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Smith v. Nurse

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

August 31, 2016

LAQUAN L. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFREY NURSE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION

          Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on (1) the parties' motions in limine, [86], [87], [88], and [90] and (2) Plaintiff's motion to modify the proposed pretrial order [100]. For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's first motion in limine, [90] at 1; Defendant's third motion in limine, [90] at 2-3; and Defendant's fourth motion in limine, [90] at 3. The Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's first motion in limine [86]; Plaintiff's second motion in limine [87]; Defendant's second motion in limine, [90] at 2; Defendant's sixth motion in limine, [90] at 4-5; and Defendant's seventh motion in limine, [90] at 5-6. The Court DENIES Plaintiff's third motion in limine [88]; and Defendant's fifth motion in limine, [90] at 3-4. Finally, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's motion to modify the proposed pretrial order [100]. In regard to the motion to modify the pre-trial order, the parties have been directed to try to complete the deposition of Dr. Maitra as soon as possible. With respect to the potential testimony of Mr. Boyd, Plaintiff has raised the prospect of calling Mr. Boyd as a rebuttal witness and provided a memorandum [104] in support of his position in that regard. Defendant may file a statement of his position on the propriety of calling Mr. Boyd as a rebuttal witness by 9/7/2016. The Court will consider the views of the parties on this issue and undertake its own independent research in advance of trial with an eye toward offering any guidance that would be appropriate, but given the nature of rebuttal witnesses and evidence it is unlikely that any final ruling can be made prior to the presentation of both the Plaintiff's and the Defendant's cases-in-chief. As discussed at the pre-trial conference, if Defendant wishes prophylactically to take the deposition of Mr. Boyd in case he is permitted to testify at trial as a rebuttal witness, Defendant is granted leave to do so. If a separate court order granting leave to depose an incarcerated person would facilitate the taking of the deposition, the Court requests that counsel submit a proposed order and notify the Courtroom Deputy so that it can be signed and uploaded to the docket promptly. Finally, after reviewing the parties' additional submissions, the Court may set this matter for additional status hearing on 9/7, 9/8, or 9/9/2016.

         I. Background[1]

         In early 2014, Plaintiff LaQuan Smith (“Plaintiff”) was an inmate in the Lawrenceville Correctional Center in Lawrence, Illinois (“Lawrenceville”). Plaintiff was required to attend a hearing in Cook County, Illinois on March 5, 2014. Plaintiff therefore needed to be transferred from Lawrenceville to the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois (“Stateville”) until the date of his court appearance in Cook County. On February 26, 2014, Plaintiff boarded an IDOC bus at Lawrenceville to be transferred to Stateville. Plaintiff was cuffed and shackled with a tow chain. Officer Wilson (who is not a defendant in this lawsuit) drove the bus. Defendant Jeffrey Nurse (“Defendant”), an IDOC employee, escorted the bus in another IDOC vehicle.

         In route to Stateville, Plaintiff was accused of talking. Officer Wilson pulled the bus over to the shoulder of the road. Defendant also pulled over his vehicle and boarded the bus. According to Plaintiff, Defendant told him that “[m]y intentions when I got on this bus was to slap the shit out of you!” [1] at 5. Defendant then grabbed Plaintiff by his jumpsuit, pulled him out of his seat, and slammed him into the caged window of the bus multiple times. Plaintiff's head and shoulder blades struck the caged window, causing Plaintiff severe pain. Plaintiff told Defendant that Defendant “was wrong, ” that Plaintiff “was not talking, ” and that Defendant “could've just simply taken away [Plaintiff's] IDOC ID and written [him] a ticket.” Id. Defendant then exited the bus.

         The bus proceeded to the nearby Pontiac Correctional Center (“Pontiac”). When the bus arrived, Officer Wilson disconnected Plaintiff's tow chain but left his cuffs on and shoved Plaintiff forcefully off the bus. Defendant, Officer Wilson, and Officer Chambers (who also is not a defendant in this lawsuit) beat Plaintiff with their fists and stomped on him with their feet. Plaintiff compared the beating to being “gang-jumped.” [1] at 6. Several inmates on the bus observed the beating.

         Officers Wilson and Chambers then took Plaintiff inside Pontiac and strip-searched him. Plaintiff was held overnight at Pontiac. The next day, he was transferred to Stateville. Plaintiff requested medical attention because his entire body was in pain. It is not clear from the complaint whether Plaintiff was given any medical treatment at Pontiac. Plaintiff was eventually transferred to the custody of Cook County, where he received medical attention from a nurse who provided him crutches and medication.

         The jury trial in this case is set to begin on September 12, 2016.

         II. Motions In Limine

         A. Legal Standard

         A motion in limine is a motion made “at the outset” or “preliminarily.” Black's Law Dictionary 803 (10th ed. 2014). The power to rule on motions in limine inheres in the Court's role in managing trials. Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). Motions in limine may be used to eliminate evidence “that clearly ought not be presented to the jury because [it] clearly would be inadmissible for any purpose.” Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Svcs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997). The party seeking to exclude evidence “has the burden of establishing the evidence is not admissible for any purpose.” Mason v. City of Chicago, 631 F.Supp.2d 1052, 1056 (N.D. Ill. 2009). Because motions in limine are filed before the Court has seen or heard the evidence or observed the trial unfold, rulings in limine may be subject to alteration or reconsideration during the course of trial. United States v. Connelly, 874 F.2d 412, 416 (7th Cir. 1989).

         B. Plaintiff's Motions In Limine

         1. Plaintiff's Motion to Bar Evidence Regarding Felony Convictions [86]

         Plaintiff moves to bar the introduction at trial of evidence of his 2013 felony convictions for residential burglary and attempted aggravated criminal sex abuse and an earlier felony conviction for burglary. Plaintiff argues that his convictions have “no probative value” to his lawsuit and pose a substantial risk of unfairly prejudicing the jury against him. [86] at 3. In response, Defendant argues that the probative value of the convictions outweighs any danger listed in Rule 403, because these crimes “go directly to [Plaintiff's] credibility.” [94] at 2 (citing unpublished decision of Judge Guzman in Case No. 03-cv-3074). According to Defendant, the convictions are “affirmative evidence of Plaintiff's disregard of social standards, ” [94] at 3, from which a jury properly could infer that Plaintiff is more likely to lie under oath, id. at 2.

         Rule 609 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that, “for a crime that, in the convicting jurisdiction, was punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one year, the evidence . . . must be admitted, subject to Rule 403, in a civil case . . . in which the witness is not a defendant.” Fed.R.Evid. 609(a)(1)(A). Rule 403, in turn, provides that “[t]he court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 403.

         The Seventh Circuit has elucidated a five-part test in criminal cases “to guide the district court in the exercise of its discretion in determining whether the probative value of a conviction outweighs its prejudicial effect: (1) the impeachment value of the prior crime; (2) the point in time of the conviction and the witness's subsequent history; (3) the similarity between the past crime and the charged crime; (4) the importance of the defendant's testimony; and (5) the centrality of the credibility issue.” United States v. Montgomery, 390 F.3d 1013, 1015 (7th Cir. 2004). “While not all of those factors will apply in civil cases, the same general concerns may illuminate the court's analysis.” Buchanan v. McCann, 2012 WL 1987917, at *1 (N.D. Ill. June 4, 2012) (citing Anderson v. City of Chicago, 2010 WL 4928875, at *2-3 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 30, 2010)). The Seventh Circuit has also cautioned the district courts to “be careful to ensure that a civil rights plaintiff's criminal past is not used to unfairly prejudice him or her.” Gora v. Costa, 971 F.2d 1325, 1331 (7th Cir. 1992).

         On balance, the five factors set forth above weigh in favor of admitting the fact, but not the nature, of Plaintiff's three felony convictions. As to the first factor, the fact that Plaintiff is a felon has some, but not strong, impeachment value given the nature of Plaintiff's crimes. In general, “[r]ule 609 rests ‘on the common-sense proposition that a person who has flouted society's most fundamental norms, as embodied in its felony statutes, is less likely than other members of society to be deterred from lying under oath in a trial by the solemnity of the oath, the (minuscule) danger of prosecution for perjury, or internalized ethical norms against lying.'” Cartwright v. City of Chicago, 2013 WL 3984434, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 2, 2013) (quoting Campbell v. Greer, 831 F.2d 700, 707 (7th Cir. 1987)). This general principle applies here even though Defendant has not cited cases demonstrating specifically that convictions for burglary or aggravated sexual assault implicate a party's truthfulness. On the other hand, the convictions pose an obvious risk of prejudice to Plaintiff due to the nature of the crimes. The fact that Defendant has been twice been convicted of burglarizing homes, and on one of those occasions also convicted of attempting to commit aggravated sexual assault, may be difficult for a jury to set aside, even if the jury believes Plaintiff's version of events. Turning to the second factor, the recency of two of Plaintiff's felony convictions (2013) weighs in favor of admission. The third factor is not relevant in civil cases. As to the fourth factor, Plaintiff's testimony is likely to be very important in this case because Plaintiff is a key witness to his own alleged beating and the jury will be required to determine whether it finds Plaintiff's version of what occurred on February 26, 2014 more plausible than Defendant's version. For the same reason, the fifth factor-the centrality of the credibility issue-weighs in favor of admitting Defendant's prior convictions.

         Considering these factors together, the Court concludes that evidence of Plaintiff's felony convictions is admissible under Rule 609(a)(1)(A) but should be limited and sanitized to reduce the risk of prejudice to Plaintiff given the nature of his convictions. See Schmude v. Tricam Indus., Inc., 556 F.3d 624, 627 (7th Cir. 2009); Buchanan, 2012 WL 1987917, at *2. Defendant's impeachment of Plaintiff shall be limited to the fact that Plaintiff is a convicted felon. If Defendant decides to impeach Plaintiff on this basis, the Court will provide a limiting instruction to the jury explaining the proper use of prior convictions for impeachment at trial. See Seventh Circuit Pattern Civil Jury Instructions 1.15 (“You have heard evidence that [Name] has been convicted of a crime. You may consider this evidence only in deciding whether [Name's] testimony is truthful in whole, in part, or not at all. You may not consider this evidence for any other purpose.”). For these reasons, Plaintiff's first motion in limine [86] is granted in part and denied in part.

         2. Plaintiff's Motion to Bar Evidence of Other Incidents Not Involving Plaintiff [87]

         Plaintiff moves to bar the introduction at trial of any testimony or evidence concerning other incidents, not involving Plaintiff, that have occurred while transferring inmates from one correctional facility to another on an IDOC bus. According to Plaintiff, Defendant may use this evidence to argue that the correctional officers' actions on February 26, 2014 were “proper because of other unrelated incidents that they may have been involved in.” [87] at 1. Plaintiff argues that this evidence should be excluded under Rule 402 because it is not relevant to any claims or defenses in the case and has no bearing on whether Defendant used excessive force on Plaintiff. Plaintiff also asserts that the risk of prejudice outweighs any probative value, because it could confuse the jury by giving the impression that the February 26, 2014 incident was similar to other incidents.

         In response, Defendant argues that “[t]he facts and circumstances surrounding any prior incidents on a transfer bus are important to Defendant because they explain routine DOC procedure.” [94] at 4. According to Defendant, “testimony in this case will establish that, from time to time, an inmate on a transfer bus from downstate Illinois to Stateville will misbehave, and the standard operating procedure is for the officers in charge of the transfer bus to seek ...


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