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Yano v. City Colleges of Chicago

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

December 31, 2014

KYUNG HYE YANO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY COLLEGES OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANDREA R. WOOD, District Judge.

Plaintiff Sayuri Yano ("Plaintiff") has sued Dr. Priscilla Lancki ("Lancki") and Dr. Mohamed El-Maazawi ("El-Maazawi"), two of her former professors at Harry S. Truman College ("Truman College"), for intentional infliction of emotional distress.[1] In anticipation of the scheduled jury trial, the parties have filed a total of nine motions in limine. (Dkt. Nos. 182-190.) The following constitutes the Court's rulings on these motions.

LEGAL STANDARD

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). District courts have broad discretion in ruling on motions in limine, however evidence should not be excluded before trial unless it is clearly inadmissible for any purpose. See Jonasson v. Lutheran Child and Family Servs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997) (motions in limine permit the trial judge "to eliminate from further consideration evidentiary submissions that clearly ought not to be presented to the jury because they clearly would be inadmissible for any purpose"); see also Betts v. City of Chicago, 784 F.Supp.2d 1020, 1023 (N.D. Ill. 2011). "Some evidentiary submissions, however, cannot be evaluated accurately or sufficiently by the trial judge in such a procedural environment. In these instances, it is necessary to defer ruling until during trial, when the trial judge can better estimate its impact on the jury." Jonasson, 115 F.3d at 440. Moreover, rulings on motions in limine are necessarily preliminary and may be altered by the district judge even if nothing unexpected happens at trial. Luce, 469 U.S. at 41; Farfaras v. Citizens Bank & Trust of Chicago, 433 F.3d 558, 565 (7th Cir. 2006).

DISCUSSION

I. Plaintiff's Motions in Limine

A. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 1 (Dkt. No. 188)

Plaintiff first seeks to bar references to any financial aid or scholarships that she received. Defendants do not object. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion is granted.

B. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 2 (Dkt. No. 189)

Plaintiff next seeks to bar references at trial to complaints that she made about her treatment by instructors at schools other than Truman College. This motion is a counterpart to Defendants' Motion in Limine No. 6 (Dkt. No. 187), in which Defendants argue that they should be able to introduce evidence that, after she left Truman College, Plaintiff complained that her test papers were lost or tampered with while she was a student at Roosevelt University ("Roosevelt") and the Illinois Institute of Technology ("IIT"). Plaintiff contends that evidence of her complaints at other schools constitutes impermissible character evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(a) and, furthermore, that allowing such evidence would cause the jury to speculate unfairly that she was lying about testing irregularities and bias claims.

Defendants themselves admit that they seek to introduce evidence of the other complaints so that the jury may "draw the inference that the issue of test tampering and inadequate security procedures might not have actually been an issue at all, but that it was [Plaintiff] who would claim such issues any time that she was performing below an A' grade level." (Defs.' Resp. at 4, Dkt. No. 191.) However, they argue that the evidence is nonetheless admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)(2) to show motive, intent, or planning on the part of Plaintiff. In short, Defendants intend to argue that Plaintiff intentionally (and presumably falsely) claimed professor misconduct whenever she received a poor grade in a class, so that she could either re-take the exam or withdraw from the class. Defendants also argue that Plaintiff's complaints from her time at Roosevelt and IIT are relevant to Plaintiff's damages calculations, since they contributed to her emotional distress but were not caused by Defendants' conduct.

The Seventh Circuit has, in the past, used a four-part test to determine whether evidence should be admitted under Rule 404(b). Under that test, the party seeking to introduce the evidence had to demonstrate that: "(1) the evidence is directed toward establishing a matter in issue other than the defendant's propensity to commit the crime charged; (2) the evidence shows that the other act is similar enough and close enough in time to be relevant to the matter in issue; (3) the evidence is sufficient to support a jury finding that the defendant committed the similar act; and (4) the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice." United States v. McMillan, 744 F.3d 1033, 1038 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting United States v. Chambers, 642 F.3d 588, 594 (7th Cir. 2011)).[2] The Seventh Circuit recently abandoned this specific four-part test "in favor of a more straightforward rules-based approach, " which is "less a substantive modification than a shift in paradigm that we hope will produce clarity and better practice in applying the relevant rule of evidence." United States v. Gomez, 763 F.3d 845 (7th Cir. 2014). In Gomez, the Seventh Circuit explained the new standard as follows:

[T]o overcome an opponent's objection to the introduction of other-act evidence, the proponent of the evidence must first establish that the other act is relevant to a specific purpose other than the person's character or propensity to behave in a certain way. See Fed.R.Evid. 401, 402, 404(b). Other-act evidence need not be excluded whenever a propensity inference can be drawn. But its relevance to "another purpose" must be established through a chain of reasoning that does not rely on the forbidden inference that the person has a certain character and acted in accordance with that character on the occasion charged in the case. If the proponent can make this initial showing, the district court must in every case assess whether the probative value of the other-act evidence is substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice and may exclude the evidence under Rule 403 if the risk is too great. The court's Rule 403 balancing should take account of the extent to which the non-propensity fact for which the evidence is offered is actually at issue in the case.

Id. at 860.

On the one hand, the Court tends to agree with Defendants' characterization of the evidence as potentially show motive, intent, or planning. The complaints that Defendants are seeking to introduce took place directly after[3] the complaints involving the Defendants, and involve the same type of allegations - testing irregularities and bias on the part of professors. On the other hand, Defendants have not introduced any evidence to support a jury finding that the Plaintiff lied about professor misconduct at Roosevelt and IIT. While Defendants certainly have evidence (in the form of e-mails from Plaintiff and admissions during her deposition) that she made complaints regarding testing irregularities and bias at Roosevelt and IIT, they have not introduced any evidence that Plaintiff made up those complaints in response to receiving bad grades. See Fed.R.Evid. 104(b) ("When the relevance of ...


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