United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION IN LIMINE TO
EXCLUDE IMPERMISSIBLE DAMAGE CLAIMS, TESTIMONY, AND ARGUMENT
G. Edmunds United States District Judge
case arises from the death of Sidney Gurley, who was
incarcerated at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in
Adrian, Michigan when he passed away from acute peritonitis
caused by a ruptured appendix. The only remaining claims in
this case rest on allegations that Officers Susan Frey-Latta
and Thomas Blair violated Gurley's Eighth Amendment
protection against cruel and unusual punishment through their
deliberate indifference to Gurley's serious medical
needs. This matter is now before the Court on Defendants'
Motion in Limine to Exclude Impermissible Damage
Claims, Testimony, and Argument (Dkt. # 123). For the reasons
stated below, this Court DENIES Defendants' motion.
motion seeks to preclude Plaintiff from calling family
members to testify and from introducing evidence regarding
emotional feelings or losses of family members or others,
including the following exhibits proposed by Plaintiff:
photographs of Gurley with his family, Gurley's funeral
program, and family memorabilia. Defendants argue that such
evidence would suggest to the jury that they should include
damages which are impermissible in an action brought under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Citing Blair v. Harris, 993
F.Supp.2d 721 (E.D. Mich. 2014), Defendants argue that
Plaintiff may only recover for conscious pain and suffering
by Gurley between the time of injury and death---not for loss
of enjoyment, post-death loss, loss of companionship,
emotional distress, loss of financial support, or loss of
Robertson v. Wegmann, 436 U.S. 584 (1978), Plaintiff
responds that the Supreme Court has specifically allowed
survivors to sue for injury to their own interest if allowed
by state law. Plaintiffs further argue that Sixth Circuit
precedent requires acceptance of Michigan's wrongful
death statute, which provides recovery for a victim as well
as for the victim's estate and survivors as an
appropriate damage remedy in section 1983 cases, citing
Frontier Ins. Co. v. Blaty, 454 F.3d 590 (6th Cir.
brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in her
capacity as personal representative of Gurley's estate.
Section 1983 provides no guidance for how to evaluate
damages; however, if section 1983 is
deficient in the provisions necessary to furnish suitable
remedies and punish offenses against law, the common law, as
modified and changed by the constitution and statutes of the
State wherein the court having jurisdiction of such civil or
criminal cause is held, so far as the same is not
inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United
States, shall be extended to and govern the said courts in
the trial and disposition of the cause.
42 U.S.C. § 1988. See Robertson, 436 U.S. at
588-89. The Supreme Court has recognized that survivors suing
under section 1983 "for injury to their own
interests" may recover damages when allowed by state
law. Id. at 592, n.9.
case, the Court must apply Michigan's civil damages laws.
Michigan's wrongful death statute provides as follows.
[T]he court or jury may award damages as the court or jury
shall consider fair and equitable, under all the
circumstances including  reasonable medical, hospital,
funeral, and burial expenses for which the estate is liable;
 reasonable compensation for the pain and suffering, while
conscious, undergone by the deceased during the period
intervening between the time of the injury and death; and 
damages for the loss of financial support and the loss of the
society and companionship of the deceased.
Comp. Laws § 600.2922(6). "Michigan's wrongful
death statute is a derivative one whereby the personal
representative of the deceased stands in the latter's
shoes." Blaty, 454 F.3d at 600.
Sixth Circuit has instructed that courts "should not
disturb a state remedy unless it is clear that such remedy is
wholly inconsistent with the Constitution and the goals of
section 1983." Id. at 603. In Blaty,
the court found that "Michigan's wrongful death act
is consistent with the compensatory purpose of section 1983
identified by the Supreme Court." Id. at 601.
The court further stated that Michigan's wrongful death
statute "authorizes an award of damages for
survivors' losses of support, society, and companionship,
" which is consistent with the deterrent purpose of
section 1983. Id. The Court therefore concludes that
Gurley's estate may recover the full extent of damages
available under Michigan's wrongful death statute.
the district court in Warren v. Shilling, No.
2:12-CV-13, 2015 WL 1726787, at *3 (W.D. Mich. Apr. 15,
2015), this Court declines to follow Defendants' citation
to Blair v. Harris, 993 F.Supp.2d 721, 731 (E.D.
Mich. 2014). The court in Blair relied primarily on
Jaco v. Bloechle, 739 F.2d 239 (6th Cir. 1984), and
on Claybrook v. Birchwell, 199 F.3d 350, 355 (6th
Cir. 2000). However, while both Jaco and
Claybrook establish that a state remedy for a
section 1983 violation must provide recovery to the victim
himself, neither case limits a state remedy such that
survivors are precluded from recovery. See Warren,
2015 WL 1726787, at *4. In Jaco, the Sixth Circuit
analyzed Ohio's wrongful death statute, which unlike
Michigan's wrongful death statute, provided no remedy for
the personal injury suffered by the victim himself. 739 F.2d
at 242-43. Accordingly, the court found that the Ohio statute
was irreconcilable with 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Id.
at 244-45; Blaty, 454 F.3d at 603. In this case,
Michigan's wrongful death statute provides recovery for
the victim as well as the victim's estate and survivors,
and there is no reason to disturb the state remedy. See
Blaty, 454 F.3d at 603. In Claybrook, the court
held that section 1983 did not create an independent cause of
action for survivors. 199 F.3d at 357. The court found that a
complaint survived dismissal where the plaintiffs had
adequately requested compensation for the victim's
alleged constitutional injuries in their representative
capacities as co-administrators of his estate. Id.
Likewise, in this case, Plaintiff appropriately seeks damages
in her representative capacity. Claybrook does not
bar a victim's survivors from recovering damages allowed
by state law.
the Court rejects Defendants' argument and DENIES
Defendants' Motion in Limine to Exclude
Impermissible Damage ...