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Ward v. Smith

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

April 1, 2015

KEVIN WARD, Plaintiff,
v.
BRADLEY SMITH, et al., Defendants.

ORDER (1) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS IN LIMINE, AND (2) GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION IN LIMINE

ORTRIE D. SMITH, Senior District Judge.

Pending are the parties' motions in limine. Parties are reminded that these rulings are interlocutory. Therefore, the denial of a request to bar evidence at this juncture preserves nothing for review, and the parties are encouraged to re-assert their objections at trial if they deem it appropriate to do so. Evidence that is barred shall not be discussed in the jury's presence (including during opening statements) without leave of the Court, and in this regard Parties are free to suggest (out of the jury's presence) that something has occurred during the trial that justifies a change in the Court's interlocutory ruling.

Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 1 (Doc. #213)

Plaintiff seeks to exclude any testimony or evidence related to Plaintiff's criminal convictions.

The Court notes Plaintiff has several convictions, some of which are well over 10 years old. FRE 609(b) governs the admissibility of convictions that are more than 10 years old and states these convictions are only admissible if Defendants demonstrate their "probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially outweighs [their] prejudicial effect." Defendants generally argue Plaintiff's credibility is particularly important in this case and Plaintiff's felony history suggests he is less likely to be deterred from lying under oath. The Court finds these arguments do not provide sufficient facts or circumstances in support of their position - mainly because these arguments likely could be made in almost every case involving a plaintiff who is an inmate. In fact, the Court finds that some of Plaintiff's convictions would be highly prejudicial and that their prejudicial nature would far outweigh any probative value they have. Accordingly, to the extent Plaintiff seeks to exclude testimony or evidence related to Plaintiff's criminal convictions which are more than ten years old, the Motion in Limine is granted.

Plaintiff also has one conviction which was punishable by imprisonment for more than one year and is less than 10 years old. FRE 609(a)(1)(A) governs this category of convictions and states these convictions " must be admitted, subject to Rule 403, in a civil case." (emphasis added). Plaintiff points to several courts that have applied the following four factor test to determine whether felony convictions are admissible, "the nature of the convictions, the time that has elapsed since conviction, the importance of credibility to the underlying claim, and the potential for prejudice from admitting the convictions." Tabron v. Grace, 898 F.Supp. 293, 295 (M.D. Pa. 1995). Regarding the first two factors, the Court finds a conviction for assault in the second degree is not a petty crime, and 10 years have not passed since the conviction.

With respect to the third factor, the Court turns to the Eighth Circuit decision, Cummings v. Malone. 995 F.3d 817 (8th Cir. 1993). In that case, the Eighth Circuit determined that because Plaintiff's and Defendants' versions of events were diametrically opposed, credibility was of paramount importance. At this juncture, the Court does not know the details of Defendants' version of events, and thus the Court does not know if the parties' versions of events are as diametrically opposed as they were in the Cummings case. Nonetheless, the Court believes Defendants' version of events might diverge from Plaintiff's version. Consequently, the Court finds that credibility is important to the case at hand. Following the Cummings Court's reasoning, Plaintiff's prior conviction has probative value regarding his credibility.[1]

With respect to the final factor, the Court finds evidence of one felony conviction for assault in the second degree does not rise to the level of undue prejudice, will not cause confusion, and will not needlessly waste the Court's time. The probative value of the evidence outweighs whatever slight prejudice Plaintiff might incur due to the mention of this felony conviction.

Therefore, to the extent Plaintiff seeks to exclude testimony of evidence related to Plaintiff's criminal convictions that are less than 10 years old, the Court denies the Motion in Limine.[2]

Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 2 (Doc. #214)

Plaintiff seeks to exclude any testimony or evidence related to Plaintiff's conduct violations.[3]

Defendants assert that during the October 2009 incident, Plaintiff was housed in an administrative segregation unit in the prison because of his repeated conduct violations. Defendants contend prison officials working in this unit must use extra caution when interacting with inmates and that inmates in this unit are aware that strict compliance with rules is required. Defendants argue Plaintiff's conduct violations are relevant as to whether (1) Defendants used reasonable force during the October 2009 incident and (2) Plaintiff's knowledge of the administrative segregation unit rules.

At this time, the Court finds Plaintiff's previous conduct violations has limited relevance as to the events at issue in this case. See FRE 401. The potentially prejudicial effect of this evidence outweighs what limited probative value it has. See FRE 403. The jury could improperly conclude Defendants could use a higher level of force against Plaintiff merely because Plaintiff has a history of conduct violations.

For this evidence to be admissible, Defendants will need to specifically demonstrate how Defendants' knowledge of Plaintiff's previous conduct violations pertains to their actions during the October 2009 incident and how Plaintiff's previous conduct violations relate to the level of force Defendants used. Further, Defendants will have to show how Plaintiff's knowledge of the administrative segregation unit rules specifically relates to the October 2009 incident.

Therefore, the Court grants Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to exclude any testimony or evidence related to Plaintiff's conduct violations.

Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 3 (Doc. #215)

Plaintiff seeks to exclude any testimony or evidence related to Plaintiff's other ...


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