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Norris v. Bartunek

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

October 12, 2017

JOHN V. NORRIS Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER BARTUNEK, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Jeffrey T. Gilbert Magistrate Judge

         In this lawsuit, Plaintiff John V. Norris ("Norris") asserts claims for unlawful seizure, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution against Defendant Brett Bartunek ("Bartunek") With a trial date of November 1, 2017 on the horizon, each party has filed two motions in limine, Defendant's Motions in Limine ("Defendant's Motions in Limine"), [ECF No. 112]; Plaintiff John Norris's Motion in Limine No. 1 to Bar Evidence regarding His Prior Arrests and Felony Convictions ("Plaintiffs Motion in Limine No. 1"), [ECF No. 113]; Plaintiff John Norris's Motion in Limine No. 2 to Bar Evidence regarding His Other Lawsuits ("Plaintiffs Motion in Limine No. 2"), [ECF No. 114], For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs motions in limine are granted in part [ECF Nos. 113, 114] and remain under advisement in part [ECF No. 113], and Defendant's motions in limine [ECF No. 112] are granted in part and denied without prejudice in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts underlying this case, which are described in the Court's summary judgment ruling, are straightforward. See Norris v. Bartunek, 2017 WL 390274 (N.D. 111. Jan. 27, 2017). One evening, in April 2015, Norris was driving a car on a road with a posted speed limit of 45 miles per hour. Bartunek, a Will County Deputy Sheriff on routine patrol, claims he saw Norris speed by him at 55 miles per hour. Norris says he was not driving that fast and, instead, stayed at or below the speed limit. The parties agree that Bartunek pulled Norris over and, during a stop that lasted about 10 minutes, gave Norris a ticket for going 55 miles an hour in a 45-zone.

         The month after the stop, Norris went to traffic court and entered a plea of not guilty. A bench trial was set for June. On the designated day, Norris appeared, but Bartunek, who was the complaining witness, did not, According to Bartunek, he did not know that a trial date had been set. The state court dismissed the speeding charge against Norris. The traffic stop and the significance of the dismissal of the speeding charge are at issue in this case.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The district court has the inherent authority to manage the course of a trial. Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). The court may exercise this power by issuing an evidentiary ruling in advance of trial. Id. A party may seek such a ruling by filing a motion in limine, which requests the court's guidance on what evidence will (or will not) be admitted at trial. Perry v. City of Chicago, 733 F.3d 248, 252 (7th Cir. 2013). Prudent motions in limine serve a gatekeeping function by allowing the judge "to eliminate from further consideration evidentiary submissions that clearly ought not be presented to the jury." Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs,, 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997). By defining the evidentiary boundaries, motions in limine both permit "the parties to focus their preparation on those matters that will be considered by the jury, '" id, and help ensure "that trials are not interrupted mid-course for the consideration of lengthy and complex evidentiary issues, " United States v. Tokash, 282 F.3d 962, 968 (7th Cir. 2002).

         As with all evidentiary matters, the court has broad discretion when ruling on motions in limine. United States v. Ajayi, 808 F.3d 1113, 1121 (7th Cir. 2015); Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). Moreover, the court can change its ruling at trial, "even if nothing unexpected happens." Luce, 469 U.S. at 41. Rulings in limine are speculative in effect; essentially, they are advisory opinions. Wilson v. Williams, 182 F.3d 562, 570 (7th Cir. 1999) (Coffey, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

         The court will grant a motion in limine to bar evidence only where that evidence is clearly inadmissible for any purpose, Taylor v. Union Pac. R. Co., 2010 WL 5421298, at *1 (S.D. 111. Dec. 27, 2010). This is a high standard. Thomas v. Sheahan, 514 F.Supp.2d 1083, 1087 (N.D. 111. 2007). The moving party bears the burden of establishing clear inadmissibility. Euroholdings Capital & Inv. Corp. v. Harris Trust & Sav. Bank, 602 F.Supp.2d 928, 934 (N.D. 111. 2009). If the moving party cannot satisfy his burden, the evidentiary ruling should be deferred until trial. Green v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires N. Am., Ltd., 2010 WL 747501, at *1 (S.D. 111. Mar. 2, 2010). That is because, at trial, the court will have the benefit of understanding "the context, foundation, and relevance of the contested evidence within the framework of the trial as a whole." Casares v. Bemal, 790 F.Supp.2d 769, 775 (N.D. 111. 2011).

         III. DISCUSSION

         As noted above, there are four motions in limine now before the Court, The Court will address Norris's motions first and then turn to Bartunek's motions.

         1. Plaintiffs Motion in Limine No. 1

         In his first motion in limine, Norris seeks to bar evidence of his prior convictions and arrests. Plaintiffs Motion in Limine No. 1, [ECF No. 113]. Bartunek argues evidence of Norris's four felony convictions for retail theft, all of which occurred within the past ten years, is admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 609. Defendant's Response to Plaintiffs Motions in Limine ("Defendant's Response"), [ECF No. 117], at 1. Norris disagrees, asserting admission of his prior convictions would be highly prejudicial and have little or no probative value.

         Under Rule 609(a)(1)(A), a felony conviction is admissible to attack a witness's character for truthfulness subject to Rule 403. Fed.R.Evid. 609(a)(1)(A). Rule 403 permits courts to exclude evidence when the risk of unfair prejudice substantially outweighs the probative value. Fed.R.Evid. 403. In criminal cases, courts consider five factors when determining the probative value and prejudicial effect of a conviction: "(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." T ...


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