United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
ORDER AND OPINION
RICHARD MARK GERGEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Defendant's motion to exclude evidence of crimes, wrongs,
or other acts
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 ...