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Miller v. Lemhi County

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 2, 2018

NOVA MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
LEMHI COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Idaho; JOHN JAKOVAC, in his official and individual capacity; RICHARD SNYDER in his official and individual capacity; and ROBERT COPE, in his official and individual capacity, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          David C. Nye U.S. District Court Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter comes before the Court on five Motions in Limine filed by Plaintiff Nova Miller in anticipation of a seven-day trial scheduled to begin on April 23, 2018. Dkts. 42-46. As explained below, the Court finds good cause to GRANT IN PART some of the motions, DENY some of the motions, and postpone ruling on the merits of some of the motions until trial.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The factual background of this case was set forth in the Court's Memorandum Decision and Order granting in part and denying in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. 28. The Court incorporates that background in full by reference.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         “Motions in limine are well-established devices that streamline trials and settle evidentiary disputes in advance, so that trials are not interrupted mid-course for the consideration of lengthy and complex evidentiary issues.” United States v. Tokash, 282 F.3d 962, 968 (7th Cir. 2002). “The term ‘in limine' means ‘at the outset.' A motion in limine is a procedural mechanism to limit in advance testimony or evidence in a particular area.” United States v. Heller, 551 F.3d 1108, 1111 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Black's Law Dictionary 803 (8th ed. 2004)). Because “[a]n in limine order precluding the admission of evidence or testimony is an evidentiary ruling, ” United States v. Komisaruk, 885 F.2d 490, 493 (9th Cir. 1989) (citation omitted) “a district court has discretion in ruling on a motion in limine.” United States v. Ravel, 930 F.2d 721, 726 (9th Cir. 1991). Further, in limine rulings are preliminary and, therefore, “are not binding on the trial judge [who] may always change his mind during the course of a trial.” Ohler v. United States, 529 U.S. 753, 758 n.3 (2000).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Jack Miller's Criminal Record

         In her first motion in limine, Miller seeks to exclude from trial evidence of Jack Miller's criminal conduct. Jack Miller is Miller's husband and prior supervisor. In October 2013, when Jack Miller was the Lemhi County landfill manager, a landfill employee reported to the Lemhi County Treasurer that he suspected Jack Miller had placed tires purchased by the County onto Miller's vehicle. The County Sheriff's Office began investigating and, shortly thereafter, Jack Miller admitted that he purchased the tires with County funds and had retained cash received from recycling materials for personal use. On November 6, 2013, the County terminated Jack Miller based on the theft of County money and property.[1] On April 17, 2014, Jack Miller was arraigned in state district court in Lemhi County on criminal theft charges. On August 21, 2014, the State of Idaho and Jack Miller entered into a Plea Agreement under which he pled guilty to grand theft. On November 20, 2014, the state court entered an Order Withholding Judgment and Order of Probation.

         At the summary judgment stage, the Court struck from the record written evidence of Jack Miller's criminal information and withheld judgment presented by the County under Federal Rule of Evidence 401, because the evidence lacked relevance, and under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b), because it was impermissible character evidence.[2]Miller now asks the Court to reaffirm this ruling and exclude evidence of Jack Miller's criminal conduct from trial for four reasons: (1) lack of relevance under Rule 401; (2) impermissible character evidence under Rule 404(b); (3) improper impeachment evidence under Rule 609; and (4) prejudice/confusion of the issues under Rule 403.

         The County has made clear that it “has no intention of challenging Magistrate Dale's F.R.E. 401 and 404 rulings.” Dkt. 51, at 2. However, the County argues that if Jack Miller testifies at trial the Court should allow it to present evidence of his criminal conduct under Federal Rule of Evidence 609. This Rule provides, in relevant part:

(a) In General. The following rules apply to attacking a witness's character for truthfulness by evidence of a criminal conviction:
(1) for a crime that, in the convicting jurisdiction, was punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one year, the evidence:
(A) must be admitted, subject to Rule 403, in a civil case or in a criminal case in which the witness is not a defendant; and
. . .
(2) for any crime regardless of the punishment, the evidence must be admitted if the court can readily determine that establishing the elements of the crime required proving ___or the witness's admitting ___ a dishonest act or false statement.

Fed. R. Evid. 609.

         Miller first argues that any evidence of Jack Miller's criminal conduct is inadmissible under Rule 609 because, although he pled guilty, the judgment against him was withheld, and under the Idaho Rules of Evidence, “[e]vidence of a withheld judgment or a vacated judgment shall not be admitted as a conviction.” I.R.E. 609(c). This argument requires the Court to consider whether Idaho Rule of Evidence 609 applies in this case. Generally, “federal courts sitting in diversity apply state substantive law and federal procedural law.” Feldman v. Allstate Ins. Co., 322 F.3d 660, 666 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)). “Most evidentiary rules are ...


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