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Patterson v. City of Chicago

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

February 28, 2017

CALVIN PATTERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, et. al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMY J. ST. EVE U.S. District Court Judge

         Before the Court are Plaintiff Calvin Patterson's (“Patterson”) motions in limine as well as the motions in limine of Defendants the City of Chicago (the “City”) and Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) officers Steven Hefel (“Hefel”) Michael Laurie (“Laurie”) (collectively, “Defendants”). (R. 86, 87.) The Court has previously granted, based on the parties' agreement, Patterson's motions in limine numbers 1-10 and Defendants' motion in limine number 4. (R. 90, 91.) Defendants have also indicated that they do not object to Plaintiff's motions in limine numbers 11 and 22. (R. 97, Defs.' Response, 1, 14.) The Court therefore grants those two motions. With respect to the disputed motions, the Court grants in part and denies in part the parties' motions in limine for the reasons that follow.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Patterson's Allegations

         Patterson alleges that on August 30, 2014, Hefel and Laurie arrived at 1632 S. St. Louis Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. (R. 44, Second Am. Compl., ¶ 5.) That evening, around 7:30, Patterson left a store near the intersection of W. 16th Street and S. Drake Avenue to walk toward his cousin's house nearby. (Id. at ¶¶ 6-8.) When he arrived at his cousin's house, he saw a police vehicle speed through a vacant parking lot. (Id. at ¶ 9.) One of the defendant officers drove the car and the other was in the passenger seat. (Id. at ¶ 11.)

         Patterson claims that the police car “sped down the vacant parking lot and without provocation, slammed into [Patterson's] body forcefully, ” throwing him to the ground and injuring him. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Before the car hit Patterson, he put his hands up “in an effort to be cooperative.” (Id. at ¶ 10.) After hitting Patterson, at least one of the officers exited the car, “forcefully grabbed [Patterson], pulled him and placed him into the police vehicle.” (Id. at ¶ 13.)

         Other officers arrived at the scene, and after conversing with Hefel and Laurie, the defendant officers drove Patterson to an alley near Drake Street and S. St. Louis Street. (Id. at ¶¶ 14-15.) One of the defendants took Patterson out of the car and “without reason or provocation, threw [him] on the ground using significant force.” (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17.) When he was on the ground, at least one of the defendants kicked or hit Patterson. (Id. at ¶ 17.) As a result, Patterson suffered injuries and lost consciousness.” (Id. at ¶ 18.)[1]

         Patterson claims that on August 30, 2014, he did not (1) obstruct, strike, assault, batter, or use force against the officers; or (2) violate a law or rule. (Id. at ¶ 21.) Patterson also alleges that he was not “the focus or subject of a criminal investigation.” (Id. at ¶ 23.)

         Based on the above, Patterson alleges six counts against Defendants: (1) excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (2) false arrest under § 1983, (3) false arrest under Illinois law, (4) battery under Illinois law, (5) a claim for indemnification under 745 Ill. Comp. Stat. 10/9-102 against the City should any of the individual defendants be found liable for any of the alleged counts, and (6) a claim for respondeat superior against the City for any of the state-law claims. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-47.)

         II. Defendants' Response

         Defendants broadly deny Patterson's allegations. They admit, however, that either Hefel or Laurie was driving the police car to which Patterson refers, that the officer driving the vehicle exited the car at some point, that other officers arrived at the scene, that a defendant drove Patterson to the alley he references in his complaint, and that the defendant officers were acting within the scope of their employment during the relevant time. (R. 95, Answer, ¶¶ 11, 13-15, 19.) Defendants admit that Patterson did not obstruct, strike, or batter them, but they claim that he violated a law. (Id. at ¶ 21.)[2] Specifically, as the parties' motions in limine have made clear, Defendants claim Hefel and/or Laurie “observed Plaintiff engage in a hand-to-hand transaction the Defendants believed to be a narcotics transaction.” (R. 97 at 4; see also R. 87 at 15.)

         In the Joint Proposed Final Pre-Trial Order, Defendants explain that Patterson “sustained his injuries by failing down a set of stairs.” (R. 88 at 2.) They again admit to placing Patterson in the police vehicle and driving him a block away, but deny hitting Patterson with the vehicle or throwing him out of the vehicle and to the ground. (Id.)

         LEGAL STANDARD

         I. Motions in Limine

         Trial courts have broad discretion in ruling on evidentiary issues before and during trial. See Bridgeview Health Care Ctr., Ltd. v. Clark, 816 F.3d 935, 939 (7th Cir. 2016); Whitfield v. Int'l Truck & Engine Corp., 755 F.3d 438, 447 (7th Cir. 2014). “Although 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); see also Dietz v. Bouldin, 136 S.Ct. 1885, 1891 (2016) (“The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure set out many of the specific powers of a federal district court, ” but “they are not all encompassing, ” for example, they make no provision “for the power of a judge to hear a motion in limine.”). “Trial courts issue rulings on motions in limine to guide the parties on what evidence it will admit later in trial, ” and “[a]s a trial progresses, the presiding judge remains free to alter earlier rulings.” Perry v. City of Chicago, 733 F.3d 248, 252 (7th Cir. 2013). It is well-established that a motion in limine “is an important tool available to the trial judge to ensure the expeditious and evenhanded management of the trial proceedings” and that it “permits the trial judge to eliminate from further consideration evidentiary submissions that clearly ought not be presented to the jury because they clearly would be inadmissible for any purpose.” Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997).

         II. Federal Rules of Evidence

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 401, evidence is relevant if “it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence” and “the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Fed.R.Evid. 401; United States v. Boros, 668 F.3d 901, 907 (7th Cir. 2012). In short, Rule 401 defines relevance broadly. See United States v. Boswell, 772 F.3d 469, 475 (7th Cir. 2014). Rule 402 “provides the corollary that, with certain exceptions, ‘[r]elevant evidence is admissible' and ‘[i]rrelevant evidence is not admissible.'” Boros, 668 F.3d at 907. The Court, however, 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. When considering Rule 403, courts use “a sliding scale approach: as the probative value increases, so does our tolerance of the risk of prejudice.” Whitehead v. Bond, 680 F.3d 919, 930 (7th Cir. 2012). “Evidence is unduly prejudicial if it creates a genuine risk that the emotions of the jury will be excited to irrational behavior, and the risk is disproportionate to the probative value of the offered evidence.” Morgan v. City of Chicago, 822 F.3d 317, 339 (7th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Defendants' Motions in Limine

         A. Motion in Limine #1: Barring References to Other Civil Lawsuits, Civilian Complaints, and/or Disciplinary Histories of Any Police Personnel Who May Testify

         Defendants seek to bar Plaintiff under Federal Rules of Evidence 404 and 608 from introducing testimony relating to prior instances of alleged misconduct by defendant officers or police officer witnesses. Defendants also say such evidence is irrelevant, hearsay, and inadmissible under Rule 403. As Patterson points out, Defendants do not identify any evidence in particular that they wish to bar. Without knowing what the prior incidents are that Patterson seeks to introduce, it is impossible for the Court to conduct an analysis.

         Patterson, however, identifies three lawsuits[3] that he would like to introduce into evidence and/or reference in cross-examination. One is a 2007 lawsuit claiming that in February 2007, Hefel stopped and searched the plaintiff without legal justification, wrote false and misleading police reports, and battered the plaintiff by striking, kicking and/or punching him. The second is a 2008 lawsuit claiming that on June 1, 2008, Hefel stopped and battered the plaintiff. The third is a 2014 lawsuit against Hefel and Laurie claiming “on August 29, 2013, the Defendants (along with other officers) participated in a raid during which a Chicago officer held a gun to the chest of a 3-year-old, pointed a gun at an elderly plaintiff, violently shook and slammed another plaintiff against a wall.” (R. 98 at 3.) Based on an oddly placed footnote, the Court believes Patterson seeks to introduce proof of the third lawsuit into evidence, while he seeks only to cross-examine Hefel, Laurie, and/or other witnesses about the other two lawsuits. (See Id. at 3 n.2.) Because of the lack of clarity, the Court will assume that Patterson seeks to introduce proof of all three lawsuits into evidence and also seeks to cross-examine witnesses about the lawsuits under Federal Rule of Evidence 608(b). Patterson contends that “[s]imply put, [he] should be able to argue that Defendant Hefel has a modus operandi and/or habit of stopping and battering persons and of falsifying police reports to allege narcotics activity.” (Id. at 3.) With respect to the third lawsuit, Patterson contends that because it is still pending, Defendants have a motive to lie in the current case beyond being found liable for Patterson's injuries. (Id.)

         Rule 608(b) provides that “[e]xcept for a criminal conviction under Rule 609, extrinsic evidence is not admissible to prove specific instances of a witness's conduct in order to attack or support the witness's character for truthfulness.” The Court may, however, “on cross-examination, allow them to be inquired into if they are probative of the character for truthfulness or untruthfulness of” either the testifying witness or another witness whose character the testifying witness is testifying about. Fed.R.Evid. 608(b). The Seventh Circuit grants courts “great discretion” under Rule 608. First Webber Grp., Inc. v. Horsfall, 738 F.3d 767, 778 (7th Cir. 2013); see also United States v. Mandell, No. 12 CR 842, 2014 WL 464226, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 3, 2014). Rule 403, however, applies to the scope of cross-examination. First Webber, 738 F.3d at 778; Mandell, 2014 WL 464226, at *3.

         Under Rule 404(b), “[e]vidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.” Such evidence “may be admissible for another purpose, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 404(b)(2). “[I]t's not enough for the proponent of the other-act evidence simply to point to a purpose in the ‘permitted' list and assert that the other-act evidence is relevant to it.” United States v. Gomez, 763 F.3d 845, 856 (7th Cir. 2014) (en banc). “In other words, the rule allows the use of other-act evidence only when its admission is supported by some propensity-free chain of reasoning.” Id.

         Under Rule 406, “[e]vidence of a person's habit . . . may be admitted to prove that on a particular occasion the person or organization acted in accordance with the habit or routine practice.” “[B]efore a court may admit evidence of habit, the offering party must establish the degree of specificity and frequency of uniform response that ensures more than a mere ‘tendency' to act in a given manner, but rather, conduct that is ‘semi-automatic' in nature.” Nelson v. City of Chicago, 810 F.3d 1061, 1073-74 (7th Cir. 2016).

         Patterson is precluded from introducing the three lawsuits into evidence or from cross-examining witnesses about them. First, Patterson fails to show how these three incidents since 2008 establish the degree of specific and frequency of a uniform response to establish habit. A habit is something semi-automatic in nature-hitting the snooze button every day at the same time. Here, Patterson points to three lawsuits alleging conduct on three days over the last ten years. This is insufficient. See Id. (“A police officer's decision to draw his gun, use handcuffs, or search a car during a traffic stop can hardly be characterized as ‘habitual' or ‘semiautomatic.'”)

         Second, evidence of any of the lawsuits is also inadmissible under Rule 404. Patterson argues that the allegations in the lawsuits show that the defendant officers have a modus operandi of “stopping and battering persons and falsifying police reports to allege narcotics activity.” (R. 98 at 3.) A litigant may in some cases use evidence of prior bad acts to show a person's modus operandi, though “any such evidence is usually offered to prove identity, ” which Patterson does not indicate is his intent. Hill v. City of Chicago, No. 06 C 6772, 2011 WL 3840336, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 30, 2011) (citing United States v. Robinson, 161 F.3d 463, 467 (7th Cir. 1998)). Here, Patterson's modus operandi argument is a thinly veiled attempt to do precisely what Rule 404(b) forbids: ask the jury to make an inference that because the defendants committed battery or falsified police reports in the past (which may or may not be true), they did the same thing on the day in question in this lawsuit. Gomez, 763 F.3d 845, 856. Moreover, the prior bad acts that Patterson raises “do not meet the high degree of similarity required to prove modus operandi.” Id.; United States v. Foster, 652 F.3d 776, 785 (7th Cir. 2011). The allegations in the three lawsuits are unlike those in this case, where Patterson alleges he was intentionally hit by a police car for no reason, placed in the police car, driven a short distance, thrown out of the police car, and beaten. As for Patterson's contention that the prior cases show that Hefel has a modus operandi of falsifying police reports to allege narcotics activity, it is not apparent that Patterson alleges that Hefel did that in this case. Moreover, the prior allegations are of such a general, unspecific nature that Patterson cannot show the high degree of similarity necessary to prove modus operandi.[4]

         Finally, Patterson also is precluded from introducing evidence of or questioning witnesses about the three lawsuits under Rule 403, as such questioning is minimally probative but carries an unacceptable risk of unfair prejudice, jury confusion, and undue delay.[5] First, any reference to the three lawsuits has a significant potential to mislead the jury into attempting to decide those cases. Additionally, it could lead to distracting and time consuming mini-trials regarding the merits of these other allegations. See Hill, 2011 WL 3840336, at *11. Second, the three lawsuits are minimally probative. The allegations have not been proven, two of the incidents happened nearly 10 years ago, one of the incidents happened in August 2013, and none of the incidents involves conduct significantly like the conduct alleged in the current case.

         Furthermore, the allegations in the three lawsuits-particularly the third case-are inflammatory and carry a high likelihood that the jury will draw conclusions based on improper considerations. See Gomez, 763 F.3d at 857. Finally, even if the currently pending third lawsuit creates an extra motive for the defendant officers to lie, it does so minimally, as they already have such a motive based on the allegations in this case.

         Accordingly, the Court grants Defendants' motion to the extent it addresses the three lawsuits Patterson identifies.

         B. Motion in Limine #2: Barring References to the City Indemnifying Defendants for Any Compensatory Damages

         Defendants seek to bar references that the City may indemnify any defendant officers for compensatory damages. See 745 Ill. Comp. Stat 10/9-102 (providing that the City indemnify employees for compensatory damages); 745 Ill. Stat. 10/2-302 (“It is hereby declared to be the public policy of this State, however, that no local public entity may elect to indemnify an employee for any portion of a judgment representing an award of punitive or exemplary damages.”); Winston v. O'Brien, 773 F.3d 809, 814 (7th Cir. 2014) (“[I]ndemnification of punitive damages is prohibited under Illinois law.”) In general, courts bar evidence of indemnification because it may encourage juries to inflate compensatory damages awards. See Hill v. City of Chicago, No. 06 C 6772, 2011 WL 3205304, at *4 (N.D. Ill. July 28, 2011) (citing Lawson v. Trowbridge, 153 F.3d 368, 379 (7th Cir. 1998)). Patterson may, however, introduce evidence of the City's indemnification if Defendants “open[] the door by presenting evidence of their financial condition” with respect to punitive damages. Id.; see also Gonzalez, 2015 WL 3671641, at *7 (“[I]f Defendants plead poverty as to punitive damages, they open the door for Plaintiff to offer evidence of indemnification as to compensatory damages.”).

         Defendants also request that the Court bar Plaintiff from referencing defense counsel as “City lawyers” or “The City, ” or similar terms. Patterson agrees not to do this. Patterson says, however, that while he does not anticipate that he will need to refer to the City to prosecute his claims, he asks leave of the court to do so if necessary. If Patterson wishes to refer to the City for some reason, he must front the issue with the Court outside the presence of the jury. The Court notes, however, that it will not strike the City from the case caption. See Jones v. City of Chicago, No. 14-cv-4023, 2017 WL 413613, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 31, 2017); Bruce v. City of Chicago, No. 09 C 4837, 2011 WL 3471074, at *4 (N.D. Ill. July 29, 2011); Wilbon v. Povanich, No. 12 C 1132, 2016 WL 890671, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 9, 2016).

         C. Motion in Limine #3: Barring Arguments that the Jury Should “Send a Message” to the City with its Verdict or Punish the City

         Defendants argue that the Court must bar Patterson from arguing that jurors should send a message or punish the City with its verdict. Plaintiff cannot recover punitive damages from the City. See Obrycka v. City of Chicago, No. 07 C 2372, 2012 WL 4060293, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 14, 2012); Betts v. City of Chicago, 784 F.Supp.2d 1020, 1032-33 (N.D. Ill. 2011). Patterson therefore may not argue that jurors should send a message to the City or punish the City. See Martinez v. City of Chicago, No. 14-cv-369, 2016 WL 3538823, at *14 (N.D. Ill. June 29, 2016).

         This prohibition also applies to referencing sending a message or punishing the Chicago Police Department, as “[i]nvoking the department is ...


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