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Amobi v. Brown

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 19, 2018

STEPHEN AMOBI, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DEVON BROWN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING OUTSTANDING EVIDENTIARY ISSUES

          KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The parties have submitted extensive objections and arguments regarding the proposed exhibits and witnesses for the upcoming trial. This Court previously resolved many of the objections Defendants submitted in their omnibus motion in limine (ECF No. 235) during the Initial Pretrial Conference held on May 29, 2018, and the remaining issues in the omnibus motion-motions F, G, J, and K-will be addressed at the Final Pretrial Conference scheduled for June 21, 2018. (See Defs.' Omnibus Mot. in Limine; see also Pls.' Opp'n to Defs.' Omnibus Mot. in Limine, ECF No. 239; Defs.' Reply for Omnibus Mot. in Limine, ECF No. 241; Hr'g Tr. of May 29, 2018 (reflecting the Court's oral rulings on motions A, B, C, D, E, H, and I).)

         Before this Court at present are the remaining evidentiary disputes, as raised and briefed in various sets of filings. (See Revised Pls.' Exhibit List and Defs.' Objections, ECF No. 247-3; see also Defs.' Supp. Mot. in Limine, ECF No. 236; Pls.' Opp'n to Defs.' Supp. Mot. in Limine, ECF No. 243; Defs.' Reply for Supp. Mot. in Limine, ECF No. 245; see also Pls.' Proffer of Evid. and Mem., ECF No. 247; Defs.' Resp. to Pls.' Proffer of Evid. and Mem., ECF No. 252; Pls.' Reply for Proffer of Evid. and Mem., ECF No. 253; Def. Brown's Resp. to Pls.' Proffer of Evid. and Mem., ECF No. 256.) The Court has reviewed all of the objected-to exhibits and witnesses, as well as the various arguments that the parties have offered pertaining to the evidentiary value and admissibility of the proffered evidence. This Order reflects the Court's rulings, which will be expounded upon if necessary at the Final Pretrial Conference in this case, which is scheduled for June 21, 2018 at 10:30 AM.

         Notably, what follows is a brief statement of the reasons for the Court's rulings with respect to each exhibit that is addressed below; the Court's conclusions were reached based upon its careful consideration of the parties' most meritorious arguments. Given the number of objections and the myriad bases that were raised and briefed for each disputed exhibit, the Court will not comment upon every argument raised by the parties with respect to each exhibit that is discussed.

         I. EVIDENCE FROM THE CRIMINAL TRIAL AND ARBITRATION PROCEEDING

         A common theme underlying a significant number of the evidentiary disputes in this case is the extent to which evidence related to the previous proceedings that form the bases of the present common law malicious prosecution claims can be admitted at trial, and for what purpose. Accordingly, in its Order Scheduling Pre-Trial Conference and Submission of Joint Pre-Trial Statement, this Court instructed the parties to “brief, among other issues, whether and to what extent evidence from and concerning the previous administrative and criminal proceedings is relevant to the instant case and should be admissible” in their renewed motions in limine. (ECF No. 231, para. 5(a); see also Min. Order of Apr. 26, 2018 (instructing the parties to file such a supplemental brief after seeing no such submission in the pretrial materials).) Because of the importance of these evidentiary rulings to this case and the presentation of evidence regarding the previous criminal trial and the administrative proceeding in the context of Plaintiffs' malicious prosecution claims, the Court finds it appropriate and helpful to expound upon its reasoning with respect to these issues.

         As a general matter, in resolving these evidentiary disputes, the Court faces a tension between, on the one hand, allowing Plaintiffs to introduce evidence related to the previous proceedings to the extent such evidence is probative of the remaining claims in this case, and on the other, preventing the risk of prejudice to Defendants that would occur if evidence unrelated to their alleged conduct becomes a dominate factor at trial or if the prior proceedings are re-litigated in the context of the instant proceedings. Accordingly, Federal Rule of Evidence 403, which governs the exclusion of relevant evidence “if its probative value is 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, plays a large part in the Court's analysis of the evidence, and the Court has proceeded with an acute awareness of the need for Plaintiffs to demonstrate how the evidence being offered is probative of the elements of the claims that are bring tried in this case. This means that Court has been, and will continue to be, focused on the elements of the claims, and will not allow protracted engagement with the underlying facts of the previous proceedings beyond what is relevant to and probative of the elements of the claims at issue.

         A. Evidence Pertaining To The Prior Criminal Proceeding

         Plaintiffs seek to offer a number of exhibits and witnesses with respect to the prior criminal proceeding, including Exhibit 75 (Docket Sheet, United States v. Amobi, 2006 CMD 12120), Exhibit 77 (2007.06.04 Testimony of Derrick Brown from Criminal Trial), Exhibit 80 (2007.06.04 Testimony of Elbert White from Amobi Criminal Trial), and Exhibit 81 (Findings of the Court from Amobi Criminal Trial). In addition, Plaintiffs also seek to offer the testimony of Danny Onorato, the attorney who represented Amobi in his criminal trial. The Court has addressed each of these in turn.

         1. The Criminal Court's Findings (Exhibit 81)

         With respect to the findings of the trial court in Amobi's criminal case, this Court finds that any probative value of this exhibit is significantly outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and confusing the jury. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. “Within this district, courts have consistently avoided potential jury confusion and unfair prejudice in related actions by excluding judicial findings, convictions, and similar evidence on Rule 403 grounds.” Moore v. Hartman, 102 F.Supp.3d 35, 143 (D.D.C. 2015) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted) (quoting Athridge v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 474 F.Supp.2d 102, 109 (D.D.C. 2007).) Here, the presentation of the criminal court's findings to the jury carries with it the risk that the jury would “accord[] more weight to the analysis of the evidence laid out in the [] [o]pinion than to their own perceptions of the evidence simply because the opinion was authored by a judge.” Id.

         Moreover, and in particular, it is clear that the criminal court's findings explicitly rest on that court's own credibility determinations (see Exhibit 81 (noting that “the Court observed the demeanor of the witnesses” and has found Amobi not guilty on the basis on of its observations and the evidence in the case)), and in this Court's view, introducing such findings and determinations to the jury in the instant malicious prosecution case carries the risk of interfering with the jury's freedom to determine the credibility of the same witnesses for itself. Furthermore, the criminal court's opinion may confuse the issues and mislead the jury with respect to the claims in this case, because that court's ‘not guilty' finding was made on an entirely different standard and a different factual inquiry than the issues of fact presented in the instant case. See Fed. R. Evid. 403; Moore, 102 F.Supp. at 144. Therefore, much like other courts in this jurisdiction that have contended with motions in limine seeking the exclusion of the previous judicial opinions in the criminal cases underlying a malicious prosecution claim, this Court will GRANT Defendants' motion with respect to Exhibit 81 and exclude the court's findings in Amobi's criminal trial.

         2. Transcripts of Prior Testimony (Exhibits 77, 80)

         Plaintiffs seek to offer the prior testimony of then-inmate Derrick Brown and former Defendant Major Elbert White as evidence in this case. As a threshold matter, it is clear beyond cavil that former testimony implicates the hearsay rule, and thus must be evaluated on a case-by-case (and perhaps even line-by-line) basis, to determine what the out-of-court statements are being offered to prove and, if necessary, whether such statements fit an exception to the rule against hearsay. See, e.g., Fed.R.Evid. 803, 804. As a general matter, Plaintiffs here have failed to indicate clearly the purposes for which they seek to offer Inmate Brown and Major White's prior testimony, and they have also not uniformly pointed to particular hearsay exceptions to justify the admission of this evidence. The Court has done its best to ...


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