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Fuller v. State

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 25, 2019

CYNTHIA FULLER, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF IDAHO, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, BRENT REINKE, in his official capacity, and HENRY ATENCIO, in his official and individual capacity, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

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

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Cynthia Fuller's Motion in Limine (Dkt. 115) and Defendants Idaho Department of Corrections, Brent Reinke, and Henry Atencio's (collectively “IDOC”) Motion in Limine (Dkt. 109).[1]

         Having reviewed the record and briefs, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, the Court will decide the Motions without oral argument. Dist. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 7.1(d)(2)(ii). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will GRANT in PART and DENY in PART each Motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The Court will not set out the lengthy factual and legal history of this case at the present time, but will give a brief overview.

         In this case, Fuller alleges that IDOC, through its supervisors, created a hostile work environment under Title VII, because of her gender, based upon their actions following her report that she had been raped by a co-worker-Herbt Cruz, with whom she had a relationship. IDOC denies it created a hostile work environment.

         While Fuller originally asserted numerous causes of action, following summary judgment at the District Court and an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the sole remaining claim at issue (and the claim that will go to trial), is a hostile work environment claim. In a 2-1 decision, the Ninth Circuit determined that the District Court erred in granting summary judgment to IDOC on Fuller's hostile work environment claim because “a reasonable trier of fact could [] find that the IDOC's actions were sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment.” Fuller v. Idaho Dep't of Corr., 865 F.3d 1154, 1164 (9th Cir. 2017), cert. denied sub nom. Idaho Dep't of Correction v. Fuller, 138 S.Ct. 1345 (2018).

         In anticipation of the upcoming trial, and pursuant to the Court's trial order (Dkt. 108), both parties filed motions in limine seeking to preclude certain evidence and testimony at trial. The Court will address each in turn.

         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.” Miller v. Lemhi Cty., No. 4:15-CV-00156-DCN, 2018 WL 1144970, at *1 (D. Idaho Mar. 2, 2018) (citing 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. Plaintiff's Motions in Limine[2]

         1. Exclusion of testimony by defendants that they relied on, or communicated with, the Attorney General's Office when making certain decisions.

         GRANTED.

         Here, Fuller seeks an order from the Court prohibiting IDOC from asserting that they communicated with-or relied upon communications with-the Idaho Attorney General's Office. Even though IDOC has not alleged an “advice of counsel” defense, Fuller contends that because they have not answered pertinent questions or turned over relevant documents related to this topic, they have functionally claimed this privilege which is unduly prejudicial. IDOC counters that they have not asserted this defense and further, that they can shield these communications and documents from disclosure as privileged.

         Defendants' strategic choice not to turn over certain documents under an “attorney-client” privilege theory is their right; however, they cannot then use those same materials against Fuller. Because IDOC has all but prohibited discovery on this issue, any inference or suggestion that they contacted the Attorney General's Office will not be allowed at trial. Again, IDOC's choice to take this path is within their discretion, and such is not sanctionable (outside of what is imposed in this decision by way of limiting that evidence) or inappropriate, but IDOC must live with the consequences of their litigation choices.

         2. Exclusion of the fact that Cruz was not charged with a crime.

         GRANTED.

         In this Motion, Fuller asks the Court to prohibit the admission of any evidence that Cruz was ultimately never charged with a crime-either as to J.W. or Fuller. Fuller contends the information is irrelevant and prejudicial. IDOC counters that the information is relevant because Fuller has testified that she was frustrated that Cruz was never charged with a crime and that this frustration might have contributed to her emotional distress.

         As will become clearer below, both parties and the Court appear to share a common concern. That concern is that the focus of this case is not on Cruz or Cruz's behavior, but on IDOC's behavior. To be sure, Cruz's behavior is what ultimately lead to this case, but the remaining claim at issue goes solely to IDOC's actions-or lack thereof.

         This motion is a prime example. Whether Cruz was ultimately charged with a crime is currently irrelevant. If either party believes that the relevancy of this information changes during trial, they can address it outside the presence of the jury and the Court will make a determination at that time.

         3. Exclusion of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's decision denying Fuller unemployment benefits.

         GRANTED.

         Pursuant to IDOC's agreement on this matter, evidence of IDHW's denial of Fuller's unemployment benefits claim will not be allowed at trial. If IDOC feels that Fuller has opened the door to this subject, a hearing outside the presence of the jury will be necessary.

         4. Exclusion of the Idaho Human Rights Commission's Findings and Reports.

         GRANTED.

         Here, Fuller asks the Court to preclude all evidence of the Idaho Human Rights Commission's (“the Commission”) report in which it (the Commission) found there was no probable cause to further investigate IDOC and dismissed her case. Fuller claims that this is essentially hearsay, but more importantly, that it would be extremely prejudicial. IDOC agrees that the statements in the report itself are hearsay and inadmissible but argues that the report itself is admissible under various evidentiary rules.

         It appears there is a dispute among the Circuits as to whether an EEOC report is per se admissible at trial. Even within the Ninth Circuit, there appears to be a clear distinction between reports that concluded there was probable cause versus reports where no probable cause was found, and a distinction between who is offering the report at trial: Plaintiff or Defendant. Upon review of these cases, it ...


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