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Gomez v. Schoenbeck

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

August 19, 2019

FERNANDO GOMEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSHUA SCHOENBECK, MICHAEL ATCHISON, RICHARD HARRINGTON, and KEVIN E. REICHART, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY J. ROSENSTENGEL CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on the motions in limine filed by Plaintiff Fernando Gomez (Doc. 101) and Defendants Joshua Schoenbeck, Michael Atchison, Richard Harrington, and Kevin Reichart (Doc. 102). Trial will begin on Tuesday, August 20, 2019.

         I. Plaintiff's Motions in Limine (Doc. 101)

         Motion in Limine No. 1:

         To bar any testimony or evidence of Gomez's criminal history and criminal convictions. Gomez argues the alleged probative value from evidence of his criminal convictions would not substantially outweigh its prejudicial effect. Furthermore, evidence of Gomez's convictions has little-to-no probative value because none of his convictions relate to his propensity for truthfulness and would not assist a jury in assessing whether he is telling the truth. Gomez is, however, willing to stipulate to the fact that he was incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center at the time of the incidents at issue.

         Defendants argue this request should be denied because Gomez has failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that evidence of his criminal convictions is inadmissible for any purpose. Defendants further object to barring any reference to Gomez's conviction for murder, because the Federal Rules of Evidence allow evidence that a witness has been convicted of a crime within the previous 10 years (if the crime was punishable by imprisonment of more than one year) as long as its probative value is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Defendants argue that while evidence of Gomez's convictions may be prejudicial, he has not shown that he will suffer unfair prejudice that will substantially outweigh the probative value of his convictions.

         This portion of Gomez's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Defendants will be allowed to introduce evidence/testimony regarding the number of felony convictions for which Gomez is currently incarcerated. Defendants shall not elicit any further testimony regarding the nature of the convictions or the sentence that Gomez received, because such testimony would be highly prejudicial and outweighs the probative value of the evidence. If Defendants believe the specific facts and circumstances of this case warrant admissibility of the evidence, they may ask the Court to reconsider this ruling as appropriate during trial.

         Motion in Limine No. 2:

         To bar any testimony or evidence of Gomez's prior bad acts. Gomez seeks to exclude evidence that, because of Gomez's criminal convictions, he is the kind of person who would be involved in a physical altercation, would tend to be violent, or would have an ulterior motive for filing this lawsuit against Defendants.

         Defendants oppose this request, as the evidence is not clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds. Here, one of the issues is Gomez's alleged involvement in an assault on a correctional lieutenant, which led to his being placed on investigative status and then in administrative detention. Defendants argue that reference to this allegation should be allowed because it provides the basis for Defendants' actions in this case.

         It is true that prior bad acts generally constitute inadmissible character evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), which prohibits evidence of a crime, wrong, or other act to prove a person's character in order to show that, on a particular occasion, the person acted in accordance with the character. Testimony regarding a particular assault may be appropriate for other purposes, however, “such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity . . . absence of mistake or accident, or other relevant, nonpropensity purposes.” Duran v. Town of Cicero, Ill., 653 F.3d 632, 645 (7th Cir. 2011). Accordingly, the Court RESERVES RULING on this portion of Gomez's motion.

         Motion in Limine No. 3:

         To bar any testimony or evidence regarding the number of times or the length of time that Gomez has been or will be detained in Hill Correctional Center, or anywhere else where Gomez may have been detained or served time for a criminal charge or conviction. Gomez argues this evidence has no probative value in this lawsuit, and its admission would improperly confuse and mislead the jury and inflict unfair prejudice against Gomez.

         In response, Defendants argue that the length of Gomez's sentence is relevant because one of the factors as to whether Gomez was deprived of a liberty interest when he was placed in administrative detention is whether the length of time in administrative detention compared with the length of his sentence would have been a hardship. Here, Gomez was in administrative detention at Menard for more than two years, but, Defendants argue, Gomez was serving a 40-year sentence. Thus, the amount of time in administrative detention may not be considered a hardship given the context of Gomez's sentence.

         This portion of Gomez's motion is GRANTED. At summary judgment, the Court determined, as a matter of law, that the 741 days Gomez spent in Administrative Detention implicated a protected liberty interest. Thus, the question remaining for the jury is whether-given that Gomez had a liberty interest at stake-was he afforded the process he was due. Evidence of the total length of Gomez's sentence would be highly prejudicial and would outweigh any probative value.

         Motion in Limine No. 4:

         To bar any testimony or evidence of the size of the law firm representing Gomez or the amount of time or money that may have been expended litigating this matter. Gomez argues such information is irrelevant and would only cause prejudice to Gomez.

         Defendants have no objection unless Gomez opens the door to such testimony; accordingly, this portion of the motion is GRANTED.

         Motion in Limine No. 5:

         To bar any testimony or evidence that argues, implies, or suggests to the jury that Gomez has sought to prevent the jury from receiving, either through objections or through pretrial motions, information that may have a bearing on the issues in this case or the rights of the parties to this suit.

         Defendants have no objection unless Gomez opens the door to such testimony; accordingly, this ...


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