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Cooper v. Montgomery County

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

January 2, 2018

DAVID O. COOPER, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, OHIO, Defendant.

         DECISION AND ENTRY SUSTAINING IN PART AND RESERVING RULING IN PART ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION IN LIMINE TO EXCLUDE EVIDENCE RELATING TO OTHER LAWSUITS, DISMISSED CLAIMS, ALLEGED INCIDENTS NOT THE SUBJECT MATTER OF THIS CASE, EXPERT TESTIMONY OF NON-EXPERT WITNESSES, HEARSAY EVIDENCE, AND IRRELEVANT FACTS (DOC. #134); SUSTAINING PLAINTIFF'S UNOPPOSED MOTION IN LIMINE TO EXCLUDE DEFENDANT'S EXHIBITS DX14 AND 15 (DOC. #140); SUSTAINING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION IN LIMINE TO EXCLUDE TESTIMONY OF JOE TUSS (DOC. #141); RESERVING RULING ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION IN LIMINE TO EXCLUDE EVIDENCE RELATING TO SUBSEQUENT CHANGES IN POLICY (DOC. #147)

          WALTER H. RICE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Trial is set to begin on January 16, 2018, on Plaintiff's one remaining claim, a 42 U.S.C. 5 1983 claim against Defendant Montgomery County, based on Plaintiff's allegation that his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were violated when he was deprived of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities while he was a pretrial detainee at the Montgomery County Jail, and that a policy or custom of the County was the driving force behind the alleged constitutional violation.

         This matter is currently before the Court on four motions in limine: (1) Defendant Montgomery County's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence Relating to Other Lawsuits, Dismissed Claims, Alleged Incidents Not the Subject Matter of this Case, Expert Testimony of Non-Expert Witnesses, Hearsay Evidence, and Irrelevant Facts (Doc. #134); (2) Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Defendant's Exhibits DX 14 and 15 (Doc. #140); (3) Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Testimony of Joe Tuss (Doc. #141); and (4) Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence Relating to Subsequent Changes in Policy (Doc. #147).

         I. Motions in Limine

         Although neither the Federal Rules of Evidence nor the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure explicitly authorizes the Court to rule on an evidentiary motion in limine, the Supreme Court has noted that the practice of ruling on such motions "has developed pursuant to the district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials." Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow the Court to rule on issues pertaining to evidence in advance of trial in order to both avoid delay and ensure an evenhanded and expeditious trial. See Indiana Ins. Co. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 326 F.Supp.2d 844, 846 (N.D. Ohio 2004) (citing Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs., 11 5 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997)). Pretrial orders also often save the parties time and cost in preparing for trial and presenting their cases.

         Courts are generally reluctant to grant broad exclusions of evidence in limine, however, because "a court is almost always better situated during the actual trial to assess the value and utility of evidence, " Koch v. Koch Indus., Inc., 2 F.Supp.2d 1385, 1388 (D. Kan. 1998); accord Sperberg v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 519 F.2d 708, 712 (6th Cir. 1975). A court should not make a ruling in limine unless the moving party meets its burden of showing that the evidence in question is clearly inadmissible. Indiana Ins. Co., 326 F.Supp.2d at 846; Koch, 2 F.Supp.2d at 1388. If this high standard is not met, evidentiary rulings should be deferred so that the issues may be resolved in the context of the trial. Indiana Ins. Co., 326 F.Supp.2d at 846.

         II. Defendant's Motions in Limine

         A. Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence Relating to Other Lawsuits, Dismissed Claims, Alleged Incidents Not the Subject Matter of this Case, Expert Testimony of Non-Expert Witnesses, Hearsay Evidence, and Irrelevant Facts (Doc. #134)

         1. Evidence Related to Other Lawsuits

         Defendant first seeks to exclude evidence of recent unrelated lawsuits involving incidents at the Montgomery County Jail, arguing that such evidence is irrelevant, and the probative value of any such evidence would be substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, rendering it inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 403.

         Plaintiff notes that Federal Rule of Evidence 401 provides that evidence is "relevant" if "(a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action." He argues that evidence of other lawsuits involving complaints about conditions of confinement at the Montgomery County Jail makes it more likely that what happened to him was not an isolated event.[1]

         In order to succeed on his § 1 983 claim against the County, Plaintiff must prove that a custom or policy of the County was the moving force behind the alleged constitutional violation. Certainly, evidence of other incidents or lawsuits involving complaints about conditions of confinement for occupants of the jail who were on suicide watch is relevant to proving a custom or policy, and the probative value of such evidence would not be substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice or confusion of the issues. The same cannot necessarily be said about evidence of other incidents or lawsuits falling outside of this narrow category.

         Nevertheless, because it is not clear what evidence, if any, Plaintiff intends to introduce concerning other incidents at the Montgomery County Jail, and for what purpose, the Court is not in a position to make a definitive ruling. It will RESERVE RULING and resolve this portion of Defendant's motion if and when the need arises in the context of the trial. Plaintiff's counsel is instructed not to refer to said incidents in his voir dire and opening statements, and to approach the bench prior to introducing evidence of other incidents or lawsuits involving conditions of confinement at the Montgomery County Jail, in order that the Court might rule on same within the context of the trial as it then exists.

         2. Evidence Related to Dismissed Claims

         Defendant also asks the Court to exclude evidence related to any of Plaintiff's claims that this Court has previously dismissed, including the following: (1) all claims against Sgt. Curtis Laravie, Officer Stacy Frisk, Officer Thomas Connor, Sgt. Jay Vitali and Officer Steven Leopold; (2) all claims of deliberate indifference to serious psychiatric needs; (3) all claims concerning the allegedly nutritionally-inadequate meals that Plaintiff was given at the Jail; and (4) claims brought against Major Wilson and Captain Crosby in their individual capacities. Defendant argues that, not only is such evidence irrelevant to the one remaining claim, but it also would be unfairly prejudicial and confusing to the jury.

         In contrast, Plaintiff argues that all of the events that he experienced during his eight-month detention contribute to his "conditions of confinement" claim and must be considered by the jury in rendering a verdict. The Court disagrees.

         The scope of Plaintiff's one remaining conditions-of-confinement claim is very narrow, the only question being whether he was deprived of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities in terms of the shelter he was provided at the Montgomery County Jail. Although he may present evidence of the conditions in his cell, i.e., the deprivation of all bedding, the cold air conditioning, the bright lights and the constant noise, evidence of other indignities and deprivations that he might have suffered as a pretrial detainee is no longer at issue. Not only is such evidence irrelevant to the one remaining claim, but its probative value would be substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and confusion of the issues. See Fed. R. Evid. 401, 402, 403. Accordingly, the Court SUSTAINS this portion of Defendant's motion in limine.

         3. Expert Testimony of Non-Expert Witnesses

         Defendant next asks the Court to preclude lay witnesses from offering expert opinions related to medical or psychiatric symptoms or diagnoses. More specifically, Defendant asks the Court to preclude Kathy Cooper, Plaintiff's mother, from ...


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