Maria F Ruvalcaba et al v. City of Los Angeles et al

Filing 91

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION IN LIMINE NO. 1 41 in its entirety by Judge Otis D. Wright, II. (lom)

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O 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 United States District Court Central District of California 8 9 10 11 MARIA F. RUVALCABA; S.I.D.L.; 12 D.A.D.L.; ESTATE OF MARIA DEL 13 CARMEN RUVALCABA, Case № 2:12-cv-06683-ODW(MANx) Plaintiffs, 14 15 ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION IN LIMINE NO. 1 [41] v. 16 CITY OF LOS ANGELES; CHIEF 17 CHARLIE BECK; ANTHONY 18 BONNER; EUNICE SOTO; FERNANDO 19 ORTEGA; BRAXTON SHAW; DOES 5– 20 10, inclusive, 21 Defendants. 22 The Court indicated at the pretrial conference that it intended to grant Plaintiffs’ 23 Motion in Limine No. 1 to exclude certain items of evidence that were unknown to 24 Defendants at the time of the incident. (ECF No. 41.) Plaintiffs rebriefed the issues. 25 (ECF No. 88.) Having reviewed the supplemental briefing and Defendants’ original 26 opposition, the Court hews to its original decision to GRANT the Motion. 27 Plaintiffs seek to exclude various pieces of evidence that Defendant Fernando 28 Ortega, the officer who shot decedent Maria del Carmen Ruvalcaba, including the 1 decedent’s criminal history, 911 call, alleged attack by the decedent on Los Angeles 2 County Fire personnel, decedent’s breaking of a window, decedent’s toxicology 3 results, and family criminal history. 4 irrelevant since Officer Ortega testified that he did not know about it before shooting 5 the decedent. They argue that this information is legally 6 But Defendants oppose the Motion, asserting that the information in question is 7 necessary to support Officer Ortega’s version of events, such as the decedent’s 8 demeanor and conduct before the shooting. They posit that since the information 9 tends to support their position that the decedent was belligerent with the officers prior 10 to being shot, hearing this evidence would lend support to Officer Ortega’s testimony. 11 They also cite several Ninth Circuit and district court opinions, which they contend 12 support their position regarding this corroborating evidence. 13 The Court agrees with Plaintiffs that this information is irrelevant. While 14 Federal Rule of Evidence 401 generally provides that evidence is relevant if “it has 15 any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the 16 evidence,” the fact must be “of consequence in determining the action.” Fed. R. 17 Evid. 401(a), (b). 18 reasonable for Officer Ortega to use deadly force against the decedent—that is, 19 whether the decedent threatened the officers with a weapon and “pose[d] an 20 immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others.” Tennessee v. Garner, 471 21 U.S. 1, 11 (1985); Smith v. City of Hemet, 394 F.3d 689, 701 (9th Cir. 2005). In 22 determining the reasonableness of an officer’s conduct, “the question is whether the 23 officers’ actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the facts and circumstances 24 confronting them.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). The relevant legal issue is whether it was constitutionally 25 As Plaintiffs have noted, Ninth Circuit case law appears to be inconsistent on 26 whether information not known to an officer is admissible to support the officer’s 27 version of the events. In Boyd v. City and County of San Francisco, 576 F.3d 938 (9th 28 Cir. 2009), the court considered whether it was proper to admit evidence unknown to 2 1 an officer at the time the officer shot the decedent. The court concluded that in “a 2 case such as this, where what the officer perceived just prior to the use of force is in 3 dispute, evidence that may support one version of events over another is relevant and 4 admissible.” Id. at 944. In coming to this holding, the court cited to a footnote in 5 Graham, in which the Supreme Court stated in relevant part, “Of course, in assessing 6 the credibility of an officer’s account of the circumstances that prompted the use of 7 force, a factfinder may consider, along with other factors, evidence that the officer 8 may have harbored ill-will toward the citizen.” 490 U.S. at 399 n.12. But the Ninth 9 Circuit construed this passage as “indicating that a factfinder may consider outside 10 evidence ‘in assessing the credibility of an officer’s account of the circumstances that 11 prompted the use of force.’” Boyd, 576 F.3d at 944. 12 But in later cases, the Ninth Circuit retreated from this broad interpretation of 13 the Graham footnote. See, e.g., Hayes v. Cnty. of San Diego, 736 F.3d 1223, 1232-33 14 (9th Cir. 2013) (“[W]e can only consider the circumstances of which [the officers] 15 were aware when they employed deadly force. . . . Accordingly, when analyzing the 16 objective reasonableness of the officers’ conduct under Graham, we cannot consider 17 the fact that [the decedent] was intoxicated or that he had previously used a knife in 18 harming himself.”); Glenn v. Wash. Cnty., 673 F.3d 864, 873 n.8 (9th Cir. 2011) (“We 19 cannot consider evidence of which the officers were unaware—the prohibition against 20 evaluating officers’ actions ‘with the 20/20 vision of hindsight’ cuts both ways.” 21 (citing Graham)). It is therefore apparent that the Ninth Circuit has clarified its 22 position on unknown, preshooting knowledge, holding that it is inadmissible to 23 establish the reasonableness of an officer’s conduct. 24 Officer Ortega testified at his deposition that he had not heard the 911 call prior 25 to confronting the decedent and was not told about the alleged attack on Los Angeles 26 County Fire personnel. In fact, he did not know of “any information of any specific 27 act of violence” by the decedent prior to interacting with her. Moreover, he could not 28 possibly have known about her toxicology results before she died. Thus, under Hayes 3 1 and Glenn—the latest word from the Ninth Circuit—the Court must exclude this 2 information as irrelevant to the reasonableness of Officer Ortega’s conduct. 3 The Court similarly finds that Plaintiff Maria F. Ruvalcaba’s immigration status 4 is irrelevant, as it does not bear upon any legal issue involved in the case or her 5 credibility. Additionally, any potential witnesses’ criminal history over 10 years old 6 and unrelated to crimes involving moral turpitude is also irrelevant and inadmissible 7 per Federal Rule of Evidence 609 unless Defendants can demonstrate that its 8 “probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially 9 outweighs its prejudicial effect” when a witness with such a conviction testifies. See 10 11 12 13 Fed. R. Evid. 609(b)(1). The Court accordingly GRANTS Plaintiffs’ Motion in Limine No. 1 in its entirety. (ECF No. 41.) IT IS SO ORDERED. 14 15 September 8, 2014 16 17 18 19 ____________________________________ OTIS D. WRIGHT, II UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 4

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