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Leonard Bridges v. Mark O'hearn (Individually and As A Police Officer For Ashland Borough

January 20, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Before the court for disposition are motions in limine filed by both Plaintiff Leonard Bridges and Defendant Mark O'Hearn. The motions are fully briefed and ripe for disposition.


Plaintiff suffers from an array of medical problems and is totally disabled due to diabetes, heart problems, end stage renal disease and kidney failure. (Doc. 30-3, Pl. Dep. at 41-42). He and his fiancee, Laurie Grose, have leased and lived in the same residence since July 2008. (Doc. 29, Def. Stmt. of Mat. Facts ("SOF") ¶ 4).*fn1 Grose works as an in-home caretaker for plaintiff through the Anthracite Regional Center for Independent Living, an area independent living company. (Id. ¶ 5).

On September 30, 2009, a dispute arose between Grose and plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 7-9). Grose called 911 to report that plaintiff had a sledgehammer and a butcher knife and that he was going to damage her car and smash her toes. (Id. ¶ 15). Defendant Mark O'Hearn, a patrolman with the Ashland Borough Police Department, reported to the residence. (Id. ¶ 16). When he arrived, O'Hearn drew his service weapon and ordered plaintiff to lay face down on the ground and relinquish the sledgehammer and butcher knife. (Id. ¶ 18). O'Hearn arrested plaintiff. Grose told O'Hearn that plaintiff's left arm had restrictive movement; thus, O'Hearn handcuffed plaintiff in front with two sets of handcuffs linked together instead of cuffing him behind his back with one set of handcuffs. (Id. ¶ 19). After the police arrested and processed plaintiff, they allowed him to return to Grose. (O'Hearn Dep. at 29).

On the next day, plaintiff and Grose had another dispute. (SOF ¶ 22). Plaintiff struck Grose in the hip and leg area with a metal cane. (Id. ¶ ¶ 23-25). Then plaintiff himself called the police. (Id. ¶ 26). When the police arrived, Hearn proceeded to plaintiff's bedroom where he was receiving kidney dialysis. (O'Hearn Dep. at 49). Plaintiff had not taken his prescribed anti-depressant medication on that day or the day before. (SOF ¶ 32). He screamed at O'Hearn and Grose who repeatedly asked him to calm down. (Id. ¶ 35). The parties dispute what happened next. Defendants claim that plaintiff swung his fist at Defendant O'Hearn. (SOF ¶ 38). Plaintiff claims that he never attacked O'Hearn and that such an act would have been impossible while he was hooked to the dialysis machine. (Pl. Cntrstmt. of Mat. Facts ("CSOF") ¶ 39). Defendants indicate that O'Hearn then informed plaintiff the he was under arrest and injured his arm will trying to handcuff him. (SOF ¶¶ 40-41). Plaintiff maintains that O'Hearn never advised plaintiff that he was under arrest and never tried to handcuff him. (CSOF ¶ 39). Rather, according to plaintiff, O'Hearn grabbed him from behind and twisted his arm up behind his head until the arm bones snapped and cracked. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that O'Hearn intentionally broke his arm. (Id. ¶ 40).

Based upon these facts, the plaintiff instituted the instant case by filing a complaint on May 19, 2010. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on July 21, 2010, which asserts three causes of action. (Doc. 6). Count 1 is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and for violation of the plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. (Doc. 6). He asserts that the excessive and unreasonable force used by Defendant O'Hearn constituted an unreasonable search and seizure. Count II asserts a state law cause of action for assault and Count III alleges a state law cause of action for battery. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and attorneys' fees. He also seeks punitive damages on Counts II and III.

The court granted summary judgment to the Ashland Borough, and scheduled a pretrial conference. In advance of the pretrial conference, both parties filed motions in limine. The motions have been fully briefed, bringing the case to its present posture.


As this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Standard of review

Both parties seek to preclusion of certain evidence. Generally, "[a]ll relevant evidence is admissible" except as otherwise provided by law. FED. R. EVID. 402. "Evidence which is not relevant is not admissible." Id. "Relevant evidence" is defined as "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. 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 of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence." FED. R. EVID. 403.

We will discuss the motion filed by plaintiff and the motion filed by the defendant separately.

I. Plaintiff's motion in limine

Plaintiff's motion in limine raises ten issues, discussed in seriatim as follows:

1. Settlement demand/offer

Plaintiff seeks to preclude evidence of any settlement demand and/or offers made either prior to or during the trial. Rule 408 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that such evidence is not admissible "when offered to prove liability for, invalidity of, or amount of a claim that was dispute as to validity or amount, or to impeach through a prior inconsistent statement or contradiction[.]"

Defendant agrees that such evidence is sometimes inadmissible. However, defendant argues that the evidence may be used for purposes that are not prohibited. For example it may be presented to "prov[e] a witness's bias or prejudice; [or] negat[e] a contention of undue delay[.]" FED. R. EVID. 408(b). Thus defendant argues it is premature to preclude the evidence. Defendant argues that the court should wait until trial and determine at that time if the evidence is presented for a proper purpose or not.

We will grant the plaintiff's motion. Such evidence is generally not admissible, and defendant has made no argument regarding why it should be admissible in the instant case. At this stage of the proceedings, merely weeks before trial, the defendant should know what evidence it seeks to admit and the purpose for admitting the evidence. We will not deny the motion simply on the basis that it may for some vague reason be admissible at the time of trial.

2. Punitive damages

Plaintiff seeks to preclude any argument that he must prove that the defendant acted "intentionally" or with "evil motive" to establish punitive damages. Defendant argues that these are elements of the punitive standard in Pennsylvania and plaintiff's motion should be denied.

The plaintiff's motion will be denied. The court will instruct the jury on the law of punitive damages pursuant to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals standard jury instruction with regard to punitive damages and section 1983. This model charge provides as follows:

In addition to compensatory or nominal damages, you may consider awarding [plaintiff] punitive damages. A jury may award punitive damages to punish a defendant, or to deter the defendant and others like the defendant from committing such conduct in the future. [Where appropriate, the jury may award punitive damages even if the ...

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