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Brooks v. Solis

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

July 7, 2017

JUSTIN BROOKS, SR., Plaintiff,
DANIEL SOLIS, et al., Defendants.


          Young B. Kim United States Magistrate Judge

         Justin Brooks, Sr. brings this action against the City of Chicago and Officers Daniel Solis and Peter Spain (collectively, "Defendants") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that Officers Solis and Spain violated his constitutional rights by detaining him in police custody for an excessively long period and in unreasonable conditions of confinement. Before the court are Brooks's motions in limine Nos. 1-10 and Defendants' motions in limine Nos. 1-18. Brooks' Motion Nos. 2, 3, and 6 and Defendants' Motion Nos. 1, 3, 7-11, and 13-16 are not opposed. For the following reasons, Brooks's Motion Nos. 1-4, 6-8, and 10 are granted, Brooks's Motion Nos. 5 and 9 are denied, Defendants' Motion Nos. 1-3 and 5-18 are granted, and Defendants' Motion No. 4 is denied:

         Legal Standard

         Although not expressly authorized by the Federal Rules of Evidence, the authority to make rulings on motions in limine springs from the court's inherent authority to manage trials. Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984); Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). Motions in limine are used to "exclude evidence before trial in order to prevent the trial from being interrupted by wrangles over admissibility or the jury from getting a whiff of prejudicial evidence that may in fact be inadmissible." Am. Int'l Adjustment Co. v. Galvin, 86 F.3d 1455, 1463 (7th Cir. 1996). But because the primary aim of in limine motions is to exclude evidence that is inadmissible on any ground, some rulings are best left until trial so that the context, foundation, and relevance of the contested evidence can be better understood. Anglin v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 139 F.Supp.2d 914, 917 (N.D. Ill. 2001) (noting that evidence should be excluded, in limine, only to the extent that clearly inadmissible evidence is eliminated). As such, neither a ruling granting a motion in limine, nor a ruling denying one, needs to be the final word on the matter. The court is free to revisit the following rulings during trial. Luce, 469 U.S. at 41-42.


         A. Brooks's Motions in Limine

         Brooks filed 10 motions in limine on June 19, 2017. (R. 82, Pl's Mot. No. 1; R. 84-93, Pl's Mot. Nos. 2-10.) Defendants oppose the following seven motions: Motion Nos. 1, 4, 5, 7-10. (R. 94, Defs.' Resp.)

         1. Motion Nos. 1, 8 & 10.

         Brooks seeks to prevent Defendants from referencing his prior arrests, convictions, and criminal history. (R. 84; R. 91; R. 93.)

         (a) Prior Arrests

         Brooks asserts that his prior arrests that did not lead to an admissible conviction should be barred from trial. (Pl's Mot. No. 1 at 1-2, 4-5; Pl's Mot. No. 8 at 1-3; Pl's Mot. No. 10 at 1-4.) Defendants argue in response that because they expect Brooks to testify about alleged emotional damages resulting from the conditions of his confinement (i.e., being allegedly handcuffed to a wall for an extended period), his previous arrests and convictions, including at least one prison term, are fair game to rebut his testimony about emotional trauma from his detention. (R. 94, Defs.' Resp. at 2.)

         Brooks is correct that prior arrests not leading to convictions are viewed as inadmissible character evidence. See Betts v. City of Chicago, 784 F.Supp.2d 1020, 1024 (N.D. Ill. 2001) (prior arrests inadmissible under Rules 402 and 404(b)). Under Rule 404(b), "[e]vidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith." However, other decisions in this district are supportive of Defendants' position that prior arrests may be admitted to rebut testimony about the emotional trauma of an arrest. Goodman v. Babicz, No. 09 CV 5954, 2013 WL 146377, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 14, 2013) (finding the fact that a plaintiff had been arrested and jailed two dozen times "was probative of the extent of his emotional distress"); Gribben v. City of Summit, No. 08 CV 123, 2010 WL 2928094, at *3 (N.D. Ill. July 20, 2010) ("If presented with evidence that [the plaintiff] had been arrested and incarcerated numerous times in the past, the jury could conclude that [the plaintiff] would not have been as emotionally traumatized by the arrest... as he claims to have been.").

         There is also an argument to be made that prior arrests could sensitize, rather than desensitize, a person to the trauma of being placed and held in custody. Betts, 784 F.Supp.2d at 1025; see also Cianfaglione v. Rogers, No. 10 CV 2170, 2012 WL 1982536, at *6 (CD. Ill. June 4, 2012) (concluding that defendants had not adequately shown that the plaintiffs prior arrest record was significant enough to be used to undercut her claim for emotional damages). Some courts have reasoned that the admissibility of prior arrests-even if intended to show significant contact between the plaintiff and police in order to undercut a claim of emotional damages-depends on how analogous those previous arrests were in comparison to the arrest in question. See, e.g., Moore v. City of Chicago, No. 02 CV 5130, 2008 WL 4549137, at *1 (N.D. Ill. April 15, 2008); Brandon v. Village of May wood, 179 F.Supp.2d 847, 855 (N.D. Ill. 2001). In Moore the court found that "to be relevant, the arrests must be substantially similar and the court must conduct a prejudice analysis." Moore, 2008 WL 4549137, at *1. Likewise, in Brandon the court refused to allow evidence of prior arrests because "[t]here is no indication that [plaintiffs] previous arrests involved similar facts, so their probative value is quite low." Brandon, 179 F.Supp.2d at 855.

         Neither party has presented the court with a comprehensive list of Brooks's prior arrests, let alone facts that might allow the court to differentiate between the prior arrests and neither party has cited any evidence that Brooks's previous brushes with the law have conditioned him to readily accept any physical or psychological impact associated with being held in custody or that prior arrests have sensitized him to being taken into custody. Absent such information, the court is unable to engage in any meaningful analysis to either admit or exclude evidence of Brooks's prior arrests prior to Brooks's trial testimony.

         Defendants also contend if Brooks raises his character for truthfulness, then he will have opened the door and they should be permitted to raise the issue of his arrest history. (R. 94, Defs.' Resp. at 2.) To be sure, there are myriad ways that Brooks could open the door to his prior arrests. However, the risk of unfair prejudice to Brooks is considerable if prior arrest evidence is admitted without the door being opened first. For these reasons, Brooks's Motion Nos. 1, 8, and 10 are granted with respect to ...

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