ROBBINS v. ROBERTSON et al
ORDER denying without prejudice 110 Motion in Limine; granting in part and denying in part 111 Motion in Limine; granting 112 Motion in Limine. Ordered by US DISTRICT JUDGE W LOUIS SANDS on 7/28/2022. (rlw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
WILLIAM ROBERTSON, et al.,
CASE NO.: 7:15-CV-00124 (WLS)
On July 6, 2022, the Court held a Pretrial Conference in this case. At the Pretrial
Conference the Parties were ordered to complete briefing on their respective Motions in
Limine (Docs. 110, 111 & 112) by no later than Monday, July 18, 2022. Accordingly, briefing
has now completed, and the Parties’ Motions are ripe for disposition.
Plaintiff Marquise Robbins, a practicing Muslim, brought this action pro se as a prisoner
on July 2, 2015, alleging that Defendants’ failure to provide him properly prepared and
nutritionally adequate vegan meals violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment, the First
Amendment, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”).
(Doc. 1.) In July 2016, Judge Langstaff issued a Report and Recommendation which, among
other things, recommended granting the Defendants’ motions to dismiss (Docs. 13 & 17)
based on “Plaintiff’s failure to set forth sufficient allegations of constitutional or federal law
violations.” (Doc. 26 at 9.) Plaintiff objected, and this Court overruled Plaintiff’s Objection
and adopted Judge Langstaff’s Recommendation and dismissed this case. (Doc. 29.)
Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Appeal (Doc. 31), and the Eleventh Circuit Court
of Appeals found that the appeal was not frivolous and allowed it to proceed. (Doc. 38.) On
July 23, 2019, the Circuit Court issued an unpublished opinion affirming the denial of
Plaintiff’s second motion to amend, affirming the dismissal of Plaintiff’s RLUIPA damages
claim, instructing this Court to dismiss Plaintiff’s request for an injunction as moot, and
reversing and remanding the dismissal of Plaintiff’s First Amendment and Eighth Amendment
claims. (Doc. 41.)
While the case was on appeal, Plaintiff obtained legal counsel who continue to
represent him in this action.1 After the Circuit Court issued its mandate, this Court entered a
Discovery Order and Protective Order and allowed Plaintiff to file a Third Amended
Complaint seeking damages under RLUIPA based on a Supreme Court decision issued on
December 10, 2020 that allowed a plaintiff to pursue damages against federal officers under
the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (the “RFRA”), Tanzin v. Tanvir, 141 S. Ct. 486 (2020).
(Docs. 62, 64, 73.) Plaintiff now seeks compensatory damages against all Defendants in an
amount to be determined, punitive damages against the individual Defendants in an amount
to be determined, reasonable attorney’s fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, pre-judgment
interest as allowed by law and such other and further relief as the Court demes equitable, just,
and proper to make Plaintiff whole. (Doc. 74.)
On August 16, 2021, Defendants filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc.
78), that has since been resolved.2 (Doc. 99.) Thereafter, a pretrial conference was held on July
6, 2022, and a jury trial is set to begin in this case on August 15, 2022.
A. Motions in Limine are Disfavored and Preliminary
As an initial matter, the real purpose of a motion in limine is to avoid the introduction
of evidence at trial that is “clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds” and could irretrievably
impact the fairness of the trial. Royal Marco Point 1 Condo. Ass'n v. QBE Ins. Corp., No. 2:07-cv16-FtM-99SPC, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14521, at *6-7 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 2, 2011) (citing Luce v.
United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 (1984)). Indeed, because the context at trial often determines the
admissibility of evidence, “[i]n limine rulings to admit or exclude evidence are always
Plaintiff has also represented that he is no longer incarcerated. (Doc. 83 at 31.)
The Court notes for the purposes of the record that Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc.
78) was granted in part and denied in part, by Order of this Court. (Doc. 99.) This Court granted Defendant’s
summary judgment on Plaintiff’s RLUIPA claim but denied it on Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment claim on which
a genuine issue of material fact remains. (Id.) Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim was not addressed. (Id.)
preliminary and conditioned on what the evidence shows at trial.” Rosenfeld v. Oceania Cruises,
Inc., 682 F.3d 1320, 1325 (11th Cir. 2012) (citing Ohler v. United States, 529 U.S. 753, 758 n.3
(2000) (“[I]n limine rulings are not binding on the trial judge, and the judge may always change
his mind during the course of a trial.”). And relevance is intentionally a broad concept—
“[e]vidence is relevant if it has any tendency to make a [consequential] fact more or less
probable than it would be without the evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. This means that various
types of evidence could potentially be relevant at trial notwithstanding a movant’s in limine
position. Furthermore, a trial court can promptly instruct a jury to disregard improper
testimony or inadmissible evidence, and “[i]n many such cases the jury can and will follow the
trial judge’s instructions to disregard such information.” United States v. Astling, 733 F.2d 1446,
1455 (11th Cir. 1984); United States v. Fuentes, 521 F. App'x 911, 911 (11th Cir. 2013).
As such, the Court disfavors motions in limine and retains the discretion to change any
rulings on evidence made herein based on a party’s objections, evidence, or arguments at trial.
However, no counsel, party, or witness may reference excluded evidence before counsel first
notices the Court and opposing counsel outside of the presence of the jury and obtains the
Court’s ultimate ruling regarding the same. Counsel shall make proper and timely objections
at trial as to any evidence or argument they consider inadmissible or in violation of an in limine
Order previously entered by the Court.
B. Resolution of the Motions in Limine
1. Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine to Exclude Trevor Robinson as a Witness
(Doc. 112) is GRANTED.
On July 6, 2022, Plaintiff filed a Motion in Limine, seeking to prohibit Defendants
from calling as a witness, or introducing the testimony of, Trevor Robinson at trial. (Doc. 112.)
Plaintiff moves to exclude the testimony of Trevor Robinson, as Defendants did not disclose
their intent to call Trevor Robinson as a witness in their initial disclosures as is required by
Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a). (Id.) Defendants have responded that they do not oppose Plaintiff’s
Motion to exclude Trevor Robinson as a witness.3 (Doc. 117.)
The Court notes for the purposes of the record that both Parties do not object to Amy Pataluna testifying at
trial, despite Defendant’s failure to similarly identify Ms. Pataluna in their initial disclosures. (Docs. 112 and
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 allows the Court to impose sanctions, including
exclusion, on motion for a party’s failure to make proper disclosures or to comply with a
discovery order. “If a party fails to provide information or identify a witness as required by
Rule 26(a) or (e), the party is not allowed to use that information or witness to supply evidence
on a motion, at a hearing, or at a trial, unless the failure was substantially justified or is
harmless.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c)(1). “‘The burden of establishing that a failure to disclose was
substantially justified or harmless rests on the nondisclosing party.’” Mitchell v. Ford Motor Co.,
318 F. App'x 821, 824 (11th Cir. 2009). Here, Plaintiff has filed a motion in limine rather a
motion pursuant to Rule 37 but argues that exclusion is appropriate based on Defendant’s
failure to identify Trevor Robinson during the discovery period or in their initial disclosures.
(Doc. 112.) Nonetheless, courts apply the same standard for exclusion under a motion in
limine as they do for a Rule 37 motion to exclude. See, e.g., Davis v. Green, No. 1:12-cv-3549WSD, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73714, at *5 (N.D. Ga. June 8, 2015); Betancourt v. Mangual's Gen.
Servs., No. 15-24691-Civ, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108281, at *11 (S.D. Fla. July 13, 2017).
In the present case, Defendants did not identify Trevor Robinson during the discovery
period or in their initial disclosures as is required. Therefore, Plaintiff’s Unopposed Motion to
Exclude Trevor Robinson as a witness (Doc. 112) is GRANTED. Neither party shall be
permitted to call as a witness, or introduce the testimony of, Trevor Robinson at trial.
2. Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Plaintiff’s Prior
Convictions, Other Lawsuits and Unrelated Grievance History is
GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART (Doc. 111.)
On July 6, 2022, Plaintiff filed a Motion in Limine to preclude Defendants from
presenting two (2) forms of evidence. (Doc. 111.) First, Plaintiff’s move to exclude evidence
of Plaintiff’s prior conviction, or the details surrounding the offense, as impeachment
evidence, or instead only permit Defendants to introduce the fact that Defendant was
convicted of a felony. (Id.) Second, Plaintiff moves to exclude evidence of other lawsuits and
Plaintiff’s grievance history as irrelevant, unduly prejudicial and because it constitutes
improper character evidence. (Id., at 6.)
In Response, Defendants contend that pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 609(a)(1)(A), evidence
of Plaintiff’s prior conviction, “must be admitted, subject to Rule 403, in a civil case” for the
purpose of “attacking a witness’s character for truthfulness.” (Doc. 116 at 2.) Defendants also
note that they do not intend to present evidence of Plaintiff’s other lawsuits or grievance
history as exhibits at trial, but that evidence may be admissible for the purpose of impeachment
and therefore the Court should avoid ruling on this issue until Plaintiff testifies at trial. (Id., at
a) Plaintiff’s Motion to Exclude Evidence of Plaintiff’s Prior Conviction
(Doc. 111) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART
As explained at the pretrial conference, the exclusion of evidence largely depends on
the facts and circumstances developed at trial. In the present case, Plaintiff contends that
evidence of Plaintiff’s prior convictions should be excluded as it is irrelevant under Fed. R.
Evid. 401 & 402, highly prejudicial under Fed. R. Evid. 403 and would constitute improper
impeachment evidence under Fed. R. Evid. 609(a). (Doc. 111.) Defendants in response
contend that evidence of Plaintiff’s prior convictions must come in under Fed. R. Evid.
609(a)(1)(A) and that Rule 403’s balancing test does not favor exclusion in the present case.
As an initial matter, evidence of Plaintiff’s prior conviction is not completely irrelevant
as Plaintiff claims. This case involves First and Eighth Amendment claims relating to
Defendants’ alleged failure to provide Plaintiff with a religiously adequate diet, while
incarcerated. (Doc. 111.) If this Court were to preclude Defendants from mentioning
Plaintiff’s prior conviction entirely, as Plaintiff requests, it would place Defendants in a Catch22 position where Defendants could run afoul of this Court’s Order merely by stating the
nature of the case. Plaintiff recognizes this conundrum in their Reply, where they note that
the jury will “unavoidably learn of [Plaintiff’s] incarceration.” (Doc. 122 at 3.)
Furthermore, Defendants are correct that if Plaintiff were to take the stand as a witness,
evidence of Plaintiff’s prior convictions that were “punishable by death, or by imprisonment
for more than one year” “must be admitted, subject to Rule 403, in a civil case.” Fed. R. Evid.
609(a)(1)(A).4 (Doc. 116.) Plaintiff was previously convicted of gang participation, attempted
The Court notes for the purposes of the record that Plaintiff contends that since Plaintiff’s conviction is over
ten (10) years old, a “presumption against admissibility” arises for the purposes of impeachment under Fed. R.
Evid. 609(b). United States v. Young, 574 F. App’x 896, 898 (11th Cir. 2014). That argument is misplaced as Fed.
R. Evid. 609(b) does not apply in the present case. Fed. R. Evid. 609(b) does not apply because Plaintiff was
not released from confinement more than ten (10) years ago and Fed. R. Evid. 609(b) only applies if “more
murder, and voluntary manslaughter, all of which are punishable by terms of imprisonment of
more than one year, which establishes a presumption of admissibility. (Doc. 111 at 2.)
As Plaintiff correctly notes, however, the risk of prejudice posed by admitting Plaintiff’s
prior convictions for crimes of violence is high. (Doc. 122 at 3.) Accordingly, this Court is
required to conduct a Rule 403 balancing test. Pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 403 the Court “may
exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one
or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue
delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” However, the United States
Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has directed that Rule 403 is “an extraordinary
remedy which should be used sparingly.” Aycock v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 769 F.3d 1063,
1069 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting United States v. King, 713 F.2d 627, 631 (11th Cir. 1983)).
In the present case, the probative value of Plaintiff’s conviction for crimes of violence
are substantially outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice, or confusion of the issues, for
the purposes of impeachment. Whether Plaintiff was convicted of a crime of violence, and the
facts surrounding that conviction, have little bearing on whether Defendants violated
Plaintiff’s First and Eighth Amendment rights while incarcerated. However, since Rule 403
weighs in favor of inclusion, and this Court can curtail the prejudicial effect by admitting
evidence that has substantially the same probative value, Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine (Doc.
111) to preclude Defendants from introducing evidence of Plaintiff’s prior convictions is
GRANTED IN PART. See Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.s. 172, 191 (1997) (district court
abused discretion by not admitting an evidentiary alternative that had same probative value as
details of prior conviction, but lesser danger of unfair prejudice.) It is hereby ORDERED that
Defendants are precluded from inquiring into the underlying facts of Plaintiff’s conviction. To
the extent that Plaintiff seeks the wholesale exclusion of Plaintiff’s prior conviction, however,
Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine (Doc. 111) is DENIED. Further, if the prior convictions are
admitted, the Court will give a limiting instruction to the jury.
than 10 years have passed since the witness’s conviction or release from confinement for it, whichever is
later.” (Emphasis added).
b) Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Plaintiff’s Other
Lawsuits and Grievances (Doc. 111) is DENIED WITHOUT
As explained supra the exclusion of evidence largely depends on the facts and
circumstances developed at trial. In the present case, Plaintiff contends that evidence of
Plaintiff’s prior lawsuits and grievances should be excluded as it is irrelevant under Fed. R.
Evid. 401 & 402, unduly prejudicial under Fed. R. Evid. 403 and would constitute improper
impeachment evidence under Fed. R. Evid. 404. Doc. 111.) Defendants in response note that
they do not intend to present evidence of Plaintiff’s other lawsuits or grievance history at trial,
as exhibits, but that such evidence may be admissible for the purposes of impeachment if
Plaintiff testifies to facts that are inconsistent with his other lawsuits and grievances. (Doc.
In the present case, Plaintiff’s arguments are too vague and speculative and there are
potential grounds that would render evidence of Plaintiff’s prior lawsuits and grievances
admissible. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine (Doc. 111) as it pertains to the exclusion
of Plaintiff’s prior lawsuits and grievance history is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
The Parties may make argument and objections at trial to establish whether such evidence is
subject to exclusion. However, such evidence shall not be presented or mentioned in the
presence of the jury without prior notice to the Court and Opposing Counsel, outside the
presence of the jury and without prior permission by the Court.
3. Defendants’ Motion in Limine. (Doc. 110.)
On July 5, 2022, Defendants filed a Motion in Limine (Doc. 110) seeking to preclude
Plaintiff’s from presenting eight (8) different categories of evidence. Defendants move to
exclude: (1) evidence of insurance coverage; (2) any action or inaction by the State of Georgia
or the Georgia Department of Corrections; (3) any violations of Georgia Department of
Corrections Policies; (4) any argument or suggestion that this case should be decided on the
basis collective liability, respondeat superior, supervisory liability, or official capacity; (5) any
“other act” evidence; (6) Defendant Robertson’s personnel file; (7) Plaintiff’s written
declaration; and (8) any witness statements and declarations proffered by other inmates. (Doc.
As this Court has previously stated, Motions in limine that are “broad, vague,” and
include “speculative categories of evidence and argument of which the Court cannot
predetermine the admissibility” are due to be denied, as “the real purpose of a motion in limine
is to avoid the introduction of evidence at trial that is ‘clearly inadmissible on all potential
grounds’ and could irretrievably impact the fairness of the trial. Tate v. Church Hill Trucking Inc.,
2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 257870 (M.D. Ga. June 3, 2021) (quoting Royal Marco Point 1 Condo.
Ass’n v. QBE Ins. Corp., U.S. DIST. LEXIS 14521 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 2, 2011). In the present case
Defendants’ Motion in limine (Doc. 110) is too broad and vague, and includes too many
speculative categories of evidence, for this Court to grant Defendants’ motion as written. For
example, Defendants do not identify and elaborate upon which violations of Georgia
Department of Corrections Policies they wish to exclude5, Defendants do not identify the
“other act” evidence they wish to exclude, and Defendants have not explained exactly what
makes the declarations of other inmates’ inadmissible hearsay. (Docs. 110-1 & 21.)
Furthermore, the other forms of argument and evidence6 that Defendants wish to exclude is
not clearly inadmissible on all grounds. That evidence’s admissibility must be determined
based on the context in which it is presented at trial. Accordingly, Defendants’ Motion in
Limine (Doc. 110) is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE as to all evidence and argument,
subject to Defendants’ right to renew specific objections at trial. However, such evidence shall
not be presented or mentioned in the presence of the jury without prior notice to the Court
and Opposing Counsel, outside the presence of the jury and without prior permission by the
The Court notes for the purposes of the record that Defendants cites Plaintiff’s exhibits, but that this Court
does not have access to the exhibits at this time as the Parties are not required to file discovery.
The Court notes for the purposes of the record that those other forms of argument and evidence are as
follows: (1) evidence of insurance coverage; (2) any action or inaction by the State of Georgia and Georgia
Department of Corrections, (3) argument or suggestion that this case should be decided on the basis of
collective liability or respondeat superior, (4) Defendant Robertson’s personnel file and (5) Plaintiff’s declarations.
In conclusion, Plaintiff’s Motion to exclude Trevor Robinson as a Witness (Doc. 112)
is GRANTED. Plaintiff’s Motion to exclude evidence of Plaintiff’s prior convictions, other
lawsuits and grievances (Doc. 111) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
Defendants shall be precluded from introducing or inquiring into the underlying facts of
Plaintiff’s conviction(s), but the Parties shall be required to make argument at trial as to why
or why not the offense of conviction and other grievances should be submitted. Finally,
Defendants’ Motion to exclude eight forms or argument and evidence is DENIED
WITHOUT PREJUDICE, subject to Defendants’ right to renew specific objections at trial.
SO ORDERED, this 28th day of July 2022.
/s/ W. Louis Sands
W. LOUIS SANDS, SR. JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?