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Daniel Delker v. Corrections Officer Blaker

March 1, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Cathy Bissoon


Daniel Delker ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner currently incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Fayette ("SCI-Fayette"), located in LaBelle, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff brings this suit pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging deprivations of his rights under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States stemming from events that took place during his transfer from the State Correctional Institution at Somerset ("SCI-Somerset") to the State Correctional Institution at Greene ("SCI-Greene") on June 24, 2008. Second Am. Compl. (Doc. 35 ¶¶ 1, 10). This suit commenced with this Court's receipt of the initial complaint on June 3, 2009. (Doc. 1). Several of Plaintiff's claims have survived dispositive motions, and a jury trial before the undersigned is scheduled to commence on April 16, 2012. (Doc. 84).

Before this Court are several motions in limine filed by the parties. They will be addressed seriatim.

A.Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude Criminal and Institutional History

Plaintiff argues that evidence relating to his "criminal convictions, misconducts (except for documents related to A828169), and institutional history (specifically, the inmate query summary, his placement on the restricted release list, his status as an escape risk, and DOC Transfer Petition System documents)" should not be allowed at trial.*fn1 (Doc. 87 at 1). Plaintiff asserts that this evidence is irrelevant, and thus inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 402, because it does not have any bearing on whether force was maliciously and sadistically applied by Defendants during the incident on June 24, 2008. (Doc. 88 at 1-2). Plaintiff interprets this evidence as being useful only to show that he has a propensity to act a certain way, which is impermissible under Rule 404. (Doc. 88 at 3). Plaintiff also argues that its admission at trial would be unfairly prejudicial. Id. at 4 (citing Fed. R. Evid. 403). Finally, citing Rules 404 and 609, Plaintiff asserts that evidence of his past criminal conviction and institutional history have no bearing on his credibility in this case, and thus are improper for the purposes of impeachment. (Doc. 88 at 5).

In his response, Defendant Grainey concedes that this motion should be granted to the extent that it would not exclude evidence of Plaintiff's conduct on the transport bus on the date of the incident.*fn2 (Doc. 97 ¶ 1). Defendants Blaker and King, however, oppose excluding this evidence. These Defendants argue that Plaintiff's prior conviction is relevant and probative because it was for murdering a corrections officer, and his institutional history demonstrates Plaintiff's past violent and non-compliant behavior -- which they assert is relevant to determining their state of mind during the use of force on Plaintiff. (Doc. 103 at 1-2). Defendants Blaker and King also posit that the danger of unfair prejudice can be reduced through the use of instructions to the jury.

Under the Eighth Amendment force is deemed legitimate in a custodial setting so long as it is applied "in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline [and not] maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320-21 (1986) (quoting Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028, 1033 (2d Cir. 1973)). Factors to be considered in determining whether an application of force was applied maliciously and sadistically. These include: "(1) 'the need for the application of force;' (2) 'the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used;' (3) 'the extent of the injury inflicted;' (4) 'the extent of the threat to the safety of staff and inmates, as reasonably perceived by responsible officials on the basis of the facts known to them;' and (5) 'any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response.'" Brooks v. Kyler, 204 F.3d 102, 106 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Whitley, 475 U.S. at 321).

Based on this standard, it is clear that Plaintiff's institutional history -- which spans multiple decades -- is not relevant to the events of June 24, 2008. The issue in this case is whether the use of force on the date in question was malicious and sadistic, based on the threat reasonably perceived by Defendants Blaker and King at the time of its application.*fn3 Defendants Blaker and King argue that they had knowledge of Plaintiff's history of disciplinary infractions, and this knowledge formed the basis for their state of mind during their use of force. (Doc. 103 at 3-4). However, even if Defendants did have specific knowledge of Plaintiff's decades-old conviction and institutional history, such knowledge would not render allegations of their malicious intent more or less probable. Plaintiff's conviction and institutional misconducts simply are too remote in time to the incident of June 24, 2008, to have any bearing on this case. Accordingly, the admission of direct evidence relating to these things, "excluding the misconduct written in relation to the incident that occurred on June 24, 2008[,]" will not be allowed, pursuant to Rule 402.

Additionally, there is a significant risk that the admission of Plaintiff's prior criminal conviction would unfairly prejudice his case by arousing outright hostility from a jury. As, Defendants Blaker and King properly state, Plaintiff's murder of a corrections officer 30 years ago is "horrendous[.]" (Doc. 103 at 4). The probability that a jury would base its determination of this case on that act, instead of the merits of Plaintiff's claims, is significant. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that jury instructions would limit that risk appreciably. Moreover, as stated above, the probative value of Plaintiff's decades-old conviction is minimal due to its remoteness in time to the June 24, 2008 incident. Accordingly, Rule 403 provides an alternative reason to exclude this evidence from trial.*fn4

B. Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude Testimony and Exhibits on Defensive Tactics Plaintiff next moves this Court to preclude Defendants from presenting evidence regarding their defensive tactics training. (Doc. 89 at 1). Plaintiff bases his objections on Rules 602, 701, 403, and 401. (Doc. 90 at 2). Defendants Blaker and King oppose this motion. (Doc. 101). Defendant Grainey explicitly takes no position. (Doc. 97 ¶ 2).

Plaintiff argues first that the defensive tactics witnesses should be precluded from testifying because they have no personal knowledge of the events of June 24, 2008, and have not been identified as expert witnesses in Defendants Blaker and King's pretrial statement. (Doc. 90 at 2-3). Defendants Blaker and King concede that these witnesses have not been presented as experts, but argue, instead, that they would provide lay testimony regarding the training that Defendants Blaker and King received, of which they have personal knowledge. (Doc. 101 at 3).

The defensive tactics training actually received by Defendants Blaker and King clearly is relevant to this case, as it implicates factors one, two, and four of the Whitley test.*fn5 To the extent that these witnesses have personal, particularized knowledge of the training that Defendants Blaker and King actually received -- gained, for example, by taking part in a training program alongside these Defendants, or by teaching the same -- their testimony regarding such knowledge would fall within the realm of lay testimony, and will not be excluded. Fed. R. Evid. 602.

However, the same cannot be said of any attempt to present testimony regarding DOC defensive tactics training in general. To the extent that Defendants intend to call these witnesses to present their specialized knowledge of this training, their testimony would be classic expert testimony under Rules 701 and 702. This is especially true to the extent that their testimony would be used to establish the standard of a "reasonably well-trained officer[]."*fn6 (Doc. 101 at 3). As they were not identified as experts, such testimony will not be allowed. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2).

Finally, Plaintiff argues that testimony and exhibits regarding Defendants Blaker and King's training in defensive tactics, elicited from sources other than the testimony of Defendants themselves, is a waste of time, unnecessarily cumulative, and would be confusing to a jury. (Doc. 90 at 5). Thus, they move for its preclusion under Rule 403. Id. at 4. As stated above, evidence of Defendants' defensive tactics training is relevant to the Whitley test. However, given the high number of potential witnesses that Defendants Blaker and King propose to call regarding this issue, this portion of Plaintiff's motion will be denied without prejudice to Plaintiff renewing his Rule 403 objections at trial, should circumstances warrant doing so.*fn7

C. Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude Testimony and Exhibits Pertaining to Plaintiff's Conduct during the Transport from SCI-Somerset to SCI-Greene

In this motion, Plaintiff requests that any evidence pertaining to his behavior during his transport from SCI-Somerset to SCI-Greene on June 24, 2008, be excluded from trial. (Doc. 94 at 1). Plaintiff argues that his conduct on the bus is irrelevant because it occurred prior to the use of force -- which took place after the bus had reached its destination. Id. at 2. Plaintiff also argues that his conduct on the ...

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