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Fields v. City of Chicago

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

April 5, 2018

ERICK FIELDS, Plaintiff,
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.


          Ruben Castillo Chief Judge.

         Before the Court are motions in limine ("MILs") filed by Plaintiff Erick Fields and Defendants the City of Chicago and Chicago police officers Petain Navez, Jose Lomeli, Steven Rivera, Manuel Guzman, Rogelio Pinal, Robert Cavaini, Brian Spreng, Matthew Graf, Michael Burke, Nicholas Orlando, Frank Pierri, Kenneth Barnas, Brian Tedeschi, Albert Perez, Donald Falk, Anthony Noradin, Ronald Banas, and other "unknown Chicago police officers." (R. 110; R. 112.) For the reasons stated below, the MILs are granted in part and denied in part.


         Plaintiff brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants for the alleged deprivation of his constitutional rights. (R. 66, Second Am. Compl.) Plaintiff alleges that, on February 24, 2011, he was in his garage removing a license plate from his car when Defendants Navez and Lomeli entered and Navez shot Plaintiff in the abdomen without provocation. (Id. ¶¶ 10-17.) Plaintiff alleges that, after he was shot, no ambulance was called, and instead Defendants Rivera, Guzman, and Pinal conferred with Navez and Lomeli about how to respond to the situation, delaying and obstructing Plaintiffs efforts to call for an ambulance and obtain medical treatment. (Id. ¶¶ 19-29.) After Plaintiff was eventually taken to the hospital, he alleges that unknown Chicago police officers searched his home without a warrant or probable cause, leaving his home in disarray and damaging his property. (Id. ¶¶ 30-39.) Defendants dispute this account and claim that Navez feared for his life after Plaintiff allegedly lunged toward him with a "silver object, " which Navez believed to be the barrel of a gun but turned out to be a wrench. (R. 108, Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 36.)

         Plaintiff brings three claims under 42 U.S, C, § 1983 for deprivation of his constitutional rights based on Defendants' alleged use of excessive force, Defendants' alleged unlawful entry into his home, and Defendants' alleged conspiracy to deprive him of his constitutional rights.[1] (Id. ¶¶ 51-72.) Plaintiff also brings state claims under Illinois law for battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and trespass. (Id. ¶¶ 73-89.) A jury trial in this case is currently scheduled to begin April 16, 2018. (R. 100, Min. Entry.)


         Trial courts have considerable discretion to manage the submission of evidence, including granting motions in limine. See Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 (1983); Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). In limine rulings serve "to ensure the expeditious and evenhanded management of the trial proceedings." Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997). Such motions are not favored, however, and the Court should grant a motion in limine only when the evidence at issue "is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds." Gomez v. Palmer, No. 11 C 1793, 2016 WL 212800, at *1 (N.D. III. Jan. 19, 2016). "Unless evidence meets this high standard, evidentiary rulings should be deferred until trial so that questions of foundation, relevancy and potential prejudice may be resolved in proper context." United States v. Lillie, 669 F.Supp.2d 903, 905 (N.D. III. 2009) (citation omitted). Additionally, the Court has authority to reconsider its rulings on motions in limine as "the case unfolds." Luce, 469 U.S. at 41. "Indeed even if nothing unexpected happens at trial, the district judge is free, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, to alter a previous in limine ruling." Id. at 41-42 (italics omitted); see also Farfaras v. Citizens Bank & Tr. of Chi, 433 F.3d 558, 565 (7th Cir. 2006) ("[T]he district court may adjust a motion in limine during the course of a trial."). "The party seeking to exclude evidence has the burden of demonstrating that the evidence would be inadmissible for any purpose." United States Sec. & Exch. Comm'n v. Berrettini, No. 10-CV-1614, 2015 WL 4247776, at *1 (N.D. 111. July 14, 2015).

         Under Federal Rule of Evidence 401, evidence is deemed relevant if "it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence" and "the fact is of consequence in determining the action." Fed.R.Evid. 4Ol(a)-(b). Under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, the Court has authority to exclude relevant evidence if its "probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of... unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." Fed.R.Evid. 403. With these standards in mind, the Court addresses Plaintiffs and Defendants' MILs separately below.


         I. Plaintiffs MILs

         A. MILs # 1, 2, 5, 6, 10, and 12: Irrelevant and Unfairly Prejudicial Matters

         Plaintiff argues that several categories of evidence and arguments should be excluded as either irrelevant or because their probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, or misleading the jury. First, in MIL #1, Plaintiff argues that the Court should bar Defendants from introducing evidence or arguments that Defendant police officers would suffer negative consequences in their professional careers due to the trial's outcome. (R. 110, Pl.'s Mot. at 1-2.) The Court agrees that such evidence or argument is irrelevant and its probative value, if any, is far outweighed by a danger of prejudice and confusion of the issues. See Fed. R. Evid. 401, 402, 403. The claims in this case concern Defendants' conduct towards Plaintiff as well as Plaintiffs request for monetary damages, and any damage to Defendants' careers is wholly irrelevant and prejudicial. The Court, however, will permit Defendants to testify as to their potential personal liability in this case, but any such testimony will allow Plaintiff to counter with evidence or argument that the City of Chicago will indemnify them. See Gonzalez v. Olson, No. 11 C 8356, 2015 WL 3671641, at *7 (N.D. 111. June 12, 2015) ("Defendants cannot argue poverty and avoid telling the jury that they are partially indemnified."). Accordingly, MIL #1 is granted in part and denied in part.

         Plaintiffs MIL #2 asks the Court to exclude any evidence or argument regarding gun violence, generally, in Chicago. (R. 110, Pl.'s Mot. at 2.) The question of whether an officer is liable under Section 1983 is "an objective one: the question is whether the officers' actions are 'objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). "The nature and extent of the force that may be used depends upon the circumstances surrounding the arrest, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight." Stainback v. Dixon, 569 F.3d 767, 772 (7th Cir. 2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Evidence about general gun violence in Chicago, divorced from the specific facts of this case, has little to do with the circumstances surrounding Plaintiffs shooting or whether Defendants acted reasonably in those circumstances, See Fed. R. Evid. 401, 402, 403. Nor is there any indication that general gun violence in Chicago relates to any of the elements of Plaintiff s state law claims.[2] The Court, therefore, grants MIL #2.

         Turning to MIL #5, Plaintiff argues that the Court should exclude evidence portraying his neighborhood as a "high crime" area. (R. 110, Pl.'s Mot, at 5-7.) The Court disagrees, and denies MIL # 5 because whether Plaintiffs neighborhood is a "high crime" area is relevant to determine whether Defendants' actions were "objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances in which" they "were confronted[.]" Edwards v. Two Unknown Male Chi. Police Officers, 623 F.Supp.2d 940, 948 (N.D. 111. 2009) (emphasis added); see also Flournoy v. City of Chicago, 829 F.3d 869, 875 (7th Cir. 2016) (considering, in an excessive force case, that the "suspect's apartment was . . . known to be in a high-crime area"), The Court does not consider this evidence so prejudicial and confusing to warrant exclusion under Rule 403. See Ross v. City of Chicago, No. 13 C 751, 2014 WL 1344279, at *2 (N.D. 111. Apr. 3, 2014) ("Ross has not shown that [he] will be prejudiced merely by [a] description of the area of the Shooting, and Ross's claim that the trier of fact will conclude that Devon Ross deserved to be shot because of the area where he was shot is pure speculation on the part of Ross, ").

         Next, MIL #6 argues that the Court should bar any prosecutor or attorney from opining on the elements of criminal offenses or civil claims, or the propriety of Defendants' conduct in this case. (R. 110, Pl.'s Mot. at 7-9.) The Court agrees. The relevant inquiry in this case is whether Defendants' alleged shooting of Plaintiff and entry into his home rise to the level of a deprivation of constitutional rights, battery, trespass, or intentional infliction of emotional distress. The opinion of a state's attorney or other person lacking personal knowledge of the incident at issue is irrelevant, unfairly prejudicial, and inadmissible opinion evidence. See Fed. R. EVID. 401, 402, 403; United States v. Noel, 581 F.3d 490, 496 (7th Cir. 2009) ("We have held repeatedly that lay testimony offering a legal conclusion is inadmissible because it is not helpful to the jury[.]"). Therefore, MIL # 6 is granted.[3]

         Turning to MIL #10, Defendants do not object to this motion, and therefore the Court grants Plaintiffs request to exclude any evidence or argument that Plaintiffs medical bills have been paid by third parties. See Torres v. City of Chicago, No. 12 C 7844, 2015 WL 12843889, at *4 (N.D. 111. Oct. 28, 2015) ("The plaintiffs' unopposed request to bar the defendants from informing the jury that their medical expenses were covered by insurance and to redact line items on medical bills that reflect insurance coverage is granted.").

         MIL #12, which asks the Court to bar any evidence regarding Plaintiffs past membership in or affiliation with a gang, (R. 110, Pl.'s Mot. at 12), is also granted because the probative value of such evidence is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice. See Gomez, 2016 WL 212800, at *4 (excluding as overly prejudicial evidence of the plaintiffs gang affiliations); Christmas v. City of Chicago, 691 F.Supp.2d 811, 817 (N.D. 111. 2010) (observing that evidence or suggestions that a plaintiff was in a gang "is routinely excluded").

         B. MILs # 3, 11, 13: Prior Arrests, Convictions, and Encounters with the Police

         The next category of MILs relate to Plaintiffs prior arrests, criminal convictions, or other encounters with the police outside of the incident that occurred on February 24, 2011. (R. 110, Pl.'s Mot. at 2-3, 13-15, 18-20.) "Prior arrests are usually inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, which bars evidence when its probative value is outweighed by its risk of prejudice, and Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), which provides, 'Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith, ' but 'may ... be admissible for other purposes.' " Betts v. City of Chicago, 784 F.Supp.2d 1020, 1024 (N.D. 111. 2011) (citation omitted). There is no indication that Plaintiffs prior arrests are in any way related to Plaintiffs claims, the risk of such evidence prejudicing Plaintiff is significant, and the Court fails to see how this evidence would be used other than to attack Plaintiffs character; therefore, evidence of Plaintiff s prior arrests is inadmissible under Rules 403 and 404. See Id. Plaintiffs claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress also provides no grounds for admitting evidence related to Plaintiffs prior arrests. Norris v. Bartunek, No. 15 C 7306, 2017 WL 4556714, at *4 (N.D. 111. Oct. 12, 2017) ("There is some support for the proposition that prior arrests may be admissible when a plaintiff claims that an arrest caused him emotional distress. But even courts that have recognized prior arrests may be admissible under those circumstances have required that the arrests be substantially similar and conducted a prejudice analysis." (citation omitted)). Plaintiffs prior encounters with police officers that did not lead to any arrest or conviction are inadmissible under Rules 403 and 404 for the same reasons as Plaintiffs prior arrests, and therefore, the Court grants MIL #3. See Betts, 784 F.Supp.2d at 1024; see also Barber v. City of Chicago, 725 F.3d 702, 709 (7th Cir. 2013) ("The well-established, general rule is that a witness's credibility may not be impeached by evidence of his or her prior arrests, accusations, or charges.").

         MIL #11 and #13 deal with, respectively, Plaintiffs conviction for attempted murder in 1999 and a conviction for possession of controlled substances on the date of the incident in question. (R. 110, Pl.'s Mot. at 13-15, 18-20.) Federal Rule of Evidence 609(a)(1) allows the use of a witness' prior criminal conviction to attack his or her character for truthfulness if the conviction was for "a crime that... was punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one year, " however, the Court may exclude such evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by its prejudicial effect. Fed.R.Evid. 609(a)(1), 403; see also Blackwell v. Kalinowski, No. 08 C 7257, 2011 WL 1557542, at *2 (N.D. 111. Apr. 25, 2011) (applying Rules 609 and 403 in a Section 1983 case). Rule 609, however, provides that if more than ten years have passed since a witness' conviction, evidence of the conviction is admissible only if: "(1) its probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect; and (2) the proponent gives an adverse party reasonable written notice of the intent to use it so that the party has a fair opportunity to contest its use." Fed.R.Evid. 609(b).

         The Court finds that Plaintiffs 1999 conviction for attempted murder is inadmissible because Defendants have failed to show that its probative value substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect. See Id. Plaintiffs conviction for a crime almost 20 years ago has little probative value to his credibility or to the incident in this case, which was allegedly triggered by Defendants responding to gunshots fired and seeing an abandoned car near Plaintiffs home. (See R. 107, Mot. for Summ. J. at 3; R. 106-2, Navez Dep. Tr. at 100-05.) The severity of the crime-attempted murder-would cause significant unfair prejudice to Plaintiff that far outweighs any probative value of Plaintiff s conviction. See id; United Slates v. Rogers, 542 F.3d 197, 201 (7th Cir. 2008) ("[W]e have said that impeachment by a conviction falling outside the rule's ten-year time limit should be permitted only in rare and exceptional circumstances.").

         Unlike Plaintiffs 1999 conviction, his conviction for felony drug possession occurred more recently, and it was based on drugs discovered inside Plaintiffs clothing while he was at the hospital following his encounter with Defendants on February 24, 2011. (See R. 106-4, Fields Dep. Tr. at 226-28; R. 108, Defs.' L.R. 56, 1 Statement ¶ 27.) That drugs were found in Plaintiffs clothing after he had been shot and was taken to the hospital, however, has little to do with the claims in this case, which concern Defendants' use of force and entry into Plaintiffs home before they found any drugs in his clothing. (See R. 66, Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10-89; R. 107, Mot. for Summ. J, at 3; R. 106-2, Navez Dep. Tr. at 100-05.) Again, Plaintiffs Section 1983 claims are only concerned with objective circumstances related to Plaintiffs encounter with police and not the events thereafter. See Stainback, 569 F.3d at 772. Nor do Plaintiffs state law claims implicate any drugs found in his clothing after he was shot and taken to the hospital.[4] There is no indication that any of the events giving rise to Plaintiffs claims were related to his possession of drugs on that day as opposed to reports of gunshots fired near his home; therefore, the Court excludes evidence relating to Plaintiffs felony drug conviction because its probative value is far outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, and misleading the jury. See Fed. R. Evid. 403, 609(a); United States v. Galati, 230 F.3d 254, 262 (7th Cir. 2000) ("In this case, the district judge wisely gauged the potential for jurors to see Sims' prior drug possession conviction as a reason to discount her entire testimony, even though nothing about her conviction actually suggests the likelihood that she would be dishonest or deceitful.").

         The Court is not persuaded by the cases Defendants rely on to admit evidence of Plaintiffs prior drug conviction. Unlike Doornbos v. City of Chicago, 868 F.3d 572 (7th Cir. 2017), in which the plaintiffs conviction for possessing a small amount of cannabis created only a minimal risk of prejudice, Plaintiffs possession of a controlled substance here resulted in a felony conviction and is more prejudicial. Id. at 577. Additionally, in Doornbos, the plaintiff fled from the police, so the conviction was relevant to explain why he fled whereas here Plaintiff did not flee and it is not even clear that Plaintiff knew Defendant Navez was a police officer. See Id. at 575.[5] In Common v. City of Chicago, 661 F.3d 940 (7th Cir, 2011), the defendants used plaintiffs conviction for possession and ingestion of controlled substances to explain and corroborate the plaintiffs alleged concealment of such controlled substances when he refused to raise his hands in the air after being directed to do so three times, and to rebut his testimony that he immediately complied with police directives to put his hands in the air. Id. at 943. Unlike Common, Defendants' actions were far removed from any suspicion of a drug-related crime and there is little evidence that Plaintiff was fearful that police officers would find controlled substances already concealed within his clothing. (See R. 108, Defs.' L.R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 27.) The evidence related to Plaintiffs drug possession on the date of the incident in question, unlike Common or Doornbos, is simply far too removed from the claims in this case and risks too much confusion and prejudice in relation to its minimal probative value. See Fed. R. Evid. 403, 609; Case v. Town of Cicero, No. 10 C 7392, 2013 WL 5645780, at *2 (N.D. 111. Oct. 16, 2013) ("Testimony on a witness's crime that coincided with the plaintiff's allegations runs the risk of tainting the jury's view of the plaintiff and potentially confusing the jury on the relevant issues."); Jackson v. Webb, No. 1:ll-CV-09, 2012 WL 3204608, at *3 (N.D. Ind. Aug. 3, 2012) ("[Significant prejudice or confusion could arise if the jury seeks to retroactively gauge the ' reasonableness of Webb's use of force against the knowledge that criminal charges were later lodged by the prosecuting attorney."). Accordingly, the Court grants MILs #11 and #13.[6]

         C. MIL #4: Treating Chicago Police Officers as ...

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