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Zimmerman v. Schaeffer

December 16, 2009

DUSTIN ZIMMERMAN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS
v.
CRAIG SCHAEFFER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is Defendants' motion for severance and separate trials, (Doc. 130), and twelve motions in limine, (Docs. 118, 120, 122, 124, 126, 128, 132, 134, 136, 138, 140), filed by both Plaintiffs and Defendants in this case. The issues have been fully briefed and are ready for disposition. The court will address each motion individually.

I. Background

The parties are intimately familiar with the facts of this case which have been fully outlined in the court's summary judgment memorandum issued on August 17, 2009. (Doc. 116.) Thus, only the facts pertinent to each motion will be discussed as necessary.

A. Defendants' Motion for Severance and Separate Trials

1. Procedural History

On November 10, 2009, Defendants filed a motion for severance and separate trials for each Plaintiff in this case. (Doc. 130.) On November 20, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a brief in opposition to this motion. On November 25, 2009, Defendants filed a reply brief. For the reasons that follow Defendants' motion will be denied.

2. Relevant Facts

These claims arise out of four instances of alleged misconduct by Defendants against five Plaintiffs.

The first instance occurs on September 11, 2005, and involves allegationsby Plaintiff Zimmerman that Lieutenants Weaver, Chambers and Kearns, and Correction Officers ("COs") Taylor,*fn1 Bilger, and Shaeffer used excessive force in removing him from his cell and later restraining him. Zimmerman also brought these claims against Warden Zook and the Mifflin County Correctional Facility ("MCCF"). The second instance occurs on November 8, 2005, when Plaintiffs Searer and Herb allege Lieutenants Weaver, Chambers and Kearns, and COs Bilger and Shaeffer used excessive force in restraining them after an incident which occurred in their cell. These claims have also been brought against Warden Zook and MCCF. The third instance occurred on March 5, 2007, where Plaintiff Burns alleges excessive force claims against Lieutenant Kearns and CO Shaeffer. These claims have also been brought against Warden Zook and MCCF. The last instance occurs on March 16, 2007, where Plaintiff Sassaman alleges excessive force claims against Lieutenants Weaver and Kearns after he was removed from his cell and restrained. These claims have also been brought against Warden Zook and MCCF.

3. Discussion

Under Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[p]ersons may join in one action as plaintiffs if . . . they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of occurrences; and any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action." Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 21(a). In the Third Circuit, "joinder of claims, parties and remedies is strongly encouraged." Hagan v. Rogers, 570 F.3d 146, 153 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting United Mine Workers of Am. v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715 (1966)).

Here, the claims against Defendants are all the same. Namely, that Defendants used excessive force, and had a pattern and practice of using excessive force, against Plaintiffs. In addition, the Defendants are the same. Granted, in certain instances different Defendants were present, but generally all of the claims are against the same set of Defendants. Finally, the claims in this case all arise out of the same series of transactions and occurrences. All the claims arise from a twenty-month period when Defendants were employed by Mifflin County Correctional Facility and in charge of Plaintiffs.

Judicial economy also warrants the continued joinder of these claims. Not only are the claims for relief asserted jointly and severally, arise out of the same set of transactions or occurrences and involve similar questions of fact and law, but the economic impact of severance is very high. Severance would require the imposition of four separate trials, requiring four separate juries, but with almost the exact same set of witnesses at each.

The court disagrees with Defendants' contention that a jury will be confused by the issues, especially in light of the fact that the issues in this case are identical- that Defendants used excessive force and had a pattern and practice of using excessive force, against Plaintiffs. In addition, the court does not believe that Defendants will be unduly prejudiced by the continued joinder of the parties. If anything, Defendants may benefit by being able to establish that Plaintiffs engaged in continued and unabated reckless behavior requiring heightened action by Defendants.

Furthermore, to ensure that the jury will not be confused the court will allow notes to be taken during trial. In addition, a chart may be created outlining for the jury which specific claims relate to which Plaintiff and Defendant on each of the dates in question and other information the court approves of that might be helpful for the jury.

For the above reasons, Defendants' motion for severance and separate trials, (Doc. 130), will be denied.

B. Defendants' Motion in Limine to Preclude Testimony and/or Evidence Relating to Dissimilar Complaints Against and Evaluations of Brian Taylor not Involving Unconstitutional Force or not Otherwise Related to Plaintiffs' Claims

1. Procedural History

On November 10, 2009, Defendants filed a Motion in Limine to exclude certain evidence relating to CO Taylor. (Doc. 118.) Plaintiffs filed an opposition brief on November 20, 2009. No reply brief was filed. For the reasons that follow the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

2. Relevant Facts

CO Taylor was originally a party in this case and was involved in Plaintiff Zimmerman's cell extraction and later restraint. Once Zimmerman had been restrained, CO Taylor used an Electronic Body Immobilizing Device ("EBID") on Zimmerman. Taylor was terminated and later criminally prosecuted for his misconduct. Zimmerman alleges that Warden Zook and MCCF are responsible for Taylor's actions because they knew of Taylor's propensity for violence due to certain aspects of his employment history.*fn2 Taylor has since been dismissed from this case and is expected to testify on Plaintiffs' behalf.

3. Discussion

The court concludes that evidence relevant to the issue of Warden Zook and MCCF's knowledge of Taylor's propensity to use force or the prison's management system generally will be admissible. Other evidence relating to CO Taylor will not be permitted.

Evidence is admissible in a case if it is relevant. Fed. R. Evid. 402. Relevant evidence is any "evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Fed. R. Evid. 401. In order to prove Monell liability of MCCF, Plaintiffs must show "a direct causal link between a . . . policy or custom [of MCCF] and the alleged constitutional deprivation." City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989).

In this case, evidence showing Warden Zook and/or MCCF knew of Taylor's propensity for violence may be relevant to prove liability. In addition, evidence showing the general management of MCCF condoned violent behavior may be relevant to show liability. Evidence showing Warden Zook and/or MCCF had a policy of custom which condoned unconstitutionally use of force will be admissible. However, evidence of Taylor's interactions with female inmates, or Taylor's general character (i.e. poor communication skills), is not relevant to either Warden Zook's or MCCF's liability and will not be admitted. The court will grant Defendants' motion in this limited regard.

C. Defendants' Motion in Limine to Preclude the use or Admission of Plaintiffs' Captioned Extraction Video and Accompanying Transcript

1. Procedural History

On November 10, 2009, Defendants filed a Motion in Limine, and supporting brief, to exclude the captioning and transcript of video of events which took place on September 11, 2005. (Doc. 132.) Plaintiffs filed an opposition brief on November 20, 2009. Defendants filed a reply brief on November 25, 2009. For the reasons that follow the motion will be granted.

2. Relevant Facts

On September 11, 2005, Plaintiff Zimmerman and his cell mate were causing a disturbance, an extraction team was assembled to remove them from their cell. (Br. in Supp. Mot. in Limine, Doc. 133, at 4.) Per MCCF policy, a videotape was set up to record Plaintiff Zimmerman's behavior prior to the extraction and the extraction itself. (Id.) This videotape was produced during discovery. Plaintiffs have provided the court with a captioned version of the videotape as well as with a transcript. No affidavit or declaration was attached outlining who made the caption of transcript or that they are true and accurate.

3. Discussion

In this case, the original un-captioned video is the best evidence regarding the incidents that occurred on September 11, 2005. Although at times the sound quality is not the best, the video plainly depicts what took place on the date in question. Although Plaintiffs' captioned interpretation of the events may be useful to a jury, the jurors themselves can glean what they would like from the video. Furthermore, the video will be admitted in to evidence and will be available to the jury during deliberations. If there is something unclear, the jury will be able to replay the video at their convenience. Defendants' motion on this issue will be granted.

D. Defendants' Motion in Limine to Limit the Reports and Opinions of Plaintiffs' Expert Kathleen M. Young, M.D.

1. Procedural History

On November 10, 2009, Defendants filed a Motion in Limine, and supporting brief, to limit the testimony of one of Plaintiffs' experts. (Doc. 126.) Plaintiffs filed an opposition brief on November 20, 2009. No reply brief was ...


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