Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Fulton v. Nisbet

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

January 25, 2018

Leroy Fulton, Plaintiff,
v.
Christopher Nisbet, in his individual capacity, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          RICHARD MARK GERGEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's motions in limine and Plaintiffs motion in limine. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendant's motion in limine (Dkt. No. 77), grants Defendant's motion in limine (Dkt. No. 78), denies without prejudice Defendant's motion in limine (Dkt. No. 79), denies Defendant's motion in limine (Dkt. No. 81), grants in part and denies in part Plaintiffs motion in limine (Dkt. No. 85), and denies as moot Defendant's motion for a protective order.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff alleges that on August 25, 2015, he was awoken by John Mauldin knocking on his door. Mr. Mauldin told Plaintiff that he was there to repossess a vehicle. Plaintiff told Mr. Mauldin to leave his property. Plaintiff asserts that Mr. Mauldin did not present any paperwork or documentation, and that he informed Mr. Mauldin that he did not have permission to repossess Plaintiffs vehicle. At that time, Mr. Mauldin called 911 and told the dispatcher that Plaintiff had pointed a handgun at him. Plaintiff denies that he never pointed a gun at Mr. Mauldin.

         While Mr. Mauldin was on the phone with 911 dispatch, Defendant, who was then the Coroner for Dorchester County, South Carolina, approached Mr. Mauldin, identified himself as the Coroner, and offered to assist Mr. Mauldin with the repossession. Mr. Mauldin told Defendant that Plaintiff had pointed a gun at him. Plaintiff then left his house in his vehicle, and the Defendant, in his official county vehicle, followed the Plaintiff and activated his vehicle's blue lights and siren. Plaintiff testified that when he stopped, Defendant pointed his county-issued firearm at him and told him to "get out of the car you little black mother fucker." (Dkt. No. 44-4.) Police officers then arrived on the scene. Officers directed Defendant to drop his weapon, which he did after a delay of about 15 to 20 seconds. (Id.) No. parties were charged with any crime that night. Ultimately, Defendant was charged with misconduct in office and breach of the peace. He pleaded no contest to breach of the peace and the misconduct in office charge was dropped nolle prosequi.

         On October 27, 2015, Plaintiff filed the present action, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for wrongful seizure and excessive force, and claims under South Carolina law. Plaintiff subsequently abandoned his state law claims. This matter is set for jury trial of Plaintiff s § 1983 claims beginning February 5, 2018.

         II. Legal Standard

         Although not specifically provided for in the Federal Rules of Evidence, motions in limine "ha[ve] evolved under the federal courts' inherent authority to manage trials." United States v. Verges, Crim. No. 1:13-222, 2014 WL 559573, at *2 (E.D. Va. Feb. 12, 2014). "The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow a court to rule on evidentiary issues in advance of trial in order to avoid delay, ensure an even-handed and expeditious trial, and focus the issues the jury will consider." Id. "Questions of trial management are quintessentially the province of the district courts." United States v. Smith, 452 F.3d 323, 332 (4th Cir. 2006); see also United States v. McBride, 676 F.3d 385, 403 (4th Cir. 2012) ("[A]ssessing [whether evidence is] relevan[t] is at the heart of the district court's trial management function."). A district court therefore has "broad discretion" in deciding a motion in limine. Kauffman v. Park Place Hosp. Grp., 468 Fed.Appx. 220, 222 (4th Cir. 2012). Nonetheless, a motion in limine "should be granted only when the evidence is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds." Verges, 2014 WL 559573, at *3.

         III. Discussion

         A. Defendant's motion to exclude evidence of crimes, wrongs, or other acts

         Defendant moves to exclude all evidence relating to his arrest for misconduct in office, the resulting law enforcement investigation, his removal from the Dorchester County Coroner's Office, his conviction for breach of peace, and any other bad acts. He argues that such evidence is not relevant, and, if relevant, that its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. He also asserts all such evidence is inadmissible under Rule 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

         Although no party briefed the issue, the Court must rule that Rule 410 of the Federal Rules of Evidence prohibits introduction of Defendant's nolo contendere plea to breach of the peace. See United States v. Dorman, 496 F.2d 438, 400 (4th Cir. 1974). This prohibition applies to the resulting conviction. United States v. Nguyen, 465 F.3d 1128, 1131 (9th Cir. 2006). The motion in limine is granted as to the conviction for breach of the peace. However, the responding police officers are percipient witnesses and they may testify as to both their perceptions and the actions they took in response to those perceptions, including responsive actions taken after the night of the incident. Further, to the extent Defendant argues that any evidence discovered in the subsequent criminal investigation should be excluded (including testimony by investigators) his motion is denied. No. authority suggests evidence should be suppressed at a civil trial merely because it was discovered during a criminal investigation of the same underlying events.

         In opposition to the motion in limine, Plaintiff argues he should be allowed to present a Facebook posting by Defendant that states, "Thugs will be thugs." During the incident at issue, Defendant was recorded on audio referring to Plaintiff as a "damn, damn nigger." In Defendant's deposition, he testified that "nigger" is "[a]nother word for thug." The Facebook posting thus would arguably be further evidence of Defendant's racial bias. Indeed, Plaintiff argues for admission based on Rule 608, which allows collateral evidence of a witness's bias. However, evidence is not needed to prove a party is biased in favor of his own cause. Plaintiffs true intent appears to be to offer the Facebook posting as evidence of Defendant's character as a racist, to prove he acted in accordance with that character on the night at issue. That is prohibited by Rule 404(b)(1). Defendant's motion in limine is granted as to the Facebook posting.

         Plaintiff also argues he should be allowed to present testimony regarding other traffic stops Defendant allegedly conducted in Dorchester County. Plaintiff states that he anticipates Defendant will testify that he was only acting in a private capacity when he performed a traffic stop on Plaintiff on the night at issue, and not "under color of state law" as required for a § 1983 claim. Plaintiff argues evidence of Plaintiffs other traffic stops is necessary to rebut that anticipated testimony.

         The Court has already ruled that Defendant's argument that he did not act under color of state law is "without merit" and that Defendant "obviously acted under color of state law." (Dkt. No. 57 at 5.) That ruling was made in the posture of considering the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. But even considering the facts in the light most favorable to Defendant, it appears uncontested that Defendant, an elected and sworn state officer, identified himself as such at the outset, that he used an official vehicle equipped with blue lights to stop Plaintiff on a public road, and that he brandished a county-issued firearm. Whether Defendant's actions were justified and whether Defendant's actions violated Plaintiffs rights are contested questions, but to say that a state officer who identifies himself as such and who effects a stop using an official vehicle equipped with blue lights and an official-issue weapon does not act under color of state law is wholly without merit.

         The Court rules as a matter of law that Defendant was acting under color of state law during the incident at issue in this case. Thus, there is no need to introduce evidence of other, unrelated incidents to prove that Defendant acted under color of state law. Insofar as Plaintiff means to introduce evidence of other traffic stops as prior bad acts by Defendant to prove Defendant acted similarly on the night at issue, Defendant's motion in limine is granted. See Fed. R. Evid. 404(b). If at trial Plaintiff believes that Defendant's testimony has opened the door or that he otherwise has a good faith basis ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.