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Giuffre v. Jefferson

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

April 17, 2017

PHILIP A. GIUFFRE, Plaintiff,
v.
P.O. KAREN JEFFERSON #6856, P.O. AMY HURLEY #19490, P.O. MICHAEL SHEPHARD #9736, P.O. MARLENE SMOLEK #5499, P.O. MALCOLM DOMIO #7900, P.O. MAUREEN WEBB #12525, and the CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John Z. Lee United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Philip Giuffre, a firefighter employed by the City of Chicago, has sued City of Chicago police officers Karen Jefferson, Amy Hurley, Michael Shephard, Marlene Smolek, Malcolm Domio, and Maureen Webb (together, “the Officer Defendants”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that, on July 11, 2013, the Officer Defendants pulled into a parking lot where he was sitting, ordered him to exit his car, and shot him multiple times. Based on these allegations, Plaintiff brings a Fourth Amendment claim for use of excessive force, as well as a state law battery claim. The City of Chicago is a party to the suit as a nominal defendant, because it has agreed to indemnify the Officer Defendants for any compensatory damages awarded.

         Shortly before trial, Defendants filed a motion in limine [172] seeking to bar Plaintiff from claiming compensatory damages based on the medical bills arising from his injuries. For the reasons stated herein, the motion is denied.

         Legal Standard

         “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). Rulings in limine avoid delay and allow the parties the opportunity to prepare themselves and witnesses for the introduction or exclusion of the applicable evidence. See Wilson v. Williams, 182 F.3d 562, 566 (7th Cir. 1999); United States v. Connelly, 874 F.2d 412, 416 (7th Cir. 1989). District courts have broad discretion in ruling on evidentiary issues before trial. See United States v. Chambers, 642 F.3d 588, 594 (7th Cir. 2011); Cefalu v. Vill. of Elk Grove, 211 F.3d 416, 426 (7th Cir. 2000). Moreover, rulings on motions in limine are “subject to change when the case unfolds.” Luce, 469 U.S. at 41; accord Farfaras v. Citizens Bank & Trust of Chi., 433 F.3d 558, 565 (7th Cir. 2006).

         Analysis

         Defendants have moved to bar any testimony, evidence, or claims regarding compensation of Plaintiff's medical bills arising from the events on July 11, 2013. In the alternative, Defendants request that they be permitted to introduce evidence that the City of Chicago has already paid, and will continue to pay, Plaintiff's medical bills. In support, they assert that Plaintiff, as an employee of the City of Chicago, participates in the City of Chicago's self-funded employee health insurance plan. Under that plan, they argue, the City of Chicago has already paid around $524, 000 of Plaintiff's medical expenses. See Defs.' Mot. Limine No. 12 at 2, ECF No. 172; see also id., Ex. A (itemizing benefits paid through the City of Chicago's employee health plan on behalf of Plaintiff). Because the City of Chicago has also agreed to indemnify the Officer Defendants for any compensatory damages awarded at trial, Defendants contend that allowing Plaintiff to recover damages based on his medical bills will permit a double recovery, because it will effectively require the City of Chicago to pay for Plaintiff's medical bills twice-once under its self-funded employee health plan, and once more under its indemnification arrangement with the Officer Defendants.

         In his response brief, as during the pretrial conference and at a motion hearing held on April 12, 2017, Plaintiff counters that Defendants have offered insufficient proof that the City of Chicago, rather than Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBS), paid for Plaintiff's medical expenses.[1] In addition, Plaintiff argues that the collateral source rule should bar evidence that the City of Chicago has already paid for Plaintiff's medical expenses by way of its employee health plan.

         Under the collateral source rule, the amount of damages a plaintiff may be awarded is not decreased by the amount of payments he receives from an independent, collateral source in connection with his injury. See, e.g., E.E.O.C. v. O'Grady, 857 F.2d 383, 389-90 (7th Cir. 1988); Stragapede v. City of Evanston, 125 F.Supp.3d 818, 826 (N.D. Ill. 2015). “The idea behind the [collateral source rule], which originated in tort law, is that damages measured by the injury are essential to deterrence.” U.S. Can Co. v. N.L.R.B., 254 F.3d 626, 631 (7th Cir. 2001). “The collateral source rule thus focuses on what the tortfeasor and collateral source should pay, not on what the plaintiff should receive.” O'Grady, 857 F.2d at 390; accord Stragapede, 125 F.Supp.3d at 826. “The collateral source rule applies to § 1983 actions.” Perry v. Larson, 794 F.2d 279, 286 (7th Cir. 1986).[2]

         Of particular importance to this case, the identity of the person or entity who makes a collateral payment to the plaintiff is not dispositive of whether the collateral source rule applies. Instead, “‘[a]pplication of the collateral source rule depends less upon the source of funds than upon the character of the benefits received.'” Molzof v. United States, 6 F.3d 461, 465 (7th Cir. 1993) (quoting Haughton v. Blackships, Inc., 462 F.2d 788, 790 (5th Cir. 1972)). “[I]n order to determine whether the collateral source rule is applicable, courts have looked to the nature of the payment and the reason the payment is being made rather than simply looking at whether the defendant is paying twice.” Id. As a result, a source of funds “‘may be determined to be collateral or independent, even though the [tortfeasor] supplies such funds.'” Id. (quoting Haughton, 462 F.2d at 790).

         Even assuming as true Defendants' assertion that the City of Chicago, rather than BCBS, paid for Plaintiff's medical expenses, the nature of the payments and the reason why the payments were made call for application of the collateral source rule. First, the City of Chicago paid for Plaintiff's medical expenses as part of its self-funded health insurance plan, in which Plaintiff participates as a municipal employee. The Seventh Circuit has suggested that employment benefits, including benefits received through participation in an employer's health plan, are collateral benefits that should not be offset from a damages award against the employer. See U.S. Can, 254 F.3d at 634 (“[H]ealth insurance is treated as a collateral source even when the [defendant-employer] provides insurance as a fringe benefit.”); see also O'Grady, 857 F.2d at 391 (analogizing pension benefits to employer-provided insurance benefits in holding that pension benefits should not be deducted from back-pay award because “pension benefits may be viewed as earned by the claimants”). Here, payments made to Plaintiff through his employer's health plan are best characterized as an employment benefit, rather than as a form of compensation for wrongful conduct committed by the Officer Defendants or other City of Chicago employees. Thus, to allow Defendants to deduct those payments from Plaintiff's damages award would be to “permit the [City of Chicago] to appropriate a portion of [Plaintiff's] own economic-benefits package, ” a result that the collateral source rule is designed to avoid. U.S. Can, 254 F.3d at 634.

         Furthermore, barring Plaintiff from claiming compensatory damages based on his medical expenses would undermine one of the primary objectives that damages awards are meant to serve: deterrence of wrongdoing. See Id. at 631-35. Because Plaintiff participates in the City of Chicago's employee health plan, the City of Chicago would have paid for Plaintiff's medical expenses regardless of whether Plaintiff was injured wrongfully. Allowing Defendants to reduce compensatory damages by the amount of these health insurance payments would therefore give Defendants a windfall and marginally reduce the deterrent effect of the damages award. See McKenna v. City of Memphis, 544 F.Supp. 415, 420 (W.D. Tenn. 1982) (refusing to deduct medical expenses from compensatory damages in § 1983 case where plaintiff and defendant were employed by the same municipality, because the municipality paid its employees' medical expenses “without regard to negligence or liability of others, including fellow employees”), aff'd, 785 F.2d 560 (6th Cir. 1986); see also Stragapede, 125 F.Supp.3d at 826-29 (refusing to deduct Social Security disability insurance payments from plaintiffs' back-pay award under collateral source rule, in part because the insurance payments “would be made regardless of whether the [defendant] acted wrongfully”).

         What is more, if the City of Chicago had not agreed to indemnify the Officer Defendants, there would be no question that Plaintiff could seek compensatory damages against them based on his medical expenses. See Perry, 794 F.2d at 286 (applying collateral source rule in § 1983 case); Hare v. Zitek, No. 02 C 3973, 2006 WL 2088427, at *2 (N.D. Ill. July 24, 2006) (same); see also O'Grady, 857 F.2d at 389-90. The fact that the City of Chicago has agreed for its own reasons to indemnify the Officer Defendants should not impact the amount of compensatory damages that Plaintiff may seek against them in order to deter any future wrongdoing.[3] Put another way, to serve the deterrence objective that underlies the collateral source rule, Plaintiff should be permitted to seek the same measure of compensatory damages against the Officer Defendants as he would be able to seek in the absence of their indemnification arrangement with the City of Chicago.

         In nevertheless arguing that Plaintiff should be barred from seeking damages based on the cost of his medical care, Defendants cite U.S. Can Co. v. N.L.R.B., 254 F.3d 626 (7th Cir. 2001), for the proposition that “the collateral source rule would not apply to exclude evidence of severance pay in a calculation of back pay damages because the employer had already made the employee whole for the missing wages.” Defs.' Mot. Limine No. 12 at 2-3. Defendants' reading of U.S. Can, however, overlooks several key points from the decision. In U.S. Can, the court discussed a ...


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