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CHATMAN v. CITY OF JOHNSTOWN

November 14, 2005.

ANTONIO M. CHATMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF JOHNSTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA and OFFICER MICHAEL S. PAGE, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KIM GIBSON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case comes before the Court on Defendants City of Johnstown (hereinafter the "City") and Police Officer Michael S. Page's (hereinafter "Officer Page") (collectively "Defendants") Motion in Limine to Preclude the Testimony of Lisa L. Lazzari, Esquire (Document No. 63). Upon consideration of Defendants' motion, Antonio M. Chatman's (hereinafter "Plaintiff") Response to Defendants' Motion in Limine to Preclude the Testimony of Lisa L. Lazzari, Esquire, and based upon relevant case law, the Court shall grant in part and deny in part the Defendants' motion for the following reasons.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

  The parties in the case sub judice are well aware of the procedural history giving rise to the above-captioned civil action. See Court Memorandum Opinion and Order, dated August 6, 2004 (Document No. 42) which granted summary judgment in favor of both Defendant Page and City of Johnstown on Plaintiff's federal cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983;*fn1 and Court Memorandum Opinion and Order, dated August 31, 2005 (Document No. 58) whereby the Court determined that pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367, the Court would exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the Plaintiff's remaining state law claims against both Defendant Page and the City of Johnstown. Consequently, a jury sitting in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania shall be the ultimate fact-finders for the Plaintiff's following claims: (1) Plaintiff's federal claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") alleging that while acting under color of state law, Defendant Officer Page violated the Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights; (2) Plaintiff's state law claim against Defendant Officer Page for assault and battery; (3) Plaintiff's state law claim against Defendant Officer Page for negligence; and (4) Plaintiff's state claim against the City of Johnstown for negligence pursuant to the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8542, et seq.*fn2

  On September 7, 2005, the Defendant' filed a Motion in Limine to Preclude the Testimony of Lisa L. Lazzari, Esquire (Document No. 63). Thereafter, on October 27, 2005, the Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendants' Motion in Limine to Preclude the Testimony of Lisa L. Lazzari, Esquire (Document No. 70) requesting that the Court grant Plaintiff the opportunity to present Attorney Lazzari as a fact witness and a legal expert.

  The Court observes that in order to address Defendants' motion and Plaintiff's response, the Court must also include relevant facts which occurred prior to the date that the Plaintiff filed the above-captioned civil action on July 19, 2002.

  On October 26, 2001, the Plaintiff entered a plea of guilty in state court to the charges of flight to avoid apprehension and resisting arrest. (Document No. 63). At the change of plea hearing, the Plaintiff was represented by Attorney Lazzari, a member of the Cambria County Public Defender's Office. Id. These charges related to the events that surrounded the Plaintiff's arrest by Officer Page on August 14, 2001 upon which the case sub judice is based. Id.

  On April 19, 2004, the Plaintiff identified Attorney Lazzari as an "expert legal witness" in Plaintiff's Supplemental Pre-Trial Memorandum. (Document No. 30).

  On June 9, 2004, during a status conference the Plaintiff represented to the Court that the Plaintiff intended to call Attorney Lazzari as a fact witness regarding the circumstances surrounding Plaintiff's guilty plea. (Document No. 63). Consequently, the Defendants have filed a Motion in Limine to Preclude the Testimony of Attorney Lazzari. Id.

  DISCUSSION

  The Defendants assert in their motion that the Plaintiff should be barred from eliciting the testimony of Attorney Lazzari. (Document No. 63). Specifically, the Defendants allege that as a matter of judicial estoppel Plaintiff is precluded from asserting an inconsistent position at trial with a position he previously took when he entered a plea of guilt to charges of resisting arrest and flight to avoid apprehension. Id. Defendants also allege that her testimony will likely "confuse the issue, mislead the jury, and waste time". Id.; Federal Rule of Evidence 403.

  In response, the Plaintiff argues that the "purpose of Attorney Lazzari's testimony is to explain why the Plaintiff entered his guilty plea per the incident which led to this civil action." (Document No. 70). The Plaintiff also states that Attorney Lazzari will testify "as a legal expert to explain the grading of certain crimes per the Pennsylvania Crimes Code." Id. Furthermore, the Plaintiff asserts that "[n]one of the issues in the Sec. 1983 claim have been determined in the state criminal proceeding. . . ."; nor has "the Plaintiff taken any action which would justify judicial estoppel of Attorney Lazzari's testimony." Id. In fact, the Plaintiff claims that he "is not taking a position which is inconsistent with an earlier position, nor is the Plaintiff misleading this Court or" the state court. Id. Rather, the Plaintiff indicates that the "impetus of Attorney Lazzari's testimony is the rationale behind the entry of the plaintiff's guilty plea per the criminal charges relating to the incident which resulted in this civil action." Id.

  A. Judicial Estoppel

  The Court observes that the doctrine of judicial estoppel "is an equitable doctrine which precludes a party from assuming a position in a legal proceeding that contradicts or is inconsistent with a previously asserted position." Malascalza v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 1996 WL 159650, *3 (D.Del. 1996) (citing Delgrosso v. Spang & Co., 903 F.2d 234, 241 (3d Cir. 1990)).*fn3 In order to impose the doctrine of judicial estoppel, a district court must find that a party has met the following three requirements:
First, the party to be estopped must have taken two positions that are irreconcilably inconsistent. See Ryan Operations G.P. v. Santiam-Midwest Lumber Co., 81 F.3d 355, 261 (3d Cir. 1996). Second, judicial estoppel is unwarranted unless the party changed his or her position `in bad faith — i.e., with intent to play fast and loose with the court.' Id. Finally, a district court may not employ judicial estoppel unless it is `tailored to address the harm identified' and no lesser ...

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