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Porter v. King

February 12, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer


Pending before the Court are several motions in limine filed by the parties in this action. The Court will address each, in turn.

1. Docket No. 123 - Defendants' Motion in Limine In this Motion, Defendants seek to preclude Plaintiff from admitting certain evidence at trial, including the testimony of witnesses and specified exhibits. (Docket No. 123). Subsequent to the filing of this motion, the parties entered into a series of stipulations which in large part resolve the issues raised in Defendants' motion. (Docket No. 136). The remaining issues have been further resolved in part by way of Plaintiff's response to said motion indicating that he did not object to same. (Docket No. 137). Accordingly, to the extent that the motion has been resolved by the parties, the Court orders that the parties are bound by their stipulations and/or representations and the motion is denied, as moot. However, several matters set forth in Defendants' motion appear to remain unresolved by the parties' stipulations. Accordingly, the Court will now address them.

With respect to Plaintiff's proposed Exhibit 23, a handwritten document drafted by Plaintiff and dated October 20, 2002, Defendant argues that the matters contained therein are not relevant and should be excluded at trial under Rules 401, 402 and 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. (Docket No. 123 at ¶¶ 18-21). Plaintiff has agreed that portions of this exhibit are not relevant (Docket No. 136 at ¶ 4(c)(1)-(2)) but argues that certain passages address the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident in question, including what appears to be a timeline of events. (Docket No. 137 at ¶¶ 24-28).

Defendants also object to the admission of Plaintiff's proposed exhibit 27, a declaration signed by David Serrano and dated December 28, 2006. (Docket No. 123). Defendants have withdrawn their objection to David Serrano's testimony at trial, (Docket No. 136), but it appears that they continue to object to the admission of this declaration based on relevance as the declaration was written four years after the incident in question took place (Docket No. 123). In response, Plaintiff maintains that the statements contained in this declaration are relevant to the instant matter. (Docket No. 137).

Finally, Defendants object to Plaintiff's proposed exhibit 31, described as a "mish-mash of Plaintiff's inmate records" arguing that the documents are not related to Plaintiff's claims and, therefore, are not relevant to this matter. (Docket No. 123 at ¶¶ 31-33). In response, Plaintiff's counsel maintains that she is in the process of verifying the contents of this exhibit with Plaintiff to determine which of these documents are relevant. (Docket No. 128). As a result, Plaintiff requests that proposed exhibit 31 not be precluded from admission at trial at this time.

In resolving Defendants' objections, the Court is mindful that this matter is set for a bench trial. It has been held that:

Rule 403 has no logical application to bench trials. Excluding relevant evidence in a bench trial because it is cumulative or a waste of time is clearly a proper exercise of the judge's power, but excluding relevant evidence on the basis of 'unfair prejudice' is a useless procedure. Rule 403 assumes a trial judge is able to discern and weigh the improper inferences that a jury might draw from certain evidence, and then balance those improprieties against probative value and necessity. Certainly, in a bench trial, the same judge can also exclude those improper inferences from [her] mind in reaching a decision.

I.B.E.W. Local Union 380 Pension Fund v. Buck Consultants et al., Civ. A. No. 03-4932, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43435, at *9-10 (E.D.Pa. June 3, 2008)(quoting Gulf States Utils. Co. v. Ecodyne Corp., 635 F.2d 517, 519 (5th Cir. 1981)). Moreover, a leading treatise explains that:

[i]n non-jury cases the district court can commit reversible error by excluding evidence but it is almost impossible for it to do so by admitting evidence. The appellate court will disregard the inadmissible evidence and hold that its admission was harmless if there was competent evidence to sustain the findings of the court. 11 Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice & Procedure § 2885 (2008); see also Martin v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 240 F.3d 223, 235 (3d Cir. 2001)(exclusion of evidence in bench trial reviewed by the Court of Appeals under harmless error standard of FED.R.CIV.P. 61).

Given that this matter is set for a bench trial, and upon consideration of the parties' submissions, Defendants' motion [123] is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. Specifically, the Court finds the following:

a. Defendants' motion to preclude proposed exhibit 23 is denied, and the Court will admit a redacted version of the letter according to the parties' stipulations;

b. Defendants' motion to preclude proposed exhibit 27 is denied; and

c. Defendants' motion to preclude proposed exhibit 31 is granted, without prejudice to Plaintiff presenting any documents contained therein which are relevant to this proceeding. The Court will not conduct its own review to determine which of the documents are relevant. Accordingly, Plaintiff shall determine which of the documents contained in exhibit 31 are relevant and submit same to Defendants for their review. The parties are then ordered to meet and confer in an effort to reach agreement on any remaining exhibits prior to the Court's scheduled Pretrial Conference on Friday, February 13, 2009 at 1:00 p.m. The parties ...

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