Barnes v. District of Columbia

Decision Date14 February 2013
Docket NumberCivil No. 06–315 (RCL).
Citation924 F.Supp.2d 74
PartiesCarl A. BARNES, et al., Plaintiffs, v. The DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

William Charles Cole Claiborne, III, Ralph Douglas Robinson, Law Office of William Claiborne, III, Washington, DC, Barrett S. Litt, Paul J. Estuar, Stacey R. Brown, Litt, Estuar, Harrison & Kitson, LLP, Los Angeles, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Ellen A. Efros, Grace Graham, Andrew J. Saindon, Keith David Parsons, Office of the Attorney General, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

(Resolving Parties' Motions in Limine )

ROYCE C. LAMBERTH, Chief Judge.

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This case concerns the District of Columbia Department of Corrections' (DOC) practice of overdetaining and strip searching its inmates. The plaintiffs, former inmates subject to overdetentions and strip searches, filed a class action against the District of Columbia (District) over six years ago. Compl., Feb. 23, 2006, ECF No. 1. This long-running case is virtually identical to a prior case before this Court, Bynum v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 02–956(RCL) (filed in 2002). Given this extensive history, the Court assumes familiarity with its prior opinions, which set forth the background of this class-action litigation in greater detail. See, e.g., Barnes v. District of Columbia, 793 F.Supp.2d 260, 265 (D.D.C.2011) (discussing background of case up to summary judgment stage).

In June 2011, the Court granted plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment as to the District of Columbia's liability for any overdetentions at its jails, throughout the class period, caused by the DOC's application of the so-called “10 p.m. cut-off” rule, and all overdetentions occurring from September 1, 2005 to December 31, 2006. Id. at 286. The Court granted the District's Motion for Summary Judgment as to overdetentions occurring from February 26, 2008 forward that were not caused by the DOC's enforcement of the 10 p.m. cut-off rule. Id. The Court denied both parties' motions as to the District's liability for overdetentions that occurred from January 1, 2007 to February 25, 2008 (the “Trial Period”) that were not caused by the DOC's enforcement of the 10 p.m. cut-off rule. Id. at 286 & n. 18. The District's liability for that subset of overdetentions remains undetermined pending trial.

On March 1, 2013, a jury trial regarding the District's liability for overdetentions during the “Trial Period” will commence. Before the Court are the parties' pretrial motions in limine to exclude or limit certain evidence from being introduced at the upcoming liability trial. The plaintiffs filed a motion styled as Plaintiffs' Motion in Limine No. 1 to Exclude Introduction of Evidence of the District of Columbia's Overdetention Numbers for the Trial Period, Jan. 11, 2013, ECF No. 410. The District has filed an Omnibus Motion in Limine,” encompassing five separate motions in limine. Def.'s Mot. in Limine, Jan. 11, 2013, ECF No. 409. Upon consideration of these motions, the oppositions and replies thereto, and the record herein, the Court will deny plaintiffs' motion and grant in part and deny in part the District's motion.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

While neither the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure nor the Federal Rules of evidence expressly provide for motions in limine, the Court may allow such motions “pursuant to the district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials.” Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n. 4, 105 S.Ct. 460, 83 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984). Motions in limine are ‘designed to narrow the evidentiary issues for trial and to eliminate unnecessary trial interruptions.’ Graves v. District of Columbia, 850 F.Supp.2d 6, 10 (D.D.C.2011) (quoting Bradley v. Pittsburgh Bd. of Educ., 913 F.2d 1064, 1070 (3d Cir.1990)). As Judge Kollar–Kotelly thoroughly explained in Graves:

Broadly speaking, the Federal Rules of Evidence permit the admission of “relevant evidence”—that is, evidence that “has any tendency to make a fact [of consequence] more or less probable than it would be without the evidence,” Fed.R.Evid. 401—provided it is not otherwise excluded by the Rules, the Constitution of the United States, or an Act of Congress, Fed.R.Evid. 402, and its probative value is not “substantially outweighed by a danger of ... unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence,” Fed.R.Evid. 403.

In light of their limited purpose, motions in limine “should not be used to resolve factual disputes,” which remains the “function of a motion for summary judgment, with its accompanying and crucial procedural safeguards.” C & E Servs., Inc. v. Ashland Inc., 539 F.Supp.2d 316, 323 (D.D.C.2008)....In other words, [f]actual questions should not be resolved through motions in limine,” Goldman v. Healthcare Mgmt. Sys., Inc., 559 F.Supp.2d 853, 871 (W.D.Mich.2008) (citation omitted), nor is a motion in limine a “vehicle for a party to ask the Court to weigh the sufficiency of the evidence,” Bowers v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 563 F.Supp.2d 508, 532 (D.N.J.2008). Rather, parties should target their arguments to demonstrating why certain items or categories of evidence should (or should not) be introduced at trial, and direct the trial judge to specific evidence in the record that would favor or disfavor the introduction of those particular items or categories of evidence. U.S. ex rel. El–Amin v. George Washington Univ., 533 F.Supp.2d 12, 19 (D.D.C.2008). In short, motions in limine are a means for arguing why “evidence should or should not, for evidentiary reasons, be introduced at trial.” Williams v. Johnson, 747 F.Supp.2d 10, 18 (D.D.C.2010) (emphasis in original).

In deference to their familiarity with the details of the case and greater experience in evidentiary matters, trial judges are afforded broad discretion in rendering evidentiary rulings, a discretion which extends to assessing the probative value of the proffered evidence and weighing any factors against admissibility. Sprint/United Mgmt. Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379, 384, 128 S.Ct. 1140, 170 L.Ed.2d 1 (2008). The trial judge's discretion extends not only to the substantive evidentiary ruling, but also to the threshold question of whether a motion in limine presents an evidentiary issue that is appropriate for ruling in advance of trial. [ See, e.g.,] United States v. Valencia, 826 F.2d 169, 172 (2d Cir.1987).... The trial judge has the “discretion to rule in limine or to await developments at trial before ruling.” Stephen A. Saltzburg et al., Federal Rules of Evidence Manual § 103.02[13] (9th ed. 2006). [I]n some instances it is best to defer rulings until trial, [when] decisions can be better informed by the context, foundation, and relevance of the contested evidence within the framework of the trial as a whole.” Casares v. Bernal, 790 F.Supp.2d 769, 775 (N.D.Ill.2011) (citation omitted).

Id. at 10–11. While the Court has broad discretion to make judgments about whether proffered evidence is sufficiently relative or overly prejudicial, see United States v. Project on Gov't Oversight, 526 F.Supp.2d 62, 66 (D.D.C.2007), the Court should remember that making counsel object to inadmissible evidence at trial may “emphasize[ ] the evidence before the jury.” Banks v. District of Columbia, 551 A.2d 1304, 1310 (D.C.1988); see also75 Am.Jur.2d. TrialL § 94 at 306–307 (1991) (“the mere asking of an improper question in the hearing of the jury may prove so prejudicial that, notwithstanding an instruction by the court to disregard the offensive matter, the moving party will be denied his right to a fair trial”).

III. PLAINTIFFS' MOTION IN LIMINE TO EXCLUDE THE DISTRICT'S OVERDETENTION NUMBERS AND DISCREPANCY REPORTS

The plaintiffs ask this Court to “exclude any testimony, introduction of, or reference to, evidence of the District of Columbia's discrepancy reports (regardless of file type or format), graphs summarizing said reports, as well as any testimony, introduction of, or reference to, the District's overdetention numbers from January 1, 2007February 25, 2008 (the “Trial Period”), which are based on the District's discrepancy reports.” Pls.' Mot. in Limine 1.

The plaintiffs claim that (1) “the District's overdetention numbers and discrepancy reports are not supported by reliable methodology and are misleading”; (2) [t]he District needs expert testimony to establish that the methodology supporting its overdetention numbers and discrepancy reports is reliable” and the District has failed to designate an expert; and (3) witnesses “who testify about the District's total overdetention numbers and discrepancy reports are offering lay opinion testimony or expert opinion testimony ... based on unreliable methodology” that could mislead or confuse the trier of fact. Id. 2.

Beginning in January 2007, the District's Department of Corrections began systematically tracking overdetentions through “discrepancy reports”—documents which list individual overdetentions and the purported reasons for those overdetentions. Barnes, 793 F.Supp.2d at 270. A declaration filed by Kathy Souverain, the Records Administrator at the DOC since March 2007, describes the process of creating these discrepancy reports. Souverain Decl., June 7, 2011, ECF No. 301–2. According to Ms. Souverain:

I am familiar with the discrepancy reports produced by the DOC from July 2007 forward. These reports indicate the number of over-detentions that occur each month....In order to identify an over-detention, the DOC runs a “Crystal Report,” which identified who have been potentially over-detained. The institutional file of each inmate on this list is then reviewed by hand and a notation is entered into Lotus Notes as to whether the inmate was over-detained or not. An overdetention is defined as anyone released after 11:59 PM on the day they were released, or...

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