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England v. Allen

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

July 1, 2019

MARIO ENGLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
P.O. R. ALLEN, Individually, and the CITY OF CHICAGO, a municipal corporation, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT M. DOW, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Mario England brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging claims for unlawful seizure against Defendant Allen, a police officer for the City of Chicago. Plaintiff also brings claims against the City for indemnification. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants (at least provisionally) Plaintiff's motions in limine Nos. 1, 3-7 [58, 60, 61, 62, 62, 63, 64] and grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's motion No. 2 [59]. Defendants' motions in limine [56] are granted in part and denied in part. The Court grants (and provisionally grants) Defendants' motions Nos. 1, 2, 4-13, 15-16 and 18; grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion No. 3; denies Defendants' motions Nos. 14 and 19-20; and grants in part and defers final ruling in part on Defendants' motions Nos. 3 and 17. This case remains set for a jury trial to commence on July 8, 2019.

         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 [58-64]

         A. Plaintiff's Motion No. 1: Plaintiff's or Witnesses' Prior Bad Acts

         Plaintiff moves to bar any reference to his or any witness's prior arrest record, including the nature of the criminal offense and any underlying facts and circumstances of the arrest. Defendant opposes the motion in part, arguing that Plaintiff's prior convictions for driving on a revoked or suspended license and the fact that Plaintiff has never been issued a valid driver's license is highly probative to show Plaintiff's motive for fleeing from Defendant Allen and for attempting to avoid arrest.

         Rule 404(b) excludes relevant evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts if the purpose is to show a person's propensity to behave in a certain way, but other-act evidence may be admitted for “another purpose” including, but not limited to, “proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.” Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). However, even if such evidence may be entered under Rule 404(b), the party offering that evidence must still demonstrate that the proffered evidence is not substantially more prejudicial than probative, and that it would not confuse the issues at trial. See Fed.R.Evid. 403.

         With regard to evidence of Plaintiff's or any witness's previous arrests, it is well established that arrests that do not result in the arrestee's conviction are generally inadmissible. See, e.g., Anderson v. Sternes, 243 F.3d 1049, 1054 (7th Cir. 2001) (noting that even an indirect reference to a criminal defendant's prior arrest was improper). Defendants do not oppose the motion in that regard. Thus, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion to the extent that it seeks to bar evidence of prior arrests.

         However, Defendants argue that they should be allowed to admit evidence of (1) Plaintiff's previous convictions for driving on a revoked or suspended license and (2) the fact that Plaintiff has never had a valid driver's license, as evidence of Plaintiffs' motive for fleeing Defendant Allen. While that evidence may satisfy Rule 404(b), at this point the Court cannot conclude that Defendants have cleared the additional hurdle imposed by Rule 403. As discussed below, Plaintiff is barred from offering any testimony inconsistent with his guilty plea in the related criminal case. Thus, Plaintiff may not testify that he did not know that he was fleeing a police officer, or that he did not in fact flee or attempt to elude an officer. Moreover, Plaintiff's motive for fleeing the officer is not relevant to the question of whether Defendant Allen used excessive force, especially given that Allen asserts that did not use any force against Plaintiff. Consequently, at this point the Court can only conclude that Plaintiff's significant number of traffic convictions and the fact that that he has had never had a valid driver's license should be excluded at this time because (1) the prejudice to Plaintiff from introduction of that evidence substantially outweighs its probative value and (2) the potential for confusion regarding the issues in the case given that Plaintiff's motive for fleeing the officer does not bear on the critical issue for resolution by the jury.

         In short, Plaintiff's motion to exclude evidence of arrests is provisionally granted, and Defendants may not introduce evidence of Plaintiff's previous traffic convictions or his lack of a license. However, Defendants may ask the Court to revisit the arrest and licensure evidence should (1) Plaintiff's motive for fleeing become relevant at trial or (2) Plaintiff otherwise open the door to such evidence.

         B. Plaintiff's Motion No. 2: Allen's Subjective State of Mind

         Plaintiff seeks to bar Defendant Allen from attempting to provide any testimony, evidence, or argument at trial about his subjective state of mind during the incidents alleged in the complaint. Defendant opposes the motion, arguing it cuts too broadly and constitutes an improper attempt to “tip the balance” in Plaintiff's favor.

         First, an officer's subjective motivation or state of mind “has no bearing on whether a particular seizure is ‘unreasonable' under the Fourth Amendment.” Graham v. Conner, 490 U.S. 386, 398 (1989). Thus, Defendant Allen's subjective fears, intent, and motivation are totally irrelevant when determining whether the force he allegedly used was reasonable. Thus, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion to the extent that Defendant Allen may not attempt to demonstrate the reasonableness of his use of force based on his subjective fears, intent, and motivation.[1]

         However, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks to prevent Defendant from testifying as to why he did certain other things either prior to, or after the incident-e.g., why he documented the lack of damage to his police SUV, etc.-the Court cannot say that such testimony is irrelevant or unduly prejudicial under Rule 403. Particularly in view of Plaintiff's request for punitive damages, Defendant must be allowed to rebut the assertion that he purposefully, knowingly, or recklessly acted in a way that caused Plaintiff's injury. Thus, the Court denies the motion to the extent that Defendant may explain his reasoning for certain actions either prior to or after the incident at issue and counter Plaintiff's arguments for punitive damages.

         In summary, Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part. Defendant Allen may not attempt to demonstrate the reasonableness of any use of force based on his subjective fears, intent, and motivation. However, Defendant Allen may testify as to why he did things before and after the alleged events at issue, and address Plaintiff's arguments as to why he should be assessed punitive damages. Additionally, to the extent that Plaintiff attempts to forestall certain lines of closing arguments, Defendants correctly point out “[a]ttorneys have more leeway in closing arguments.” See Soltys v. Costello, 520 F.3d 737, 745 (7th Cir. 2008). Although valid objections during closing arguments are rare, the Court will of course rule on them if either side feels that the other side has strayed beyond the bounds of acceptable argument at closing.

         C. Plaintiff's Motion No. 3: Choice of Profession

         Plaintiff moves to bar any testimony about why Defendant or other police witnesses decided to become police officers. Defendants have agreed to this motion, which is therefore granted.

         D. Plaintiff's Motion No. 4: Jury as Taxpayers

         Plaintiff moves to bar any arguments that appeal to jurors' pecuniary interests as taxpayers. Defendants have agreed to this motion, which is therefore 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.” Defendants have agreed to this motion, which is therefore granted.

         F. Plaintiff's Motion No. 6: Bar Non-Party ...


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