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Ford v. Marion County Sheriff's Department

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 5, 2018

BRIGID A. FORD, Plaintiff,



         The parties have filed their exhibit objections and their responses thereto and have provided the exhibits in question to the Court for review. The Court, being duly advised, now resolves the objections as follows.

         The Plaintiff's Objections to Exhibits the Defendant Wishes to Offer[1]

         One of the two remaining claims in this case is the Plaintiff's claim that two of her co-workers, Carol Ladd and Eva Watts, with whom she worked from roughly October 2013 through December 2013, subjected her to a hostile work environment because of her disability. The Plaintiff objects to exhibits that relate to discipline the Plaintiff received that did not relate to the time she worked with Ladd and/or Watts and conflicts she had with co-workers other than Ladd and Watts, arguing that those exhibits constitute propensity evidence that is inadmissible pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 404. The exhibits in those categories are: 30-35, 52, 58, 59, 62, 207 (which includes 2010, 2013-19, and 2048), 214-16, 247-49, 251, 284, 286-87, 291, 298, 2003-09, and 2011-12.[2]

         Rule 404(a) provides that “[e]vidence of a person's character or character trait is not admissible to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait.” Rule 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.” The exhibits in question clearly implicate this rule; they are evidence of actions taken by the Plaintiff (the actions that led to her being disciplined or to her co-workers lodging complaints against her) that the Defendant wishes to introduce to show that she had a particular character trait, that is, that she had difficulty getting along with people at work. The Defendant argues that the exhibits are nonetheless admissible pursuant to Rule 404(b)(2), which provides that the type of evidence generally excluded by Rule 404(b)(1) “may be admissible for another purpose, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident”:

However, the discipline Plaintiff received before May 2013 and post-Ladd and Watts is relevant to this matter because it goes to the motivation and intent behind Ladd's and Watt's [sic] actions. See FED R. EVID. 404(b). The various exhibits indicating that Plaintiff had issues getting along with other coworkers besides Ladd and Watts support MCSO's theory that Plaintiff engaged in clashes with coworkers and upset her coworkers. This evidence is critical to MCSO's case because it shows that the motivation and intent behind Ladd's and Watt's [sic] interactions with Plaintiff were not due to Plaintiff's disability.

Dkt. No. 205 at 2-3. This argument skips a logical step, however. In order for a clash with another co-worker or a supervisor to serve as evidence of Ladd's and Watts's motive and intent, it must first serve as evidence that the fact that the other clash occurred-that the Plaintiff was “difficult” on another occasion-shows that the Plaintiff was “difficult” with Ladd and Watts as well.[3] That is what Rule 404(b) prohibits. As the Seventh Circuit very recently explained:

to overcome an opponent's objection to the introduction of other-act evidence, the proponent of the evidence must first establish that the other act is relevant to a specific purpose other than the person's character or propensity to behave in a certain way. See Fed. R. Evid. 401, 402, 404(b). Other-act evidence need not be excluded whenever a propensity inference can be drawn. But its relevance to “another purpose” must be established through a chain of reasoning that does not rely on the forbidden inference that the person has a certain character and acted in accordance with that character on the occasion charged in the case. If the proponent can make this initial showing, the district court must in every case assess whether the probative value of the other-act evidence is substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice and may exclude the evidence under Rule 403 if the risk is too great. The court's Rule 403 balancing should take account of the extent to which the non-propensity fact for which the evidence is offered actually is at issue in the case.

Burton v. City of Zion, ___ F.3d ___, 2018 WL 4039036, at *4 (7th Cir. Aug. 24, 2018) (citing United States v. Gomez, 763 F.3d 845, 853 (7th Cir. 2014)). Absent any evidence that an event to which a particular exhibit relates informed Ladd's or Watts's opinion of the Plaintiff and therefore explained their behavior toward her, which is unlikely given that most of the events occurred after they worked with the Plaintiff, the exhibits are not admissible and the Plaintiff's objection to them is SUSTAINED. That said, this ruling of course does not limit any evidence that directly relates to Ladd's and/or Watts's experience with or knowledge of the Plaintiff before or during the relevant time period. In addition, the Plaintiff is admonished that the applicable rules of evidence work both ways, and she should not attempt to offer evidence about her general ability to work well with others or her job performance outside of the relevant time period, nor should those topics be mentioned in opening statement. If the Defendant believes that the Plaintiff opens the door to these topics during the trial, counsel may raise that issue with the Court outside of the presence of the jury, and the Court's ruling regarding the admissibility of these exhibits may be revisited.

         For the remainder of her exhibit objections, the Plaintiff has offered summary objections-simply referencing by number various rules of evidence on a table-to many of the exhibits the Defendant wishes to offer at trial. The Plaintiff's summary objections to the following exhibits are OVERRULED: Exhibit 66/2020 (including the objection to the Defendant's redactions); Exhibit 2000 (assuming a proper foundation is laid); Exhibit 2036;[4] and the Defendant's redactions to Exhibit 2063 (included in Exhibit 79).[5]

         With regard to Exhibits 2039-47 and 2049-54, the Plaintiff's relevancy objections are SUSTAINED. These exhibits relate to disciplinary actions taken against Ladd and Watts unrelated to the Plaintiff. The Defendant argues that they are relevant because they support “the proposition that MCSO disciplined Ladd [and Watts] for violations of MCSO policy, which supports MCSO's theory that had Ladd [or Watts] violated MCSO policy while assigned to visitation, MCSO would have disciplined her.” Dkt. 205-1 at 11, 13. That argument is without merit. The issue in this trial is not how the Defendant chose to discipline its employees, but whether it fulfilled certain obligations under the ADA with regard to the Plaintiff.

         With regard to the Plaintiff's relevancy objection to Exhibit 2056, the Defendant argues that the exhibit

is relevant because it is an email between Walterman and Grider dated February 4, 2014, which when [sic] Walterman supervised Plaintiff, Ladd, and Watts in visitation. Walterman and Grider will testify that the two were setting up a meeting to discuss the issues in visitation between Plaintiff, Ladd, and Watts. Thus, Exhibit 2056 is relevant to Plaintiff's hostile work environment claims as to Ladd and Watts.

Dkt. No. 205-1 at 20. The fact that the meeting occurred is certainly relevant, but it is wholly unnecessary to introduce an exhibit that shows that the meeting was initiated and arranged via an email. This exhibit offers nothing of relevance; the Plaintiff's objection to it is SUSTAINED.

         There are numerous exhibits that consist of medical records in which the Defendant has redacted all mention of the Plaintiff's accident. While the Court has granted a motion in limine relating to that issue, the Court finds that the redactions in question are not necessary. It is not prejudicial for the jury to see dispassionate mentions of the cause of her disability in her medical records, but it might be confusing for the jury to see seemingly random redactions in medical records. The motion in limine ruling was meant to eliminate the prejudice to the Defendant that would arise if the fact that the Plaintiff was injured in the line of duty as a law enforcement officer was emphasized by the Plaintiff in order to garner sympathy from the jury when that fact is not relevant to the Plaintiff's claims. The Plaintiff's objections to redactions that involve only mention of the accident are SUSTAINED. This includes Exhibits 255, 256, 259, and 2088-92, [6]as well as NP-SOUTHEAST014 (part of Exhibit 258 and 2089). That said, the Court urges the parties to carefully consider the extent to which either party needs to admit the Plaintiff's medical records. While they are admissible, presumably they will in large part be cumulative of the medical providers' testimony at trial. The Court will instruct the jury that the law does not require any party to present as exhibits all papers and things mentioned during the trial, and counsel would do well to consider the fact that it is prudent not to overload the jury with unnecessary exhibits.

         With regard to Exhibit 2061 (contained in Exhibit 79), the Plaintiff objects to the Defendant's redactions. The Court finds that most of the redactions proposed by the Defendant are unnecessary; the jury will know about the Plaintiff's accident, and the fact that the Plaintiff could not take her medication at work is mentioned in the exhibit not as a failure to accommodate, but just as a fact, and that fact is relevant to her need for a set schedule. That said, the Plaintiff may not be asked about or offer testimony that the Defendant failed to accommodate any request she made regarding her medication. The following shall be redacted[7] from Exhibit 2061 so that accommodations not at issue in this case and the issue of retaliation are not interjected into the trial, thus confusing the jury: (1) the sentence in the first paragraph beginning “When I came back to work . . .”; (2) the sentence in the first paragraph beginning “Those accommodations . . .”; (3) in the fourth paragraph, the sentence beginning “Further, I believe that my schedule . . . “; and (4) in the fourth paragraph, the sentence “I believe that I am being punished for complaining.”

         With regard to Exhibits 2064-70, 2072, 2074-75, the Plaintiff's objections are OVERRULED, except to the extent that mentions of the Plaintiff's accident have been redacted. The Court does not see any basis for the Plaintiff's summary objections to these exhibits, all of which consist of the Plaintiff's medical records. Neither party provided Exhibit 2073 to the Court, so the Plaintiff's objection to that exhibit is taken under advisement. The Court reiterates that it is not clear why it will be necessary to offer any of these exhibits at trial.

         Exhibits 2078-91 consist of medical records from the Plaintiff's primary care physician, Dr. Jason Rieser. Again, most of these records seem redundant, and some are not particularly relevant, but the Plaintiff's objections are based on hearsay and Rules 403 and 404, and those summary objections are OVERRULED. The various redactions by the Defendant generally are appropriate, with the exception of mentions of the accident. To minimize the jury's confusion, the Defendant shall redact the entire “Cough” section in Exhibit 2090, as well as the entire paragraph that ...

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