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Cazares v. Frugoli

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

September 19, 2017

JOSE ANDRES CAZARES, as Special Administrator of the Estate of ANDREW CAZARES, deceased and FAUSTO T. MANZERA, as Special Administrator of the Estate of FAUSTO A. MANZERA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JOSEPH FRUGOLI, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HON. VIRGINIA M. KENDALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         As detailed in several of this Court's prior rulings, Andrew Cazares and Fausto A. Manzera died after their disabled vehicle was struck by an SUV driven by Joseph Frugoli, an intoxicated off-duty Chicago police officer. Plaintiffs Jose Cazares and Fausto T. Manzera as special administrators of the estates of Andrew Cazares and Fausto A. Manzera, brought suit against Frugoli and his employer, the City of Chicago, alleging wrongful death against Frugoli and a Monell claim against the City of Chicago. In anticipation of trial, which is set for October 30, 2017, the parties have filed a number of motions in limine, many of which the Court has already ruled upon. (See Dkt. 386.) The remaining thirteen motions in limine are addressed below.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Trial courts necessarily possess the broad discretion to rule on evidentiary issues before and during trial. See Dietz v. Bouldin, 136 S.Ct. 1885, 1891 (2016). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not explicitly address motions in limine, but that power is inherently vested in district courts in order to ensure just, speedy, and inexpensive dispute resolutions. Id.; see also Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984) (“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.”). “Motions in limine are well-established devices that streamline trials and settle evidentiary disputes in advance, so that trials are not interrupted mid-course for the consideration of lengthy and complex evidentiary issues.” U.S. v. Tokash, 282 F.3d 962, 968 (7th Cir. 2002); see also Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997) (“[The] motion in limine is an important tool available to the trial judge to ensure the expeditious and evenhanded management of the trial proceedings . . . . [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.”). “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). During a trial, the presiding judge “is free, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, to alter a previous in limine ruling.” Luce, 469 U.S. at 41-42; see also Ohler v. U.S., 529 U.S. 753, 758 n.3 (2000) (“[I]n limine rulings are not binding on the trial judge, and the judge may always change his mind during the course of a trial.”).

         District courts have broad discretion to determine the admissibility of evidence under the Federal Rules of Evidence. United States v. Abel, 469 U.S. 45, 54 (1984) (“Assessing the probative value of [the proffered evidence], and weighing any factors counseling against admissibility is a matter first for the district court's sound judgment under Rules 401 and 403 . . . .”); McLane Co., Inc. v. E.E.O.C., 137 S.Ct. 1159, 1168 (2017) (“District courts decide . . . whether evidence is relevant at trial.”); United States v. Rogers, 587 F.3d 816, 823 (7th Cir. 2009) (“Rule 403 remains an important safeguard against the admission of prejudicial evidence, and courts enjoy wide discretion in applying the rule.”). Under Rule 401, evidence does not need to conclusively prove the ultimate fact in issue, but only have “any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Fed. Rule Evid. 401; see New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 345 (1985). Rule 403 limits this otherwise broad language favoring relevance, which permits courts to 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; see United States v. Lynn, 851 F.3d 786 (7th Cir. 2017). Rule 403 analyses require fact-intensive, context-specific inquiries and an “on-the-spot balancing of probative value and prejudice, potentially to exclude as unduly prejudicial some evidence that already has been found to be factually relevant.” Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379, 384, 88 (2008) (citing 1 S. Childress & M. Davis, Federal Standards of Review § 4.02, p. 4-16 (3d ed.1999)).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Plaintiffs' Motions in Limine

         A. Motion in Limine #2 - to bar testimony or reference to alcohol use by Andrew Cazares or Fausto Manzera. (Dkt. 328.)

         Plaintiffs seek to exclude evidence that at the time of their deaths, Manzera and Cazares were under the influence of alcohol. (Dkt. 368.) Plaintiffs submit that such evidence is irrelevant because at the time of the crash, the decedents had no control over their vehicle and to the extent it is relevant, its probity is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion, and the potential to mislead the jury. (Id. at 2.)

         After their car suffered a total electrical failure, Cazares and Manzera sat in their vehicle, which was stuck on the right side of one of the expressway's entrance ramps, for approximately twenty minutes. During that time, the decedents made several phone calls to friends but failed to notify the police or other authorities of their predicament. The decedents' inaction following their vehicle's electrical failure is relevant to the Defendants' contributory negligence defense. Specifically, as Defendants' expert is prepared to testify, it is possible that the decedents' intoxication resulted in their underappreciation of the danger they were in at the time of the collision and that their use of alcohol resulted in their failure to call for assistance from the police or another authority. Jarrett v. United States, the only case applying the Federal Rules of Evidence cited by Plaintiffs in their motion in limine, undercuts their position. In Jarrett, the Seventh Circuit found that newly discovered evidence regarding the occasional drug usage of one of the government's witnesses did not warrant a new trial because such evidence did not undermine the witness's memory and evidence of substance use could not be used to attack one's credibility. Jarrett v. United States, 822 F.2d 1438, 1446 (7th Cir. 1987). Instead, the court noted that such evidence was admissible only to attack the individual's perception of the underlying events. Id. Here, Defendants intend to present evidence of the decedents' alcohol use at the time of the accident not to undermine their credibility (their credibility is not at issue) but instead to challenge their perception of the danger they were in and their response to their predicament. Such use of evidence regarding substance use is exactly the type contemplated by Jarrett and other similar cases. See also United States v. Spano, 421 F.3d 599, 606 (7th Cir. 2005); Casares v. Bernal, 790 F.Supp.2d 769, 786 (N.D. Ill. 2011) (admitting evidence of plaintiff's substance use at time of incident because, inter alia, there was evidence that drugs and alcohol prevented him from understanding the events at the time they occurred). Plaintiffs' reliance on an Illinois state court decision is misguided and their understanding of Illinois law on the issue is misplaced. See Petraski v. Thedos, 382 Ill.App.3d 22, 27, 887 N.E.2d 24, 30 (2008) (reversing jury verdict in favor of plaintiff when trial court excluded evidence of plaintiff's alcohol use at time of vehicular accident, because evidence of plaintiff's intoxication was relevant to determining contributory negligence).

         While Defendants may use evidence of the decedents' alcohol use to challenge their response to their vehicle's failure, the Court is unaware of any evidence to support the inference that Cazares' use of alcohol contributed to his car becoming disabled. Regardless, defense counsel represented that they would not attempt to make that argument during trial. The Court therefore denies Plaintiffs' Motion in Limine # 2 as set forth above.

         B. Motion in Limine #3 - to bar testimony or reference to contributory negligence by plaintiffs. (Dkt. 329.)

         Without referencing any of the Federal Rules of Evidence, Plaintiffs seek to completely bar Defendants from arguing that the decedents were contributorily negligent. As noted above, evidence of the decedents' alcohol consumption is relevant and admissible, in a limited form, to demonstrate that the decedents were contributorily negligent. To the extent the evidence at trial otherwise supports the inference that the decedents were contributorily negligent, Defendants are permitted to make that argument. See Levitt v. H. J. Jeffries, Inc., 517 F.2d 523, 525 (7th Cir. 1975) (reversing district court's decision to exclude evidence related to contributory negligence in diversity suit involving vehicular accident); see also Payne v. Schneider Nat'l Carriers, Inc., No. CV 09-559-GPM, 2011 WL 13098430, at *1 (S.D. Ill. Apr. 26, 2011) (“[e]vidence of Mr. Payne's contributory negligence, if any, is not inadmissible as evidence under the demanding standard for exclusion of evidence in limine, as such evidence plainly goes to the matter of comparative fault.”). For these reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion in Limine # 3 is denied.

         C. Motion in Limine # 5 - to bar the City from arguing that a code of silence does not exist with the CPD. (Dkt. 331.)

         Primarily relying on public statements from the current mayor of Chicago and similar statements from several Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) officials, Plaintiffs have moved to prevent the City of Chicago from arguing that a code of silence does not exist within the Chicago Police Department.

         Public statements by Mayor Emanuel or Chicago police officials as to a general code of silence does not have a preclusive effect on the code of silence at issue here. It is expected that one of the City of Chicago's primary defenses is that there was no code of silence at issue here or that it did not cause the collision at issue. Defendants are entitled to present that defense and there is no justification for precluding Defendants from arguing that a code of silence does not exist, especially based on public comments from public officials who were not specifically addressing the facts of this case.

         Further, in order to prevail at trial Plaintiffs must do more than merely establish the existence of a generalized code of silence within the CPD. As detailed in the Court's summary judgment ruling, to succeed on their Monell claim, Plaintiffs must demonstrate the existence of a code of silence that protects officers who are involved in alcohol-related incidents and must demonstrate that that specific code of silence caused the decedents' constitutional deprivation. That being said, the Court will not preclude Plaintiffs from presenting evidence or argument regarding a general code of silence. Such evidence may be helpful background to establishing the specific code of silence at issue here, as Plaintiffs must demonstrate a widespread custom, practice, or policy. The cases cited by Defendants in support of their request to exclude references to a general code of silence are all factually distinguishable, since unlike here, none of them involved a Monell claim where an alleged code of silence was front and center. See Jones v. City of Chicago, No. 14 C 4023, 2017 WL 413613, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 31, 2017) (excluding evidence of generalized code of silence but permitting evidence of officers covering up wrongful behavior in relation to plaintiff's conspiracy claims where there was not a Monell claim against the City alleging that a code of silence caused constitutional deprivation); Lopez v. Vidljinovic, No. 12 C 5751, 2016 WL 4429637, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 22, 2016) (excluding evidence of Mayor Emanuel's statements concerning a code of silence within the CPD when evaluating summary judgment, where plaintiff was attempting to show City failed to properly train its employees on use of force); Hill v. City of Chicago, No. 06 C 6772, 2011 WL 3205304, at *5 (N.D. Ill. July 28, 2011) (excluding evidence of a general code of silence in case involving claims for a coerced conviction, a § 1983 conspiracy claim, and a failure to intervene claim, but not a Monell claim predicated on a code of silence); Christmas v. City of Chicago, 691 F.Supp.2d 811, 819 (N.D. Ill. 2010) (permitting evidence that the officers involved adhered to a code of silence regarding the plaintiff's constitutional rights but excluding evidence of a generalized code of silence in case involving a Monell claim where the City was accused of failing to implement training or a mechanism for oversight and/or of police officer misconduct); cf. Obrycka v. City of Chicago, No. 07 C 2372, 2012 WL 601810, at *7-*8 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 23, 2012) (permitting “code of silence” evidence presented by same experts in support of Monell claim predicated on code of silence). Furthermore, the Court has deemed admissible the testimony of Lou Reiter, one of Plaintiffs' experts who intends to testify about the existence of a code of silence within the CPD.

         D. Motion in Limine # 7 - to bar testimony of or reference to, by argument or otherwise, regarding decedents' prior police contact and ...


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