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McSparran v. Little

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

October 12, 2016

LUKE LITTLE, Defendant.



         This case arises from Plaintiff Dusty McSparran's allegation that Defendant Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department Officer Luke Little used excessive force in arresting him. Plaintiff contends he was in the process of complying with Officer Little's directive to get on the ground when Officer Little “smashed” his face into the ground, causing serious injuries. Officer Little contends he was merely pulling Plaintiff to the ground because he believed Plaintiff was planning to escape. Officer Little also contends it is unclear how Plaintiff's face was fractured, because a few days before the incident, someone punched Plaintiff in the face during a fight, causing him to fall and hit his head on the concrete, knocking him unconscious.

         Now before the Court are the parties' motions in limine. The Court grants in part Defendant's motions (Doc. 62), and denies Plaintiff's motion (Doc. 64).

         I. Defendant's motions are granted in part.

         1. Plaintiff may not give medical testimony, and the Court will carefully monitor his testimony regarding the cause of his injuries and any diagnosis he attempts to offer.

         Officer Little first moves to exclude Plaintiff from offering any medical opinions concerning causation, including that his actions caused Plaintiff to suffer: (1) permanent flattening of the right side of his face; (2) facial fractures; (3) permanent nerve damage; and (4) hearing loss. Defendant argues that there are two possible causes of Plaintiff's injuries, thus any testimony regarding medical causation-that is, that Officer Little's actions caused a particular medical result-must be supported by expert testimony. But Plaintiff has not designated any medical experts, and any testimony that Officer Little's actions continue to cause Plaintiff injury is purely speculative.

         Plaintiff responds that Eighth Circuit law provides that “a causal connection between an event and an injury may be inferred in cases in which a visible injury or a sudden onset of injury occurs.” Ziesmer v. Hagen, 785 F.3d 1233, 1238-39 (8th Cir. 2015) (holding that although the plaintiff's account of how badly he was injured seemed unlikely, particularly given evidence to the contrary from the defendant's expert, that was a credibility question for the jury to decide).

         The Court cannot tell from the existing record whether Plaintiff's previous fight was a sufficiently likely cause of his injury that he needs expert medical testimony to establish that Officer Little caused his injuries. Accordingly, the Court reserves ruling on this point until it hears the evidence at trial.

         If Plaintiff is permitted to testify about what he believes caused his injuries, the Court will circumscribe his testimony about the extent of his injuries and his prognosis. For example, Plaintiff will not be permitted to testify or argue that he has “permanent” nerve damage, hearing loss, and flattening of the right side of his face. He may, however, testify that he has not been able to hear since that incident, and that his face has looked different ever since the incident. Under no circumstance will Plaintiff be permitted to give medical testimony.

         2. Testimony that Plaintiff was “set up” or that his arrest was unlawful is not admissible.

         Officer Little moves to preclude Plaintiff from arguing that he was “set up” or that his arrest was unlawful. As discussed in the Court's summary judgment order (Doc. 5), because Plaintiff pled guilty to two crimes stemming from this incident, he cannot contest the lawfulness of his arrest. Accordingly, Plaintiff will not be permitted to elicit evidence or argue that he was wrongfully “set up” or his arrest was somehow unlawful. The focus of the trial will be on whether Officer Little used excessive force under the circumstances. This motion is GRANTED.

         3. Any testimony that unnamed officers laughed at Plaintiff's injuries and called him a “sissy” is not admissible.

         Plaintiff claims that following the incident, while he was at the hospital, unidentified officers and detectives laughed at his injuries and called him a “sissy.” Officer Little moves to exclude such evidence. Officer Little notes he was never at the hospital, and that whether Plaintiff was teased at the hospital is not relevant to whether he used excessive force.

         Plaintiff contends the behavior of Officer Little's “brothers on the police force” is ...

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