United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
OPINION AND ORDER
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court are a Motion in Limine (Doc. 117) and Brief
in Support (Doc. 118) filed by Defendant Austin Murphy.
Plaintiff Michael Shane Wilmoth did not respond to the
Motion. Nevertheless, the Court heard oral argument during
the pretrial conference on October 9, 2018, at which point it
ruled on the Motion. This Order memorializes those rulings.
To the extent the Court's rulings here differ from the
Court's rulings from the bench, this Opinion and Order
September 12, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in his case
alleging a violation of his constitutional rights under 42
U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleged that while he was
incarcerated at the Benton County Detention Center
("BCDC"), his constitutional rights were violated
in the following ways: (1) he was denied adequate medical and
mental health care; (2) excessive force was used against him;
and (3) he was subjected to disciplinary action based on
falsified documents and given an excessive punishment. As a
result of this Court's Opinion on Defendants' Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. 90), the only claim remaining for
trial is the individual capacity excessive force claim
asserted against Deputy Murphy.
anticipation of trial, set for the week of October 29, 2018,
Deputy Murphy filed this Motion in Limine seeking to exclude:
(1) evidence of Benton County's force policy, (2) any
reference to Mr. Wilmoth's other claims previously
dismissed by this Court, and (3) any references to Mr.
Wilmoth's injuries not documented by BCDC medical
Benton County's Use of Force Policy
noted above, the only claim remaining for trial is the
excessive force claim against Deputy Murphy. In order to
prevail on this claim, Mr. Wilmoth must demonstrate: 1) that
Deputy Murphy, acting under color of state law, used physical
force against him, 2) that this force was excessive under the
circumstances because it was not reasonably necessary for any
legitimate purpose, and 3) that he suffered injuries as a
result. See, e.g., 8th Cir. Model Civ. Jury Instr. 4.41
(2017). The focus of the trial will thus be on whether the
use of force against Mr. Wilmoth was objectively reasonable.
Ryan v. Armstrong, 850 F.3d 419, 427 (8th Cir. 2017)
("We analyze the excessive force claims of pretrial
detainees under an objective reasonableness standard.").
many factors may be highly relevant to this inquiry, see
Andrews v. Neer, 253 F.3d 1052, 1061 n.7 (8th Cir.
2001), one factor that is not usually highly
relevant is the existence of a county policy on the use of
force. That is because ¶]ail standards, although helpful
and relevant in some cases, do not represent minimum
constitutional standards." Johnson v. Busby,
953 F.2d 349, 351 (8th Cir. 1991). Indeed, such guidelines do
not create constitutional rights. Neal v. St Louis Cnty.
Bd. of Police Comm'rs, 217 F.3d 95, 959 (8th Cir.
Court, however, recognizes a limited exception to the general
rule against admitting a police department's use of force
policy where the policy may be used for impeachment purposes.
Resolution of the remaining claim hinges on the objective
reasonableness of Deputy Murphy's use of force. The Court
can contemplate situations where the County's policy
could be used to impeach Deputy Murphy's testimony, and
where such impeachment would be highly beneficial to Mr.
Wilmoth's theory that Deputy Murphy's use of force
was not objectively reasonable. As such, the Court will not
at this time prohibit the use of the County's force
policy. Nevertheless, as the Court admonished during the
pretrial conference, given the tendency that such testimony
might tend to confuse the jury, especially were jurors to
treat the departmental policy as the substantive standard by
which to assess a constitutional violation, the Court will
closely monitor and regulate any attempted use of this policy
during the trial and will not hesitate to issue a limiting
instruction or move the testimony along should the policy be
used for anything other than impeachment purposes.
Reference to Previously Dismissed Parties and Claims
Murphy also seeks to exclude any mention of the previously
dismissed claims and other defendants in this case. The Court
finds that the dismissed claims are not relevant to the
determination of whether Deputy Murphy used excessive force
against Mr. Wilmoth on the date in question. As such, these
claims should not be referenced, inquired about, or commented
upon during the trial.
previously dismissed defendants, the sole remaining defendant
in this case is Deputy Murphy. As such, Mr. Wilmoth may not
attempt to enlarge the scope of liability by re-litigating
whether other defendants, including the County, who have
already been dismissed at summary judgment, might also be
liable for the use of excessive force.
References to Plaintiffs Injuries Not Documented by Benton