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Hunter v. City of Federal Way

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

July 6, 2018

JOSIAH HUNTER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF FEDERAL WAY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTIONS IN LIMINE

          MARSHA J. PECHMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the parties' Motions in Limine. (Dkt. Nos. 46, 48.) Having reviewed the Motions, the Responses (Dkt. Nos. 49, 50) and all related papers, the Court rules as follows:

         I. Uncontested Motions in Limine

         Plaintiff's Motion in Limine Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 and Defendants' Motion in Limine Nos. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, and 22 are not contested, and are GRANTED.

         II. Plaintiff's Contested Motions in Limine

         Motion in Limine No. 8 seeks to exclude evidence of Officer Durell's individual net worth and whether he would be indemnified by the municipality. The parties agree that evidence relating to Officer Durell's ability to pay a damages award should be excluded. In the event of a punitive damages award against him, the Court will permit limited evidence and argument regarding the appropriate amount of punitive damages before the jury deliberates on the issue. See Rookaird v. BNSF Railway Co., C14-176RSL, 2016 WL 4052610, at *1 (W.D. Wash. May 10, 2016). Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 8 is GRANTED.

         Motion in Limine No. 9 seeks to preclude Defendants from implying to the jury that they have no prior record of misconduct or citizen complaints. Defendants agree that evidence related to “any of the officers' prior uses of force, prior complaint history, prior discipline, or prior involvement in civil lawsuits” should be precluded. (See Dkt. No. 46 at Motion in Limine No. 15; Dkt. No. 49 at 3.) Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 9 is GRANTED.

         Motion in Limine No. 10 seeks to preclude references to witnesses as “experts, ” including those with specialized knowledge. The Court's jury instructions explain that expert testimony is allowed “because of the education or experience of the witness, ” and that “[s]uch opinion testimony should be judged like any other testimony.” (See Pechman Civil Jury Instruction No. 8, “Expert Opinion”).[1] Further, the Court's jury instructions include an admonition to jurors not to “read into these instructions or anything that I may say or do or have said or done that I have an opinion regarding the evidence or what your verdict should be.” (See Instruction No. 1, “Duty of Jury”). Both sides intend to put on expert testimony, and the Court does not share Plaintiff's concern that referring to or qualifying a witness as an “expert” would “put an imprimatur of the court on the witness.” Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 10 is DENIED.

         Motion in Limine No. 11 seeks to allow Plaintiff to argue “conscience of the community” (i.e., “to ask the jury to place themselves in the position of . . . compensating the plaintiff for the injuries the plaintiff sustained). While this is permissible, the parties agree that counsel will not “ask the jury to place themselves ‘in the shoes of' Mr. Hunter.” (See Defendants' Motion in Limine No. 16.) Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 11 is GRANTED.

         Motion in Limine No. 12 seeks an order that all witnesses appear in civilian clothing. Defendants respond that city representatives and testifying officers “should not be precluded from wearing the very uniform that shows his or her membership in the organization they are representing at trial, ” and that Officer Durell should be permitted to take the stand in the uniform he wore on the night of the incident “to show the jury how he was dressed and the tools available to him at the time of Mr. Hunter's arrest.” (Dkt. No. 49 at 4-5.) As a practical matter, Defendants note that some of the testifying officers “will either be on duty or will be driving a marked patrol car to the courthouse” or “may be called to testify immediately before, immediately after, or in the middle of their working shift” and should not be compelled to change clothes. Given the claims at issue and the practical realities of the case, the Court will not preclude officers from appearing in uniform. However, under no circumstances will any officer be permitted to enter the courtroom with weapons of any kind. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 12 is DENIED.

         Motion in Limine No. 13 seeks to allow Plaintiff, his mother, his father, and his friend to testify as to whether he changed after the incident, for purposes of establishing that he suffered emotional distress. So long as these witnesses are able to establish both relevance and personal knowledge concerning these alleged changes, they will be permitted to testify. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 13 is GRANTED.

         Motion in Limine No. 14 is a request for the Court to show the jurors the unconscious bias video during jury orientation. The Court finds no reason to depart from its regular practice of showing the unconscious bias video and Defendants have withdrawn their opposition to this request. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 14 is GRANTED.

         Motion in Limine No. 15 seeks to exclude evidence of Mr. Beausilien's unrelated prior arrests or prior criminal record. Such evidence is not admissible for purposes of showing Mr. Beausilien's character or that he acted in accordance with that character during the incident in dispute. Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). Plaintiff's Motion in Limine No. 15 is GRANTED.

         Motion in Limine No. 16 seeks to preclude Defendants from making “demands or requests before the jury for matters found or contained in plaintiff's file, . . . additional medical examinations, physical demonstrations, or other . . . requests during the course of the trial and in the presence of the jury.” Defendants agree that it would be inappropriate for counsel from either side “to request documents from any witness, demand that any witness undergo a medical examination, or demand that any witness demonstrate a physical limitation to the jury.” However, Defendants object to “any prohibition on witnesses performing physical demonstrations or re-enactments during the course of trial, ” and suggest that counsel may ask Plaintiff to “physically demonstrate for the jury some aspect of his testimony, like how far he was away from someone or how he claims Officer Durell used force ...


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