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Smith v. Garcia

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

January 18, 2018

VICTORIA SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
P.O. GARCIA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND OPINION ORDER

          Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Victoria Smith brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging claims for unlawful entry and seizure, excessive force, failure to intervene, false arrest, and malicious prosecution against the individual Defendants, all of whom are police officers for the City of Chicago. Plaintiff also brings claims against the City itself for indemnification and under the doctrine of respondeat superior as to the state law malicious prosecution claim. Before the Court are Plaintiff's motions in limine [52] and Defendants' motions in limine [51].

         For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motions in limine [52] are granted in part and denied in part: the Court grants (and provisionally grants) Plaintiff's motions Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9; the Court grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's motions No. 5. Defendants' motions in limine [51] also are granted in part and denied in part: the Court grants (and provisionally grants) Defendants' motions Nos. 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 15; the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motions Nos. 2, 5, 13, and 17; the Court denies Defendants' motion Nos. 14 and 16; and the Court defers final ruling on Defendants' motion No. 1. This case remains set for a jury trial to commence on January 22, 2018.

         I. Legal Standard

         A motion in limine is a motion made “at the outset” or “preliminarily.” Black's Law Dictionary 803 (10th ed. 2014). Motions in limine may be used to eliminate evidence “that clearly ought not be presented to the jury because [it] clearly would be inadmissible for any purpose.” Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Svcs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997). The party seeking to exclude evidence “has the burden of establishing the evidence is not admissible for any purpose.” Mason v. City of Chicago, 631 F.Supp.2d 1052, 1056 (N.D. Ill. 2009). The power to rule on motions in limine inheres in the Court's role in managing trials. Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). Because motions in limine are filed before the Court has seen or heard the evidence or observed the trial unfold, rulings in limine may be subject to alteration or reconsideration during the course of trial. United States v. Connelly, 874 F.2d 412, 416 (7th Cir. 1989).

         II. Plaintiff's Motions in Limine [52]

         A. Plaintiff's Motion No. 1: Jury as Taxpayers

         Plaintiff moves to bar any arguments that appeal to jurors' pecuniary interests as taxpayers. Defendants have no objection. This motion is granted.

         B. Plaintiff's Motion No. 2: Bar Non-Party Witnesses from Courtroom

         Plaintiff moves to exclude non-party witnesses from being present in the courtroom prior to their testimony. Defendants do not object to this motion. This motion is granted. Non-party witnesses from either side are not to be present in the courtroom prior to their testimony.

         C. Plaintiff's Motion No. 3: Plaintiff's Prior Bad Acts

         Plaintiff moves to bar reference to (1) her prior arrests that did not result in conviction and (2) any criminal convictions she has obtained. Defendants assert that they do not intend to introduce evidence of Plaintiff's prior arrests or convictions unless Plaintiff opens the door. Defendants anticipate that Plaintiff may testify that she suffered emotional trauma as a result of the encounter with the Defendant police officers that is at the heart of this litigation. Specifically, Defendants cite Plaintiff's deposition, at which she testified that as a result of the incident, she has fear and anxiety about police officers. Defendants observe that Plaintiff has had many other encounters with police officers-as evidenced, at a minimum, by Plaintiff's arrest record-and submit that they should be allowed to explore at trial whether any of those other encounters, both before and after the incident at issue here, undermine Plaintiff's claim of emotional distress. Defendants insist that they do not seek to admit any substantive evidence relating to the arrests and/or convictions. Rather, they simply wish to elicit testimony about these encounters between Plaintiff and police officers as impeachment.

         Depending on the extent of Plaintiff's testimony on her alleged emotional trauma arising out of this single encounter, Defendants' proposed impeachment may amount to major overkill. Parading before the jury a series of questions about five other arrests, only one of which appears to have resulted in a conviction, presents an obvious Rule 403 prejudice issue. It also could result in a lengthy sideshow, during which Defendants would try to establish that Plaintiff's other police encounters were the real source of her emotional trauma and Plaintiff would point out on redirect the ways in which those other encounters differed from the one involved in this case. To the extent that Defendant felt the jurors could infer that the prior “encounters” were arrests, she might also feel the need to show that all but one of those arrests did not result in a conviction. The substantial likelihood of prejudice to Plaintiff and/or confusion of the issues and waste of the jury's time therefore counsels in favor of excluding evidence of these prior police encounters.

         However, the Court's ruling includes two caveats. The first is that Plaintiff may open the door to some impeachment should her testimony belabor or embellish the emotional trauma to which she testified at her deposition. Put slightly differently, overkill may occur on Plaintiff's side as well, and if it does fairness may dictate allowing Defendants some latitude to cross-examine on the scope of Plaintiff's other police encounters. If Defendants feel that Plaintiff is about to cross (or has crossed) the line, they are directed to request an immediate sidebar so that the issue can be discussed outside the presence of the jury. The second pertains to the similarity (or lack thereof) between the circumstances of the encounter between Plaintiff and Defendants at issue here and the circumstances of any of her prior police encounters. See, e.g., Blackwell v. Kalinowski, 2011 WL 1557542, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 25, 2011) (recognizing that “[w]hile there is case law in the Northern District of Illinois suggesting that evidence of prior arrests is relevant to a claim for emotional distress, other courts in this district have found that ‘to be relevant, the arrests must be substantially similar and the court must conduct a prejudice analysis'” (quoting Moore v. City of Chicago, 2008 WL 4549137, *1 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 15, 2008); citing Brandon v. Village of Maywood, 179 F.Supp.2d 847, 854-55 (N.D. Ill. 2001); Caldwell v. City of Chicago, 2010 WL 380696, *1 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 28, 2010)). As Plaintiff points out, the arrest at issue in this case took place in her home, which she contends was unlawfully entered and searched. That is not the typical context in which citizens and police encounter each other, and thus (as Plaintiff acknowledges) another arrest (or interaction) under similarly unusual circumstances would be more probative than an arrest (or interaction) outside the home. If Defendants can show a similarity of circumstances, then the Court will revisit the Rule 401/403 analysis outlined above. See, e.g., Blackwell, 2011 WL 1557542, at *4 (concluding that because “it is unclear whether [plaintiff's] arrests involve facts similar to the arrest at issue” and “the Court would still have to conduct a prejudice analysis, ” the court could not “determine outside of the context of trial whether evidence of [plaintiff's] prior arrests” is admissible; ordering defendants to “request a sidebar before attempting to introduce any evidence relating to [plaintiff's] prior arrests at trial). To the extent that Defendants wish the Court to take a closer look at any of Plaintiff's prior arrests on this basis, they must provide the details in support of their request prior to opening statements.

         In short, Plaintiff's motion is provisionally granted, but subject to the caveats noted above which may result in the Court revisiting this issue during the trial.

         D. Plaintiff's Motion No. 4: Character Evidence of Defendants

         Defendants do not oppose Plaintiff's motion to bar evidence of commendations or awards Defendants may have received in the course of their employment, and thus it is granted.

         E. Plaintiff's Motion No. 5: Police Officers Risking Their Lives

         Plaintiff moves in limine to bar Defendants from arguing that “police officers risk their lives on the job.” Plaintiff argues that this type of general statement is not relevant to the instant case and would divert the jury's attention away from the facts of the case. Alternatively, Plaintiff contends that if Defendants are allowed to question witnesses with regard to the risk involved in police work, Defendants should be barred from making any argument related to the general risks of police work during closing arguments. Defendants respond that they must be permitted to testify about the circumstances that brought them in contact with Plaintiff in the first place-namely, the placing of a 911 call. Given that context, Defendants submit that they must be allowed to testify as to the actions that they take when they enter a home after receiving a 911 call, including the steps to secure the occupants of the premises, for their own safety and for the safety of the occupants.

         The Court agrees with Defendants that the fact that they were responding to a 911 call is relevant to their decisionmaking process and may have affected how they responded at the time of their encounter with Plaintiff. Thus, Plaintiff's motion is denied in part to that extent, and Defendants will be permitted to discuss the totality of the circumstances-including their states of mind-leading up to, during, and immediately after their dispatch to Plaintiff's home. See Martinez v. City of Chicago, 2016 WL 3538823, at *25 (N.D. Ill. June 29, 2016) (denying similar motion); Jones v. City of Chicago, 2017 WL 413613, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 31, 2017) (concluding that police officer defendants would be permitted to make arguments about the requirements of their profession to the extent they are relevant to the reasonableness of their conduct). But that testimony must remain focused on those circumstances, and may not stray into the dangers of the job generally or in other circumstances. Finally, in regard to closing arguments, Defendants' invocation of the general risks of responding to 911 calls to which the officers have testified (assuming they do) is not so far beyond the scope of relevance or so prejudicial that it requires exclusion under Rules 401 or 403. Martinez, 2016 WL 3538823, at *25. That being said, the Court will entertain objections at trial if either side strays beyond the bounds of acceptable argument at closing.

         F. Plaintiff's Motion No. 6: Defendants Wearing Uniforms and Medals at Trial

         Plaintiff seeks to bar Defendants and any other police officers who may be called to testify from wearing their police uniforms and medals at trial. Plaintiff argues that the uniforms and medals would constitute impermissible character evidence, may cast Defendants in a favorable light and suggest that the officers have greater credibility due to their positions as police officers, and have no bearing on the issue of whether Defendants violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Defendants agree that the Defendant officers will not wear their uniforms or any medals at trial. Thus, the motion is granted as unopposed as to the Defendant officers. Defendants add that some non-party police officer witnesses may be coming to testify while on duty and therefore may be uniformed. That is acceptable and will create no prejudice to Plaintiff in that the jurors will learn that these individuals are police officers. See Case v. Town of Cicero, 2013 WL 5645780, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 16, 2013) (permitting officers to wear uniforms at trial but not medals or protective gear); St ...


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