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Gaillard v. City of Satsuma

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

October 29, 2014

WINSTON GAILLARD, etc., Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SATSUMA, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

WILLIAM H. STEELE, Chief District Judge.

This action is before the Court on the plaintiff's motion in limine. (Doc. 83). The defendant has filed a response, (Doc. 90), and the motion is ripe for resolution.

I. Criminal Charges and/or Convictions.

The plaintiff invokes Rules 404(b) and 403 to preclude evidence that his decedent had one or more prior criminal convictions and had pending charges at the time of his death. (Doc. 83 at 1). The defendant asserts he does not seek to introduce this evidence in order to show the decedent's bad character. (Doc. 90 at 1).

The defendant points out that the plaintiff has indicated he will argue that the defendant violated the standards for vehicle pursuit and that such conduct is part of the wrongdoing for which punitive damages should be awarded under his wrongful death claim. (Doc. 90 at 2).[1] The defendant argues that whether, and to what extent, the vehicle pursuit was wrongful or reasonable depends in part on what the pursuing officers knew of the decedent's criminal history. Even though the defendant did not know the decedent's criminal history, he was following other law enforcement officers (including his superior) who were aware of that history. ( Id. at 2-3).

The Court does not know enough about how the plaintiff will present his claim to grant his motion. It may be that the plaintiff will abandon any reliance on irregularities in the vehicle pursuit, or it may be that he will address only perceived deficiencies in the pursuit as to which the decedent's criminal history, and the pursuing officers' awareness of it, are irrelevant. At this point, however, the Court cannot say. Accordingly, the plaintiff's motion is denied, without prejudice to his ability to renew the motion, if and as appropriate, at trial.[2]

II. Present Criminal Conduct.

There is evidence that the decedent was transporting illegal drugs at the time of the vehicle pursuit and that the pursuit was in response to this information. The plaintiff argues that evidence the decedent was transporting drugs should be excluded under Rule 404(b) and because, since he died before charges were brought, they were abated. (Doc. 83 at 1-2).

Pending criminal charges may abate when the defendant dies prior to a final conviction, [3] but that principle hardly renders criminal conduct irrelevant to a civil proceeding. And, as the defendant notes, (Doc. 90 at 4), evidence of the decedent's criminal conduct at the time of his death is not offered to prove his character but to "complete the story" of why the chase occurred and why it continued as it did after the decedent abandoned the vehicle. The plaintiff's motion is denied.

III. Testimony Regarding Events.

The plaintiff seeks to exclude witness testimony concerning any of the events depicted on the defendant's car camera, on the grounds that the video "more accurately convey[s]" what occurred than could eyewitness testimony. (Doc. 83 at 2). The plaintiff identifies, and the Court is aware of, no rule that precludes testimony simply because there is additional evidence in the form of video images. He does not invoke Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372 (2007), nor has he shown that the video so conclusively establishes all relevant facts concerning the critical few seconds before impact that no properly functioning jury could credit an eyewitness account.[4] The plaintiff's motion is denied.

IV. Influence of Adrenaline.

The plaintiff argues that defense expert Ken Katsaris is unqualified to render an opinion as to whether the defendant was acting under the influence of adrenaline. (Doc. 83 at 2). The plaintiff has already raised this argument, which the Court has rejected. (Doc. 81 at 4-5). That ruling stands, and Katsaris will be permitted "to testify as to those indicators [of adrenaline-affected driving] and ...


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