
The Court agrees with Defendants that Plaintiff is essentially "seeking... a second chance at re-litigating" facts that have already been decided in this case. (Doc. 236, at 4). It is well-settled that "under Illinois law, fact issues finally decided in an administrative proceeding that is judicial in nature precludes litigation of those same fact issues in a subsequent proceeding.'" Watt v. City of Highland Park, No. 01 C 6230, 2001 WL 31261216, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 30, 2002) (quoting Village of Oak Park v. Illinois Dep't of Employment Security, 332 Ill.App.3d 141, 143, 772 N.E.2d 951, 953 (1st Dist. 2002)). Issue preclusion applies when "(1) a material fact issue decided in the earlier adjudication is identical to the one in the current proceeding; (2) there was a final judgment on the merits in the earlier adjudication; and (3) the party against whom estoppel is asserted was a party or was in privity with a party in the earlier adjudication." Goodwin v. Board of Trustees of Univ. of Ill., 442 F.3d 611, 621 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Village of Oak Park, 332 Ill.App.3d at 143, 772 N.E.2d at 953).
Here, the Board made the following factual findings after hearing sworn testimony from Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and eight other witnesses: (1) two independent witnesses with no motive to lie credibly testified that they saw Plaintiff hit and damage the hydrant, immediately pull over and get out of his vehicle to check for damage, and then leave the scene, prompting them to call 911; (2) Plaintiff knew that he had hit the fire hydrant in part because he saw that his car was damaged on the right front passenger side with some red paint transfer from the hydrant and a missing lamp bevel, but he did not report the incident to anyone despite proceeding directly to work at the police station; (3) Plaintiff first admitted he may have hit "something" when he saw Sergeant Marilyn A. Gabinski photographing his vehicle in response to the 911 call; (4) Plaintiff made untruthful statements about the incident to Sgt. Gabinski, Sergeant William Marks, Lieutenant Tom Wirsing and Lieutenant Scott Watkins during informal and formal interrogations, and his testimony at the evidentiary hearing before the Board similarly was not credible; and (5) Plaintiff made those untruthful statements in an attempt to justify his failure to report the accident as required by law, and to deceive LPD officers regarding his knowledge of a property damage accident and his failure to report it. This Court affirmed the Board's factual findings after conducting a full administrative review. Bradford v. Village of Lombard, No. 11 C 37, 2014 WL 497677 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 7, 2014), as amended on August 20, 2014, Doc. 252.
Since Plaintiff was a party to the proceedings at all times with ample incentive to litigate the issues, the Board's findings must be given preclusive effect. See Goodwin, 442 F.3d at 621. Plaintiff does not disagree, as his motion makes no mention of issue preclusion at all. Instead, he urges the Court to consider cases addressing the admissibility of (1) a labor arbitrator's decision pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, and (2) reasonable cause determinations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). (Doc. 232, at 2-4) (citing Jackson v. Bunge Corp., 40 F.3d 239, 246 (7th Cir. 1994) (trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding arbitrator's decision in part because the arbitrator "candidly admitted" that he had relied on testimony that was arguably inadmissible hearsay); Tulloss v. Near North Montessori Sch., Inc., 776 F.2d 150, 154 (7th Cir. 1985) (quoting Gillin v. Federal Paper Bd. Co., 479 F.2d 97, 99 (2d Cir. 1973)) (EEOC file is a "mish-mash of self-serving and hearsay statements and records;... justice requires that the testimony of the witnesses be given in open court, under oath, and subject to cross-examination.")). The case at bar is wholly distinguishable because as explained, the Board made its findings after hearing sworn testimony from witnesses who were subject to cross-examination, and this Court upheld those findings on administrative review. Plaintiff's attempt to analogize this case to arbitration decisions and EEOC investigations must be rejected.
Because the Board's findings have preclusive effect here, the jury certainly may hear the findings of the Board in the form of stipulated facts. This Court is not persuaded, however, that it is necessary or appropriate for the jury to hear that these facts were "found" by the Board during an administrative hearing, though the jury may surmise this since it will hear that Chief Byrne filed charges with the Board and that the Board ultimately terminated Plaintiff. What matters for purposes of the trial is that Plaintiff cannot relitigate the findings of the Board, and so these findings must be presented to the jury as stipulated or agreed facts. Alternatively, if Plaintiff prefers, the Court could instruct the jury that these facts must be accepted as true for purposes of considering Plaintiff's claim and may not be disputed by the parties. The jury need not hear, however, that the "Board" made these hearings after an administrative hearing or that this Court reviewed and upheld the Board's findings. At the same time, Plaintiff may not suggest to the jury-through testimony, cross-examination or argument-that these "facts" about the incident are disputed or subject to question (e.g., that he did not get out of his vehicle to see the damage or did not lie when questioned, or that a more thorough investigation would have exonerated him). If Plaintiff does so in contravention of the Court's order, then this Court will reconsider whether the jury should be informed of more than the bare findings of the Board in the form of stipulated facts.
Plaintiff says such a restriction is overly broad and should not extend the concept of "same fact issues" to mean "anything inconsistent'" with those fact issues. (Doc. 242, at 2). According to Plaintiff, even if he cannot challenge the Board's specific findings, he should still be allowed to present evidence that Chief Byrne knowingly pursued charges based on flawed investigation results. As noted, Plaintiff claims in that regard that Chief Byrne and the other investigating officers repeatedly failed to follow department general orders, interrogated witnesses improperly, and prejudged his guilt. (Doc. 232, at 4). The problem for Plaintiff is that he had an opportunity to raise all of these arguments during the hearing before the Board but he chose not to do so. As a result, he has waived the right to present those same arguments in this case. In addition, if such evidence were allowed, Defendants would no doubt seek to (and be entitled to) refute Plaintiff's evidence by offering live testimony from all those involved in the investigation and even the witnesses who called 911 to show that the investigation was thorough and not a rush to judgment. Inevitably the focus of the trial would shift and it would resemble the Board hearing itself resulting in great jury confusion and a risk of the jury deciding to reconsider the findings of the Board in violation of the Court's instructions.
To summarize, for the reasons stated above, Plaintiff's motion in limine to bar evidence regarding the administrative hearing and Board decision is granted. The jury will hear only the actual findings in the form of stipulated facts. Plaintiff's request for a limiting instruction stating that he disputes those findings is denied since he is bound by the findings and such an instruction would cause jury confusion. Defendants' motion in limine to bar evidence and testimony that is inconsistent with the affirmed findings of fact issued by the Board is granted. Of course, Plaintiff is free to offer evidence that Chief Byrne treated other similarly situated officers who did not file FLSA claims more favorably.
2. Plaintiff's Motion to Bar Evidence Regarding Mitigation and Defendants' Motion to Bar Evidence of Front Pay
The parties next address the admission of evidence relating to Plaintiff's efforts to mitigate his damages and his request for lost future wages and benefits, or "front pay." Plaintiff argues that Defendants should not be allowed to present evidence suggesting that he failed to mitigate his damages because that is an affirmative defense that must be pleaded or waived, and Defendants did not plead it here. See Stanley Gudyka Sales Co. v. Lacy Forest Prods. Co., No. 84 C 5165, 1988 WL 102061, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 28, 1988) ("Under the established law in this circuit and elsewhere, then, mitigation of damages is an affirmative defense that must be pleaded or waived.") (emphasis in original); Rodriguez v. Texan, Inc., ...