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Surface v. City of Flint

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 23, 2017


          David R. Grand United States Magistrate Judge


          Paul D. Borman United States District Judge.

         In this First Amendment retaliation action, Defendants City of Flint (the “City”) and Alvern Lock have filed one Motion in Limine, seeking to exclude from trial any argument or evidence that falls within certain specified categories. Plaintiff William Surface only contests Defendants' Motion as to one of those categories: evidence regarding Defendant Lock's purported statement in March 2011 that Chad Baldwin, formerly a plaintiff in this action, was transferred out of a particular position because Defendants “needed a black female” in the job.

         Given Plaintiff's concurrence with the other aspects of the instant Motion in Limine, and because this Court concludes that evidence within the single challenged category would be more prejudicial than probative under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion in Limine in full.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit, originally captioned as Garceau v. City of Flint, et al., was filed on December 17, 2012 by ten City of Flint police officers against the City, former Flint police chief Alvern Lock, and former Flint police captain Darryl Patterson. (ECF No. 1, Compl.) Initially, the plaintiffs asserted three causes of action: reverse race discrimination under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, Fourteenth Amendment harassment and/or retaliation under the same two statutes, and First Amendment retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The discrimination claim was premised on allegations that Defendants unconstitutionally favored black officers over white officers in terms of promotions and appointments, and the harassment and retaliation claims were based on allegations that Defendants retaliated against a subset of the Plaintiffs in various ways for opposing Defendants' allegedly discriminatory conduct (including by filing this lawsuit). (See Id. at 4-11, Pg ID 4- 11.)

         Plaintiff Surface (hereinafter “Plaintiff) was added as a party to this action via the First Amended Complaint on December 12, 2012. (ECF No. 5.) The parties and claims in this lawsuit have changed several times since then. The most recent development in that regard occurred on August 31, 2016, when this Court entered an Opinion and Order granting in part and denying in part two Motions for Summary Judgment that had been filed by Defendants. (ECF No. 65.) The ultimate effect of that Opinion and Order was the dismissal of all parties and claims in the action except for Plaintiffs First Amendment retaliation claim against two of the original three Defendants (the City and Lock). That claim is grounded in allegations that as an act of retaliation for the constitutionally protected activity of participating in this lawsuit, Plaintiff was subjected to an unjustified 29-day disciplinary suspension in October 2013. The City's justification for the suspension, which Plaintiff claims is bogus, is that Plaintiff used unreasonable force when he participated in the arrest of a man suspected of assault during the City's Back to Bricks festival on August 13, 2013. (ECF No. 47, 3d Am. Compl. ¶¶ 88-103.) The suspension was subsequently overturned in a grievance arbitration on January 26, 2015. (ECF No. 59, Ex. 25.)

         A jury trial in this action is currently scheduled for October 16, 2017. On May 8, 2017, Defendants filed the instant Motion in Limine, which the parties have fully briefed. (ECF No. 70, Defs.' Mot.; ECF No. 72, Pl.'s Resp.; ECF No. 73, Defs.' Repl.) This Court conducted a hearing on the instant Motion in Limine in conjunction with the final pretrial conference in this matter on July 25, 2017, and is now prepared to rule on the Motion.


         The federal procedural and evidentiary rules that govern proceedings before this Court, as well as the cases interpreting those rules, “all encourage, and in some cases require, parties and the court to utilize extensive pretrial procedures -including motions in limine - in order to narrow the issues remaining for trial and to minimize disruptions at trial.” United States v. Brawner, 173 F.3d 966, 970 (6th Cir. 1999); see also Louzon v. Ford Motor Co., 718 F.3d 556, 560 (6th Cir. 2013) (“A motion in limine is any motion, whether made before or during trial, to exclude anticipated prejudicial evidence before the evidence is actually offered.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         “Motions in limine typically involve matters which ought to be excluded from the jury's consideration due to some possibility of prejudice or as a result of previous rulings by the Court.” Provident Life & Acc. Ins. Co. v. Adie, 176 F.R.D. 246, 250 (E.D. Mich. 1997). District courts have broad discretion over matters involving the admissibility of evidence at trial. See United States v. Seago, 930 F.2d 482, 494 (6th Cir. 1991). “[I]n limine rulings are not binding on the trial judge, and the judge may always change his mind during the course of a trial.” Ohler v. United States, 529 U.S. 753, 758 n.3 (2000) (citing Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41-42 (1984)).

         III. discussion

         A. The Court will exclude evidence within the categories specified in the uncontested items 1-5 and 7-9 of Defendants' Motion in Limine.

         Of the categories of evidence that Defendants seek to exclude, Plaintiff represents that all but one are uncontested, though he does “reserve[] the right to seek this Court's permission to introduce any of those matters should Defendants or Defense Counsel ‘open the door' to its relevance.” (Pl.'s Resp. at 6, Pg ID 4925.) The uncontested categories, as described by Defendants in the instant Motion in Limine, are as follows:

         1. Citizens Service Bureau & Middleton v. City of Flint ("CSB");

         2. Comments regarding the Nigger Beating Crew ("NBC") and Defendant Lock saying that he is going to "kick [former plaintiff ...

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