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Brooks v. City of Chicago

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

June 5, 2015

THE CITY OF CHICAGO, a Municipal Corporation, DAVID STEPNEY, Star # 11508, TIMOTHY SCHNOOR, Star # 15401, and NOEL SANCHEZ, Defendants.


ANDREA R. WOOD, District Judge.

Plaintiff Allizon Brooks has sued the City of Chicago, Chicago police officers David Stepney and Timothy Schnoor, and Chicago police commander Noel Sanchez (collectively, "Defendants") for alleged violations of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his complaint, [1] Plaintiff alleges that on January 18, 2013, Defendants Stepney and Schnoor used excessive force in restraining and arresting him at a convenience store. He further claims that after he was arrested and placed in a jail cell, Stepney handcuffed him with his hands behind his back for an unreasonable period of time and refused to allow him to go to the bathroom. Defendant Sanchez, who was then a captain but has since been promoted to commander, also allegedly refused to remove the handcuffs and denied Plaintiff's requests to the use bathroom. Based on these allegations, Plaintiff asserts claims against Stepney and Schnoor for their use of excessive force, against Stepney for false arrest, and against Stepney and Sanchez for engaging in excessive cruelty toward him while he was a pretrial detainee. In anticipation of the scheduled jury trial, Plaintiff has filed twenty motions in limine (Dkt. No. 83-5), ten of which are contested. The Court granted Plaintiff's uncontested motions at the final pretrial conference.[2] (Dkt. No. 88.) The following constitutes the Court's rulings on the contested motions, as well as on the contested proposed trial exhibits.


Trial courts have broad discretion in ruling on evidentiary issues before trial. Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors, Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). "Trial courts issue rulings on motions in limine to guide the parties on what evidence it will admit later in trial." Perry v. City of Chicago, 733 F.3d 248, 252 (7th Cir. 2013). Accordingly, "[a]lthough the Federal Rules of Evidence do not explicitly authorize in limine rulings, the practice has developed pursuant to the district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials." Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n. 4 (1984). As a trial progresses, however, the Court remains free to alter earlier rulings. Perry, 733 F.3d at 252 (citing Luce, 469 U.S. at 41-42). "Furthermore, the court may defer ruling on a motion in limine until trial if the parties' arguments cannot be evaluated accurately or sufficiently... in such a procedural environment.'" United States v. Mandell, No. 12 CR 842, 2014 WL 464226, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 3, 2014) (quoting Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs, 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997)). 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).

I. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 1

Plaintiff first seeks to bar any references to his 1990 conviction in Texas for aggravated robbery, assault, and bodily injury pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 404(b) and 403. In response, Defendants argue that they should be permitted to introduce evidence of the prior conviction and incarceration to show that "Plaintiff has himself been convicted of being actually dangerous" and that "Plaintiff's claims of emotional distress, humiliation and mental cruelty are exaggerated." (Defs.' Resp. Br. at 2, Dkt. No. 84.)

Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) prohibits the admission of evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts for the purpose of proving a person's character or propensity to behave in a certain way, but permits the use of such evidence for other purposes, including "proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident." Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). The party seeking to introduce into evidence material covered by Rule 404(b) must be able to identify a "chain of reasoning that supports the non-propensity purpose for admitting the evidence." United States v. Gomez, 763 F.3d 845, 855 (7th Cir. 2014). In assessing whether evidence is admissible under Rule 404(b), "the district court should not just ask whether the proposed other-act evidence is relevant to a non-propensity purpose but how exactly the evidence is relevant to that purpose-or more specifically, how the evidence is relevant without relying on a propensity inference." Id. at 856. Furthermore, "even if other-act evidence is relevant without relying on a propensity inference, it may be excluded under Rule 403, which... gives the district court discretion to exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of... unfair prejudice.'" Id. at 856-57 (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 403).

In this case, the fact that Plaintiff previously served many years in prison may be relevant to his claim for emotional damages caused by the arrest and detention at issue-such evidence speaks to how the arrest and detention would affect Plaintiff, as opposed to an individual who did not have his experiences. See Goodman v. Babicz, No. 09-cv-5954, 2013 WL 146377, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 14, 2013); Gribben v. City of Summit, No. 08-cv-0123, 2010 WL 2928094, at *3 (N.D. Ill. July 20, 2010). If Plaintiff offers evidence regarding the emotional damage he suffered as a result of his incarceration in January 2013, Defendants will be permitted to question Plaintiff regarding the fact that he was incarcerated previously as well as the length and conditions of that prior confinement. To address any potential prejudice, the Court will give the jury a limiting instruction to make clear that they may consider the evidence only as proof of the emotional harm allegedly suffered by Plaintiff as a result of his more recent incarceration. See Sanchez v. City of Chicago, 700 F.3d 919, 932 (7th Cir. 2012). Subject to this limitation, Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 1 is denied.

While evidence of Plaintiff's prior conviction will be admitted for the limited purpose of establishing the emotional damage he suffered as a result of his incarceration, the Court disagrees with Defendants' contention that Plaintiff's prior conviction should be admitted to show that he has been "convicted of being actually dangerous." Defendants claim the evidence shows that Plaintiff would not have been traumatized by being handcuffed while in a cell with dangerous individuals. This purported justification is unpersuasive. The Court is not aware of "being dangerous" constituting a crime in Texas or elsewhere. And Defendants have proffered no evidence that Plaintiff has ever been convicted for any such offense-having been convicted for aggravated robbery, assault, and bodily injury is not proof that someone is a "dangerous person." Furthermore, the Court finds that the relevance of such evidence to show how a person may feel if handcuffed in a cell with other potentially dangerous individuals is limited, and outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice.

Moreover, any suggestion that a "convict[ion] of being actually dangerous" indicates that Plaintiff was a "dangerous person" at the time of the incident or is a "dangerous person" now would fall squarely within Rule 404(b)'s prohibition against propensity evidence. Thus, Defendants will be precluded from using Plaintiff's prior conviction to argue that he is, in fact, dangerous.

The Court further finds that the specific nature of the crime for which Plaintiff was convicted-aggravated battery, assault, and bodily injury-has little probative value in this case and carries with it potential for unfair prejudice. For this reason, the Court will entertain a request that any reference to Plaintiff's prior conviction be sanitized to omit any description of the specific crime for which he was convicted. At the final pretrial conference, Plaintiff's counsel expressed skepticism that it would be less prejudicial to Plaintiff for the jury to hear that he was incarcerated for 17 years for an unnamed offense as opposed to hearing that he served 17 years for aggravated battery, assault, and bodily injury. Thus, the Court reserves ruling on the matter of whether Plaintiff's prior conviction should be sanitized until trial.

II. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 5

Plaintiff next seeks to bar any references to the fact that he has not paid all of his medical bills for injuries suffered as a result of the incident at issue. In response, Defendants argue that the fact that Plaintiff has not paid all of his bills is relevant to damages, as the claimed medical expenses have not and may not ever be paid by Plaintiff. The parties have already agreed that Defendants will not argue that the amounts of Plaintiff's medical bills are unreasonable; nor will Defendants object to the admissibility of the bills based on the fact that they are unpaid. The parties have also agreed that Defendants may offer evidence or argument that the treatment Plaintiff sought and received was unnecessary, i.e., that he did not really need the treatment. The question that remains is whether Defendants should be able to argue against recovery of amounts billed to Plaintiff that he may never pay.

In a § 1983 case, a plaintiff may recover compensatory damages for, among other things, the reasonable value of medical care and supplies that the plaintiff reasonably needed and actually received. Defendants argue that they should be permitted to explore at trial whether Plaintiff has made any arrangements that would relieve him of his obligation to pay portions of his medical bills, such as an agreement with a medical provider for him to pay a lesser amount than what is reflected on its bills and have the remainder discharged. At the final pretrial conference, Plaintiff's counsel represented that no such arrangements have been made and ...

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