United States District Court, D. Arizona
Robyn E. Ryba, Plaintiff,
Cesar Nelson, Defendant.
K. Jorgenson, United States District Judge
before the Court are the Motions in Limine (Doc. 41) taken
under advisement during the November 28, 2018, hearing.
in Limine Re: Acquittal
parties disagree whether evidence regarding the acquittal
should be admitted. They agree the seminal case is
Borunda v. Richmond, 885 F.2d 1384 (9th Cir. 1988).
That case states:
Evidence of an acquittal is not generally admissible in a
subsequent civil action between the same parties since it
constitutes a “negative sort of conclusion lodged in a
finding of failure of the prosecution to sustain the burden
of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” S. Gard, 2 Jones
on Evidence, § 12:25, p. 391 (6th ed. 1972). Here,
however, the district court did not admit the evidence as
proof of the facts upon which the acquittals were based.
Evidence of the acquittals was admitted solely for the
purpose of showing that the plaintiffs incurred damages in
the form of attorneys' fees in successfully defending
against the state criminal charges, and that the fees charged
were reasonable in light of the success achieved.
Even if evidence of the acquittals was relevant, this
evidence should have been excluded if its probative value was
substantially outweighed by the likelihood of unfair
prejudice. See Fed.R.Evid. 403. In this regard,
trial courts have “very broad discretion in applying
Rule 403 and, absent abuse, the exercise of its discretion
will not be disturbed on appeal.” Liew v. Official
Receiver and Liquidator, 685 F.2d 1192, 1195 (9th
Borunda v. Richmond, 885 F.2d 1384, 1387-88 (9th
Cir. 1988). What seems significant in Borunda is
that the evidence was admissible because it went to the issue
of damages (e.g., legal fees in criminal case). Plaintiff
Robyn E. Ryba (“Ryba”) similarly argues evidence
of her acquittal is relevant to her request for damages.
defense argues, however, that this case is more factually
similar to Solomon v. Herminghaus, No.
213CV00115GEBCKD, 2015 WL 13667569, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 14,
2015). In Solomon, it appears the fact that a false
arrest claim remained pending in Borunda was
significant to the determination that the evidence was
relevant to damages. Here, the Court has already determined
there was probable cause for the arrest . . . in other words,
even if it was determined there was excessive force in this
case, the criminal proceeding would not be set aside . . .
any damages are not the result of a false arrest, but of
alleged conduct irrespective of valid criminal charges.
the Court agrees admission of the acquittal is not
appropriate as proof of the facts upon which the acquittal
was based. However, the Court finds the evidence is relevant
as to the motive of Ryba in bringing this lawsuit.
See Fed.R.Evid. 401 (Evidence is relevant if
“it has any tendency to make a fact more or less
probable” and “the fact is of
consequence[.]”). The danger of unfair prejudice to
Ryba is more likely to result if the evidence is excluded:
the jury could infer Ryba's actions in bringing this suit
were for vengeful and vindictive reasons, as opposed to
possible prejudice to Cesar Nelson (“Nelson”)
(e.g., he acted inappropriately in arresting Ryba).
See Fed.R.Evid. 403.
the Court recognizes that Nelson argues that the admission of
this evidence will result in the need to present evidence of
whether probable cause existed to arrest/charge Ryba. In
determining whether the relevant value of this evidence is
substantially outweighed by the danger of “confusing
the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time,
or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence[, ]”
id., the Court considers that it has previously
found, as a matter of law, that probable cause existed to
arrest Ryba. In such circumstances, the Court finds the
concerns raised by Nelson may be addressed by an instruction
to the jury that probable cause existed to arrest Ryba. The
Court will direct the parties to include any proposed
instruction or any objection to such an instruction with the
parties' proposed jury instructions.
in Limine Re: Internal Affairs Documents
defense argues that the evidence discussed herein was
untimely disclosed. Ryba argues, however, it was late because
Nelson's deposition was delayed due to the schedules of
Nelson and defense counsel. She further asserts that she had
no basis to discover this evidence until Nelson's
deposition. The Court declines to preclude the evidence
solely on this basis.
internal affairs documents can be summarized as follows: One
incident involved force (a high risk stop where Nelson and
other officers removed the occupants at gunpoint), but it was
determined that the force had been justified. One complaint
asserted Nelson had acted disrespectfully, but when the fire
chief (who had also responded) corroborated that the officers
had acted appropriately, the complaint was withdrawn. Other
complaints involve damage to police department property. None
of the internal affairs complaints involved inappropriate
Court finds two categories of the internal affairs documents
to be relevant. Specifically, the 2012 complaint where a
person cited for a traffic violation complained that Nelson
did not allow her to read the citation before signing it is
similar to the alleged facts in this case. The Court notes,
however, the complaint was closed as unsustained. The other
category is videos that were not timely uploaded. Here, the
video was timely uploaded, but due to a technical problem
(according to the defense), the ...