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Allen v. Richardson

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

February 4, 2019

RAEQUON DEWRELL ALLEN, Plaintiff,
v.
ALEXA RICHARDSON, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY, DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pro se plaintiff Raequon Dewrell Allen is proceeding to trial on February 14, 2019, against Deputy Alexa Richardson on his excessive force claim arising out of an incident during his confinement at the Dane County Jail in Madison, Wisconsin, in January 2016. At the final telephonic pretrial conference on February 1 at 10:00 a.m., this court addressed defendant Richardson's motions in limine (dkt. #122) as follows.[1]

         I. MIL No. 1: Preclude Evidence of Insurance

         Richardson seeks to exclude any evidence suggesting that she may have insurance covering plaintiff's claim, including prohibiting plaintiff from asking potential jurors about any connection they may have to insurance or insurance companies. (Dkt. #122 at 2-3.) Under Rule 411, “[e]vidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible to prove whether the person acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully.” Fed.R.Evid. 411. While the rule allows the admission of evidence for other purposes, defendant is correct that none appear relevant here. Accordingly, defendant's MIL No. 1 is GRANTED. Further, as the court explained during the final pretrial conference, the court -- not individual parties or counsel -- asks the questions during voir dire and those questions are laid out in the court's proposed voir dire, with follow-up questions to individual jurors also posed by the court, even if prompted by a party's concern.

         II. MIL No. 2: Preclude Evidence of Indemnification

         Defendant similarly seeks to preclude plaintiff from addressing any right to indemnification at trial. (Dkt. #122 at 3.) For the same reasons that plaintiff will be precluded from presenting evidence of insurance, he will be precluded from presenting evidence of indemnification. Defendant also seeks to prevent plaintiff from arguing that the jury should “send a message” to Dane County or the Sheriff's Department with its verdict because punishment is not a legitimate basis for a damages award. (Id. at 3-4.) However, if the jury determines that defendant's conduct was malicious or in reckless disregard of plaintiff's rights, it may choose to award punitive damages, which are designed to punish and make an example of the defendant.[2] (See Proposed Damages Instructions at 2.) As such, plaintiff may argue that the jury should “send a message, ” but only in his closing argument in the damages phase of trail and if the court permits him to seek punitive damages. Accordingly, defendant's MIL No. 2 is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         III. MIL No. 3: Preclude Settlement Offers or Negotiations

         Richardson next seeks to preclude evidence of any settlement offers or negotiations between the parties. (Dkt. #122 at 4.) As defendant notes, Rule 408 prohibits the admission of offers of and negotiations to compromise for purposes of “prov[ing] or disprov[ing] the validity or amount of a disputed claim or to impeach by a prior inconsistent statement or a contradiction.” Fed.R.Evid. 408. Since the court is unaware of any permissible use of evidence of potential settlement in this case, defendant's MIL No. 3 is GRANTED.

         IV. MIL No. 4: Preclude Reference to Other Claims

         Defendant further seeks to preclude reference to “any other claims, lawsuits, or proceedings brought against Richardson, Dane County, the Sheriff's Department or any other County official or employee” under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, because those other proceedings are irrelevant, prejudicial, and confusing to the jury. (Dkt. #122 at 4-5.) As a general proposition, defendant is correct that the probative value of this type of evidence is “substantially outweighed” by the risk of undue prejudice, confusing the issues, wasting time and possibly misleading the jury. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. Accordingly, defendant's MIL No. 4 is GRANTED.

         V. MIL No. 5: Preclude Evidence of Other Use of Force Incidents

         Relatedly, Richardson seeks to preclude reference to or evidence of “adverse or publicized events involving law enforcement, including, but not limited to, ‘police shootings,' ‘excessive force,' ‘abuse of authority,' police misconduct' or ‘blue walls of silence.'” (Dkt. #122 at 5.) Just like in MIL No. 4, defendant is correct that the probative value of these unrelated incidents is “substantially outweighed” by the risk of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, wasted time, and a possibly misled jury. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. Accordingly, defendant's MIL No. 5 is GRANTED except by general allusion in closing argument should plaintiff be allowed to seek punitive damages.

         VI. MIL No. 6: Prohibit Plaintiff from Asking the Jury to Sympathize with Him

         Richardson seeks to prevent the plaintiff from asking the jury to “place themselves in [his] shoes” or to “consider how much money they would pay to avoid the pain and suffering he alleges” because doing so would “improperly personalize[] this case for the jury.” (Dkt. #122 at 6-7.) This so-called “Golden Rule” is a standard evidentiary prohibition and will be enforced here as well. Moreover, defendant's concern that the jury would improperly sympathize with the plaintiff is addressed by the court's instructions. (See Closing Instructions at 1 (“[Y]ou should consider only the evidence that has been received at this trial. Do not concern yourselves with whether your answers will be favorable to one side or another . . . .”); Damages Instructions at 1 (“There is no exact standard for setting the damages to be awarded on account of pain and suffering. You are to determine an amount that will ...


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