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Williams v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 23, 2014

THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et. al., Defendants.


TIMOTHY R. RICE, District Judge.

Defendants, the City of Philadelphia and Police Officer Andre Boyer, seek to exclude evidence pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 402 and 403 of Officer Boyer's alleged prior misconduct.[1] Plaintiff Robert Williams argues the evidence is relevant to demonstrate: (1) the City was deliberately indifferent to Boyer's repeated constitutional violations and that it failed to properly supervise him;[2] and (2) Boyer's absence of mistake, knowledge, plan to violate constitutional rights, and motive to fabricate a basis of probable cause.

I will grant, in part, Defendants' motion. The contested evidence is relevant to Williams' claims against the City, and much of it is offered for a proper purpose against Officer Boyer. See Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). For some of it, however, the risk of unfair prejudice to Officer Boyer, its cumulative nature, or the risk of jury confusion substantially outweighs its probative value. See Fed.R.Evid. 403. I will give the jury a limiting instruction to eliminate any unfair prejudice. See Fed.R.Evid. 105.

I. Factual History[3]

Plaintiff Robert Williams, a.k.a. hip-hop artist "Meek Mill, " alleges that Philadelphia Police Officers Boyer and Alvin Outlaw illegally stopped and detained him on October 31, 2012, causing him to miss an engagement in Atlanta that evening and leading to the loss of other business opportunities that caused him to lose money. He has sued the officers individually, claiming that they falsely claimed to smell marijuana emanating from his vehicle, as well as the City for being deliberately indifferent to a pattern of constitutional violations by Officer Boyer.[4]

II. Legal Standard

Evidence is admissible if it is relevant, i.e. if it tends to make the existence or non-existence of a disputed material fact more probable than it would be without that evidence. See Fed.R.Evid. 401, 402. Evidence of "other crimes, wrongs, or acts" is admissible only for certain purposes unrelated to showing that a person has a particular character trait and acted in accordance with that character trait on a particular occasion. Fed.R.Evid. 404. This includes evidence of both prior and subsequent bad acts. See Ansel v. Green Acres Contracting Co. , 647 F.3d 15, 520 (3d Cir. 2003) (admitting evidence of subsequent bad acts in a civil case). Proper purposes for admitting such other bad acts evidence include motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, and absence of mistake. Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)(2). The moving party, however, must establish a relevant purpose "without an inference that the party against whom it is admitted acted in conformity with whatever the evidence of the prior act says about his or her character." United States v. Smith , 725 F.3d 340, 345 (3d Cir. 2013); accord United States v. Sampson , 980 F.2d 883, 887 (3d Cir. 1992) (evidence's proponent "must clearly articulate how the evidence fits into a chain of logical inferences, no link of which can be the inference that because the [claimant engaged in certain improper activity] before, he is more likely to have [done so again]."). For example, in Smith, the Court reversed the admission of Rule 404(b) evidence because the prior acts evidence required the jury to impermissibly infer that the defendant had a particular character trait when he committed the prior misconduct and had acted in conformity with that character trait in committing the crime at issue. Smith , 725 F.3d at 345-46.

Rule 404(b) is a rule of inclusion, not exclusion. United States v. Givan , 320 F.3d 452, 460 (3d Cir. 2003) ("We favor the admission of evidence of other criminal conduct if such evidence is relevant for any other purpose than to show a mere propensity or disposition on the part of the defendant to commit the crime.'") (quoting United States v. Long , 574 F.2d 761, 765 (3d Cir. 1978)); United States v. Scarfo , 850 F.2d 1015, 1019 (3d Cir. 1988). I may nonetheless exclude relevant 404(b) evidence if the probative value of the evidence is "substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by consideration of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence." Fed.R.Evid. 403.

To be admissible, "(1) the evidence must have a proper purpose under Rule 404(b); (2) it must be relevant under Rule 402; (3) its probative value must outweigh its prejudicial effect under Rule 403; and (4) the court must charge the jury to consider the evidence only for the purpose for which it was admitted." Sampson , 980 F.2d at 886 (citing Huddleston v. United States , 485 U.S. 681, 691-92 (1988)).

III. Discussion

The City concedes that documents and information related to Internal Affairs Division ("IAD") investigation 08-1076 are relevant to Williams' claims against the City. Defs.' Mem. of Law (doc. 31) at 6-7. This investigation found Officer Boyer "continuously and repeatedly placed inaccurate information on official documents in the process of completing marijuana arrests" between 2006 and 2008, and resulted in his discipline. Pl.'s Proposed Trial Ex., Tab. 19 at 6; see also id. at 3; Defs.' Memo. of Law at 7. Because this investigation shows that the City knew about Officer Boyer's misconduct in connection with numerous marijuana arrests over two years, it is probative of Williams' claims that the City failed to properly discipline and supervise Officer Boyer. See Beck, 89 F.3d at 969-70, 973 (other complaints against police officer were relevant to plaintiff's claim that the City had a "custom of acquiescing in the excessive use of force by its police officers"); Fletcher v. O'Donnell , 867 F.2d 791, 793 (3d Cir. 1989) (Monell liability hinges on establishing a "pattern of constitutional violations.").

IAD investigation 08-1076 also is relevant to Williams' claim that Officer Boyer fabricated claims of smelling marijuana to justify a search of Williams' vehicle. Such evidence demonstrates a specific pattern of behavior that could be considered a "plan" and, therefore, absence of mistake on the part of Officer Boyer. Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). Moreover, because the probative value of this evidence is not substantially outweighed by its potential to unfairly prejudice and confuse the jury, see Fed.R.Evid. 403, evidence of the IAD investigation may be admitted.[5]

The following complaints also are relevant to Williams' Monell claim against the City and his claims against Officer Boyer because they show a pattern of similar constitutional violations involving complaints about searches.[6] This evidence supports an inference that Officer Boyer has attempted to justify warrantless searches based on meritless or disputed suspicions of criminal activity. The evidence does not implicate Officer Boyer's propensity to violate the law; rather, it establishes his plan or modus operandi for justifying his actions. Evidence related to the prior complaints against Officer Boyer make it more likely that his actions in this case were taken in conformity with a plan and not isolated mistakes or accidents. Moreover, the probative value of these complaints is not substantially outweighed by their potential to unfairly prejudice and confuse the jury. See Fed.R.Evid. 403. Any risk of unfair prejudice also can be minimized by appropriate limiting instructions. See Fed.R.Evid. 105, 403. The following evidence is admissible against the City and Officer Boyer:

• IAD No. 06-0150 (a March 9, 2006 complaint alleging a car stop made without any legal basis in which all males in the vehicle were ...

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