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Spencer v. Proce

May 10, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

(Magistrate Judge Carlson)



In this civil action, Plaintiff Ravanna Spencer has brought claims against a number of Defendants, current and former employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, alleging that his rights under the Eighth Amendment were violated during his forcible extraction from his cell in the Special Management Unit ("SMU") at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill ("SCI-Camp Hill") on May 13, 2006. Now pending before the Court is a motion in limine filed by Plaintiff, Ravanna Spencer. (Doc. 148.) In the motion Plaintiff seeks the entry of an order: (1) prohibiting Defendants from introducing evidence of his past arrests and convictions for various crimes; (2) prohibiting Defendants from offering testimony or other evidence regarding Plaintiff's prior cell extractions, or cell extractions that have occurred subsequent to the extraction on May 13, 2006; and, (3) permitting testimony from Bret Gote, an investigator with the Human Rights Coalition, who has collected information on a variety of complaints that inmates have allegedly made about the SMU at SCI-Camp Hill.

Defendants have filed a brief in response to Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. 156.) With respect to Plaintiff's concerns about a jury hearing testimony about his criminal history and convictions, Defendants note that they do not intend to introduce evidence regarding Plaintiff's prior arrests and convictions, unless Plaintiff opens the door for such evidence to be introduced by testifying about his own criminal background. Defendants object to the remainder of the relief sought in Plaintiff's motion in limine.

Upon consideration of the relief sought in the motion, the briefs filed in support of and opposition to the motion, and after addressing the motion with the parties during a pre-trial conference held on May 3, 2010, we find that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.


A. Evidence Regarding Cell Extractions Involving Plaintiff

Plaintiff contends that the Court should prohibit Defendants from introducing any evidence regarding other forcible extraction procedures that they have used to remove him from his prison cell before or after the May 13, 2006 incident at issue in this case because "the danger of unfair prejudice outweighs the probative value of this evidence" under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. (Doc. 149, at 4.) Defendants object, noting that under Rule 403, only evidence the probative value of which is "substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice" may be excluded. (Doc. 156, at 3.) Defendants further argue that evidence of other cell extractions is not prejudicial to Plaintiff in any way, and, therefore, urge the Court to permit the introduction of such evidence.

a. Cell Extractions Prior to May 13, 2006

Plaintiff concedes that he has been subjected to cell extractions on occasions other than the one that inspired this lawsuit, though he claims to be unable to remember the dates on which these cell extractions occurred. In urging the Court to bar the introduction of any evidence regarding these prior cell extractions, Plaintiff speculates that if jurors are permitted to learn that he has been involved in multiple cell extractions, they may simply conclude that he "is a troublemaker who 'got what he deserved' during the extraction at issue." (Doc. 149, at 4.)

In contrast, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's prior cell extractions have clear relevance to this suit because they may be used to show how Plaintiff performed during prior extractions, and to demonstrate that the precautions claimed to have been taken during the May 13 extraction were undertaken in order to maintain discipline during a repeat of a situation in which Plaintiff has shown a propensity for violence in the past. Defendants also note that this evidence of prior extractions may be relevant and probative to explain the individual Defendants' states of mind during the extraction, and the danger faced by corrections officers charged with extracting this particular individual from a cell, while having to make snap judgments on how to react to Plaintiff's conduct. Moreover, Defendants note that during his deposition in this case, Plaintiff testified that the May 13, 2006 cell extraction was the first time he was forcibly removed from a prison cell while housed at SCI-Camp Hill. Defendants note that this sworn representation is, in fact, not true, and evidence regarding Plaintiff's prior cell extractions could be used to impeach his testimony on this point.

Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that:

Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste ...

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