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Sublett v. Sheets

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah

November 16, 2017

DAMIEN SUBLETT,
v.
MARLENE SHEETS, et al, PLAINTIFF DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS B. RUSSELL, SENIOR JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         This matter comes before the Court upon two motions in limine made by Plaintiff Damien Sublett (“Plaintiff”). [DN 107, 130.] Defendants Laura Delaney (“Delaney”) and Kaci Simmons (“Simmons”) have responded. [DN 114, 115, 134, 135.] These matters are now ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's first motion, [DN 107], is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and Plaintiff's second motion, [DN 130], is DISMISSED AS MOOT.

         Plaintiff's two motions in limine cover largely the same issues: in his first motion, [DN 107], Plaintiff seeks to exclude from trial the following pieces of evidence: (1) any and all disciplinary reports relating to Plaintiff during his time of incarceration at the Kentucky State Penitentiary (“KSP”); (2) any evidence of prior complaints Plaintiff has filed in other civil actions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (3) any and all disciplinary reports filed by Delaney against other inmates at KSP. [See DN 107, at 1.] In his second motion, [DN 130], Plaintiff seeks to exclude from trial the following pieces of evidence: (1) “Plaintiff['s] prior civil actions filed against Department of Corr[ections] Officials, ” and (2) “Plaintiff['s] Disciplinary History.” [DN 130, at 1.] As his second motion only addresses issues covered in his first motion, it has been rendered moot, and the Court's substantive analysis will only cover his first motion.

         I. Plaintiff's First Motion in Limine

         A. Plaintiff's Prior Disciplinary Reports

         The first issue addressed by Plaintiff's first motion in limine is whether his prior disciplinary reports while housed at KSP are admissible. Plaintiff's principle arguments in favor of exclusion are (1) the reports are irrelevant under Federal Rules of Evidence 401 and 402; and (2) the reports constitute propensity evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)(1). The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.[1]

         First, with respect to the relevancy of these prior disciplinary reports, the Court is satisfied that they are relevant. Pursuant to Rule 401, “[e]vidence is relevant if: (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Plaintiff states in conclusory fashion that evidence of his past disciplinary infractions should be excluded from trial by this Court on the basis that it is irrelevant, simply stating that the “disciplinary reports are not probative of any fact [of] consequence in determining the present actions.” [DN 107, at 3.] The Court disagrees.

         Delaney points out in rebuttal in her Response, “Plaintiff's disciplinary history reflects that Plaintiff…engages in various infractions, including failure to obey orders to join the general population.” [DN 115, at 2.] Due to the fact that one of Delaney's arguments is that “plaintiff engages in such behavior in order to either be moved to a different area of the prison…or to have a vehicle…to intimidate staff from monitoring Plaintiff as vigilantly as they otherwise would, ” [see id.], Plaintiff's disciplinary history would certainly make such facts more probable, and is material to the case. Moreover, Simmons points out in her Response that Plaintiff has apparently “been found guilty of 80 disciplinary violations, at least 35 of which involve incidents in which Mr. Sublett was found guilty of knowingly exposing himself and/or masturbating in front of a female corrections officer or nurse.” [DN 114, at 3.] Because one of Defendants' theories of the case is that Plaintiff was doing exactly that when they observed him, his prior conduct relating to precisely this issue is “of consequence in determining the action, ” and passes the low threshold for relevancy under the Federal Rules of Evidence.

         Plaintiff's second argument is that the past disciplinary reports constitute inadmissible propensity evidence under Rule 404(b) and must be excluded as such. Pursuant to Rule 404(b)(1), “[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.” Essentially, Plaintiff argues that Defendants seek to introduce his past disciplinary infractions to show his propensity for violating prison rules, thereby inviting the jury to infer that, because he has acted one way in the past, he was likely acting that same way on this occasion.

         Plaintiff correctly points out that, in evaluating Rule 404(b) challenges, the Court employs a three-part test:

First, the district court must make a preliminary determination regarding whether there is sufficient evidence that the ‘other acts' took place. The district court must then determine whether those ‘other acts' are admissible for a proper purpose under Rule 404(b). Finally, the district court must determine whether the ‘other acts' evidence is more prejudicial than probative.

United States v. Bell, 516 F.3d 432, 440 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing United States v. Lattner, 385 F.3d 947, 955 (6th Cir. 2004)). Defendants have produced sufficient evidence that the other acts in question actually took place. [See, e.g., DN 58-4; 58-5; 87-1; 87-3.] In these cited filings, Defendants have provided to the Court many instances of Plaintiff's disciplinary history while incarcerated. The next question is whether there is an admissible purpose for the proffered evidence. At this juncture, the Court finds it necessary to differentiate between the disciplinary write-ups Plaintiff has received for indecent exposure and/or masturbation, and those relating to other prison infractions. The Court finds that there is a proper purpose for the former to be admitted at trial, but not for the latter at this time.

         Rule 404(b)(2) provides that, while propensity evidence is not allowed, “[t]his evidence may be admissible for another purpose, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident.” The principal argument put forth by Defendants in support of their contention that this disciplinary history evidence should be admissible is that it goes to Plaintiff's motive and/or intent. The Court finds the specificity of Delaney's argument persuasive. Delaney argues that the disciplinary history is admissible because it goes to Plaintiff's dual-purposes motive:

Plaintiff engages in such behavior [exposure and/or masturbation] in order to either be moved to a different area of the prison (specifically segregation, as Plaintiff has refused to join the general population in the past) or to have a vehicle (through false grievances, false PREA claims, and frivolous lawsuits) to ...

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