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Franko v. Farrell

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 23, 2019

TIMOTHY FARRELL, et al. Defendants.



         The plaintiff, Lawrence Franko, filed this motion in limine to preclude the defendants, Warden Timothy Farrell, Warden Jon Brighthaupt, Dr. Ricardo Ruiz, and Social Worker Lisa Simo-Kinzer, [1] from introducing evidence at trial concerning the plaintiff's criminal convictions and possible prison disciplinary record. (Doc. No. 74). The plaintiff argues that evidence concerning his criminal convictions is inadmissible under Fed.R.Evid. 404(b) and 609, and that his prison disciplinary record, to the extent such a record exists, is inadmissible under Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). (Doc. No. 74 at 1).

         For the reasons detailed below, the plaintiff's Motion in Limine (Doc. No. 74) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs in violation of his Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. (See Doc. No. 1 at 1; Doc. No. 73 at 3-4). The plaintiff claims that he suffers from severe claustrophobia and that, despite knowledge of this medical condition, on October 1, 2014, the defendants refused to grant the plaintiff's request for special transportation and instead transported him in a crowded judicial marshal van. (Doc. No. 73 at 3-4). The plaintiff alleges that, while in the van, he began feeling claustrophobic and complained to the judicial marshals; however, the judicial marshals ignored him. (Doc. No. 1 at 5-6; Doc. No. 73 at 3). The plaintiff claims that he suffered a claustrophobia-induced seizure, during which he fell face-first on the ground and suffered injuries as a result. (Doc. No. 1 at 6; Doc. No. 73 at 3-4; Doc. No. 74-1 at 2). The plaintiff claims also that he subsequently learned he had suffered a minor heart attack during the incident. (Doc. No. 1 at 8; Doc. No. 73 at 4). The defendants deny the plaintiff's material allegations. (Doc. No. 73 at 4).


         The plaintiff contends that Fed.R.Evid. 609 bars admission of his criminal history, as “all but his most recent conviction occurred well over ten years ago, and evidence of his most recent conviction is of minimal probative value in this § 1983 case and is highly prejudicial.” (Doc. No. 74-1 at 2). He argues also that, to the extent the plaintiff has a prison disciplinary record, it “is inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) as evidence of prior bad acts.” (Doc. No. 74-1 at 2).

         “A motion in limine to preclude evidence calls on the [C]ourt to make a preliminary determination on the admissibility of evidence under Rule 104 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.” Highland Capital Mgmt., L.P. v. Schneider, 379 F.Supp.2d 461 (S.D.N.Y. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). “The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow the trial court to rule in advance of trial on the admissibility and relevance of certain forecasted evidence.” Dougherty v. County of Suffolk, No. CV 13-6493 (AKT), 2018 WL 1902336, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 20, 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted); Highland Capital Mgmt., 379 F.Supp.2d at 467. “[O]nly when the evidence is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds should such evidence be excluded on a motion in limine.” Dougherty, 2018 WL 1902336, at *1 (internal quotation marks omitted). “A district court's in limine ruling ‘is subject to change when the case unfolds, particularly if the actual testimony differs from what was contained in the . . . proffer.'” Highland Capital Mgmt., 379 F.Supp.2d at 467 (citing Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41, 105 S.Ct. 460, 83 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984)); see Dougherty, 2018 WL 1902336, at *1.


         The plaintiff maintains that evidence regarding his prior convictions from 1975 through 1982 is inadmissible under Fed.R.Evid. 609(b). Specifically, the plaintiff argues that these convictions “occurred between 1975 and 1982” and that “[h]e was released from prison for the last of th[e] convictions, sexual assault in the first degree, in 1997-over twenty years ago.” (Doc. No. 74-1 at 3). The plaintiff adds that this evidence “would not only inflame the jury against [the plaintiff], but would also confuse what this trial is about, i.e., whether the [d]efendants were deliberately indifferent to [the plaintiff's] severe claustrophobia.” (Doc. No. 74-1 at 3). The Court agrees with the plaintiff.[2]

         The purpose of Rule 609(b) is to “limit the admission of evidence of criminal convictions that are too remote in time to be reliably probative of truthfulness.” Dougherty, 2018 WL 1902336, at *3. “Criminal convictions more than ten years old are not admissible for impeachment unless the court determines that, in the interest of justice, the probative value of the conviction substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect.” Id. (quoting Daniels v. Loizzo, 986 F.Supp. 245, 249 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing Fed.R.Evid. 609(b)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “[T]he Second Circuit has recognized that Congress intended that convictions more than ten years old be admitted very rarely and only in exceptional circumstances.” Id. (quoting Daniels, 986 F.Supp. at 252 (quoting Zinman v. Stanley Black & Decker, Inc., 983 F.2d 431, 434 (2d Cir. 1993))) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Here, the plaintiff has eleven convictions, which date from 1975 to 1982, and are comprised of mostly misdemeanor and some felony offenses. (See Doc. No. 74-2 at 3). The plaintiff's most serious prior conviction (before the offense resulting in his current incarceration term) is the June 1982 conviction for first degree sexual assault, which resulted in a sentence of twenty years' imprisonment, execution suspended after fifteen years (Doc. No. 74-2 at 3); he was released from confinement on that sentence in 1997 (Doc. No. 74-1 at 3). There does not appear to be any compelling argument that this case presents one of the “exceptional circumstances” warranting admission of the plaintiff's prior convictions from 1975 through 1982, see Dougherty, 2018 WL 1902336 at *3, the most recent of which is nearly thirty-seven years old. Accordingly, as to the plaintiff's convictions spanning from 1975 through 1982, the Court grants the plaintiff's motion to exclude his prior convictions under Fed.R.Evid. 609(b).


         The plaintiff also argues that evidence regarding his 2008 conviction of second degree kidnapping is inadmissible under Fed.R.Evid. 609(a). Specifically, the plaintiff maintains that “[e]vidence of [his] most recent conviction cannot survive the Rule 403 balancing test incorporated into Rule 609(a)(1), ” and that, because the plaintiff's current conviction “plainly did not require proof or admission of a dishonest act or false statement[, ]” the evidence is not admissible under Fed.R.Evid. 609(a)(2). The ...

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