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Hill v. Lappin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 25, 2019

DAVID E. HILL, Plaintiff,
HARLEY LAPPIN, et al., Defendants.



         I. BACKGROUND

         David E. Hill, a federal inmate, filed this Bivens[1] action alleging that numerous defendants violated his rights by placing him in four-point restraints for approximately 43 hours. (Doc. 1). District Judge Richard P. Conaboy previously granted in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment, but denied that motion as to Defendants B. Bledsoe, Lt. J. Hepner, Lt. M. Saylor, Lt. M. Edinger, and Lt. P. Carrasquilla (collectively “Remaining Defendants”) after concluding that genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether Remaining Defendants' actions were justified by a legitimate penological interest. (Docs. 124, 125).

         Specifically, Judge Conaboy noted that, on the morning Hill was placed in four-point restraints, he had threatened to harm any cell mate with whom he was placed and, as a result of that refusal, was placed in ambulatory restraints. (Doc. 124 at 9-10). Hill agreed to accept a cell mate but, after he was released from ambulatory restraints, again refused a cell mate, threatened staff and other inmates, and allegedly displayed signs of imminent violence. (Id.; Doc. 70 at 12). Videotape of the incident demonstrated that Hill was cooperative, calm, and deliberative, and was placed in restraints without incident or violence. (Doc. 124 at 14-15). Notwithstanding Defendants' allegations that Hill threatened others and displayed signs of imminent violence, Judge Conboy concluded that Hill's indisputably calm and cooperative demeanor undercut Defendants' claims that the use of four-point restraints was necessary, particularly since “this was not an emergency situation, i.e. one where an inmate's behavior was out of control.” (Id. at 15).

         Furthermore, Defendants asserted that, after Hill was placed in four-point restraints, he was uncooperative, agitated, and aggressive, which necessitated the continued use of such restraints for approximately 43 hours from June 22, 2010, until June 24, 2010 (“Relevant Period”). (Doc. 70 at 12-14). However, Judge Conaboy determined that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Hill presented such a threat that he needed to be maintained in four-point restraints for so long with only one bathroom break. (Id. at 17-18; Doc. 124 at 15-16).

         The matter was later assigned to this Court, which denied Hill's motion for summary judgment and scheduled the matter for trial. (Docs. 152, 153). Hill has filed two motions in limine seeking to prevent Remaining Defendants from referencing during trial Hill's: (1) past convictions or facts underlying those convictions; (2) prison misconduct history, including any reference to alleged acts of misconduct or threats made between June 22, 2010, and June 24, 2010, for which Hill was not found guilty; (3) places of incarceration, housing units, or restrictions during confinement; and (4) length of current sentence. (Docs. 161, 162, 171, 172). Hill contends that any such evidence constitutes improper character evidence under Fed.R.Evid. 608(b) and, in any event, should be excluded under Fed.R.Evid. 403. (Doc. 162 at 3).

         Remaining Defendants in turn contend that evidence of Hill's disciplinary history, conduct during the Relevant Period, and placement in the special management unit (“SMU”) are admissible under Rule 404(b)(2). (Doc. 165 at 4-9; Doc. 173 at 3-9). They assert that such evidence “is critical to the issue of the knowledge and intent of Defendants placing and continuing Hill in restraints for a legitimate peneological [sic] interest.” (Doc. 165 at 6; see Id. at 7-9). Remaining Defendants do not contest Hill's other requests, and explicitly state that “are not seeking the introduction of evidence of a conviction.” (Id. at 5-6; Doc. 173 at 6).


         Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)(1) provides that “[e]vidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.” Nevertheless, such evidence “may be admissible for another purpose, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.” Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)(2).

         “Rule 404(b) directs that evidence of prior bad acts be excluded-unless the proponent can demonstrate that the evidence is admissible for a non-propensity purpose.” United States v. Repak, 852 F.3d 230, 240 (3d Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Because Rule 404(b) is a rule of general exclusion, the party seeking to admit other-acts evidence has the burden of demonstrating the evidence's applicability.” Id. at 241 (brackets and internal quotation marks omitted).

Admissibility under Rule 404(b) requires the satisfaction of four distinct steps: (1) the other-acts evidence must be proffered for a non-propensity purpose; (2) that evidence must be relevant to the identified non-propensity purpose; (3) its probative value must not be substantially outweighed by its potential for causing unfair prejudice to the defendant; and (4) if requested, the other-acts evidence must be accompanied by a limiting instruction.


         Remaining Defendants have satisfied the first step by identifying a non-propensity purpose for introducing evidence of Hill's disciplinary hearing and placement in SM U.Specifically, Remaining Defendants seek to introduce such evidence to show their states of mind regarding their perception of Hill's threat level and the measures needed to restrain Hill in order to protect themselves and other inmates. (Doc. 165 at 6-7). “‘State of mind' or ‘mental state” is not one of the enumerated exceptions to the general rule of exclusion of other-act evidence, but nonetheless is a permissible non-propensity purpose.” Collins v. Bledsoe, No. 3:12-CV-2244, 2018 WL 6617693, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 18, 2018).

         With regard to the second step, Remaining Defendants must demonstrate that the “proffered evidence . . . fit[s] into a chain of inferences-a chain that connects the evidence to a proper purpose, no link of which is a forbidden propensity inference.” Repak, 852 F.3d at 243 (internal quotation marks omitted). ‚ÄúThis chain must be articulated with careful precision because, even when a non-propensity purpose is at issue in a case, the evidence offered may be ...

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