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Eric Lyons v. Jeffrey Beard

July 21, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Carlson


I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

In this action, Plaintiff Eric Lyons has sued past and present employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill ("SCI-Camp Hill"). Plaintiff alleges that in May and June of 2006, certain correctional officers actively solicited inmates within the Special Management Unit ("SMU") at SCI-Camp Hill to assault him, and that other correctional supervisors ignored Lyons when he warned them that the officers they supervised were planning to have him attacked.

Plaintiff also claims that on June 19, 2006, while Lyons was housed in the SMU at SCI-Camp Hill, he engaged in a fight with another SMU inmate, Anthony Boyking. Plaintiff has alleged that Boyking initiated a fight with him after being urged to do so by correctional officers. Plaintiff further contends that certain of the defendants failed to intervene or stop the fight until Boyking yelled for help, and that once they intervened, these Defendants used excessive force in subduing Lyons. Lyons claims to have suffered physical injuries as a result of both the fight with Lyons and Defendants' alleged use of excessive force. Plaintiff brought this lawsuit claiming that these alleged actions violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. A jury trial in this case is scheduled to commence on August 8, 2011.

Now pending in the above-captioned action is a motion in limine in which Defendants request entry of an order precluding Plaintiff from seeking to introduce certain evidence at trial. (Doc. 149.) First, Defendants seek a pretrial order preventing Plaintiff from offering his own lay opinion testimony about physical symptoms that he claims to have suffered as a result of the June 19, 2006 affray, and about the result of x-rays and other medical diagnoses that require expert testimony. Second, Defendants argue that Plaintiff should be precluded from introducing testimony from inmate-witnesses who expects to testify about other wrongs that Defendants allegedly committed within the SMU that are unrelated to the events of June 19, 2006. The motion is now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

Upon consideration, and for the reasons that follow, we will grant Defendants' motion to prevent Plaintiff from offering his own lay testimony about his x-ray results or about physical symptoms that he claims were caused by Defendants. We will also grant Defendants' motion to exclude testimony of other inmate witnesses about other wrongs that Defendants allegedly committed within the SMU that are entirely unrelated to the events of June 19, 2006. We will, however, offer Plaintiff one final opportunity to submit a proffer in advance of trial that clearly explains the relevance and admissibility of inmate-witness testimony about events unrelated to those occurring on June 19, 2006.*fn1

II. Discussion

A. Motion to Preclude Plaintiff From Testifying at Trial Regarding X-Rays or About Medical Diagnoses that Would Require Expert Testimony.

In the first part of their motion, Defendants seek to prevent Plaintiff from testifying and presenting x-ray evidence about his alleged injuries, and his allegation that his fractured rib healed improperly, without the aid of expert testimony. In addition, Defendants ask that Plaintiff be prevented from offering testimony that he is still experiencing symptoms caused by the fight with Boyking five years after the incident took place.

As a legal basis for excluding Plaintiff's testimony, Defendants observe that Rule 701 of the Federal Rules of Evidence places strict limits on the scope of opinion testimony that may be given by lay witnesses, and the opinion testimony that Plaintiff seeks to introduce concerns medical issues about which Plaintiff is incompetent to testify. In addition, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's admission that he seeks to testify about what a physician told him about his x-rays and injuries is a clear indication that Plaintiff intends to introduce hearsay evidence, and this should be disallowed.

Rule 701 provides as follows:

If the witness is not testifying as an expert, the witness' testimony in the form of opinions or inferences is limited to those opinions or inferences which are (a) rationally based on the perception of the witness, (b) helpful to a clear understanding of the witness' testimony or the determination of a fact in issue, and (c) not based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 701. In this case, Defendants base their objection on subpart (c) of the Rule, and contend that Plaintiff -- who has not been qualified as an expert in this case -- improperly seeks to offer his own testimony and opinion about x-ray films and medical issues about which he is not qualified to offer an opinion. Defendants note that courts have disallowed lay individuals from offering medical opinion testimony about their own conditions. See Chappell v. Mandeville, No. 03-653, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26782, at * (E.D. Cal. Mar. 31, 2009) (finding that plaintiff's lay opinion testimony about the findings of an x-ray was not competent to create a material dispute about the inconclusiveness of the x-ray); Mattioli v. Media News Group, No. 97-4846, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14510, at *4 n.1 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 8, 1999) (plaintiff not competent to testify about cause of his stroke). See also Layton v. Yankee Caithness Joint Venture, L.P., 774 F. Supp. 576 (D. Nev. 1991) ("Where a fact issue as to the cause of an injury can be established only by men skilled in medical science, it must be established by the testimony of such men. . . . Simply put, where a question of fact is beyond the comprehension of the ordinary lay person, expert testimony is required to prove that fact.").

In response, Plaintiff observes that there is no dispute between the parties that he did, in fact, suffer a broken rib during his fight with Boyking. Accordingly, Plaintiff contends that the only disputed issue is whether Defendants are responsible for the injury he suffered, or whether they caused it directly through the ...

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