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Mayfield v. Brewer

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

October 28, 2014

SAMUEL MAYFIELD, Plaintiff,
v.
MARK BREWER, in his official and individual capacity and CITY OF LAUREL, A Municipal Corporation, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the following motions: (i) Defendants' Motion to Exclude Testimony and Report of Dr. Jeffeory G. Hynes, Ed. D. ("Motion to Exclude") [101]; (ii) Defendants' Motion in Limine [115]; and (iii) Plaintiff's Motion in Limine [116]. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds as follows:

Relevant Background

The Plaintiff Samuel Mayfield asserts several claims under Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising from his arrest for failure to comply with a police command and resisting arrest on February 8, 2013. Defendant Mark Brewer is a Sergeant with the City of Laurel Police Department. Sergeant Brewer is the law enforcement officer that arrested Mayfield. On October 22, 2014, the Court entered its Memorandum Opinion and Order [121] on the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [98]. Mayfield's failure to train police officers and custom of excessive force claims against the City of Laurel, Mississippi (the "City") were dismissed with prejudice. Summary judgment was denied as to the following of Mayfield's claims: Fourth Amendment excessive force claim against Sergeant Brewer; Fourth Amendment unlawful arrest claim against Sergeant Brewer; and, First Amendment retaliation claim against the City.

Defendants' Motion to Exclude [101]

Mayfield has designated Dr. Jeffeory G. Hynes, Ed.D. as an expert witness in this action. Dr. Hynes' expert report sets forth several opinions, such as: Sergeant Brewer used excessive force against Mayfield; Sergeant Brewer failed to comply with the Laurel Police Department's (the "Department") Use of Force Policy; and, the City has inadequately trained its police officers regarding the use of proper force techniques, the requirements for probable cause, and proper investigation methods. ( See Hynes Report [107-1].) Defendants appear to seek an order precluding Dr. Hynes from offering any expert testimony at trial. "Defendants request that this Court grant their request and exclude the expert testimony and report of Dr. Jeffeory G. Hynes, Ed.D. at the trial of this matter." (Defs.' Mot. to Exclude [101] at p. 4.) Nonetheless, the Court will only address the opinions of Dr. Hynes that are specifically objected to by the Defendants. There is no attack as to Dr. Hynes' underlying qualifications to provide expert testimony in this action. Further, the Court is under no obligation to conduct a line-by-line examination of the admissibility of the opinions asserted in Dr. Hynes' report in response to generic objections. See Caldarera v. Tenn. Log & Timber Homes, Inc., No. 5:12CV67, 2013 WL 5937396, at *2 (S.D.Miss. Nov. 4. 2013) ("It is well-recognized that a motion to strike should point out the objectionable portions of an affidavit, and that a motion solely raising a general challenge to an affidavit is ineffective.") (citing 10B Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2738 (3d ed.)); Forbus v. Andrews Distrib. Co. of N. Tex., Ltd., No. Civ.A.3:04CV0468-B, 2005 WL 3637041, at *3 (N.D. Tex. Nov. 1, 2005) (rejecting the plaintiff's general objections that failed to specify the sections of affidavits she believed were objectionable).

Defendants assert that Dr. Hynes' opinion regarding the reasonableness of the force used by Sergeant Brewer should be excluded as an improper legal conclusion. The Court agrees. Federal Rule of Evidence 704 provides that "[a]n opinion is not objectionable just because it embraces an ultimate issue." Fed.R.Evid. 704(a). The Fifth Circuit has "repeatedly held that this rule does not allow an expert to render conclusions of law." Snap-Drape, Inc. v. Comm'r, 98 F.3d 194, 198 (5th Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). In relation to the claims pending in this case, the Fifth Circuit has held that testimony as to the reasonableness of force exercised by a law enforcement officer is a legal conclusion. See McBroom v. Payne, 478 Fed.Appx. 196, 200 (5th Cir. 2012) (finding no abuse of discretion in the trial court's refusal to allow the plaintiff's expert witness to testify that the defendant officer used excessive force, and citing United States v. Williams, 343 F.3d 423, 435 (5th Cir. 2003)); accord Peters v. City of Waveland, Miss., No. 1:10CV569, 2012 WL 1854311, at *2 (S.D.Miss. Feb. 20, 2010) (precluding an expert from testifying that the officer's use of force was reasonable "since that is an impermissible legal conclusion"). Therefore, Dr. Hynes' opinion that Sergeant Brewer's use of force was excessive will be excluded from the jury at trial.

Mayfield's contention that Dr. Hynes should be allowed to state whether he believes Sergeant "Brewer's actions complied with generally accepted practices and training in the law profession" is not well taken. (Pl.'s Resp. in Opp. to Mot. to Exclude [107] at ¶ 3.) In his expert report, Dr. Hynes provides that "it is the standard view within the profession that officers should only utilize a reasonable amount of force...." (Hynes Report [107-1] at p. 8) (emphasis added). Dr. Hynes also lists several considerations to determine the reasonableness of a particular use of force, such as whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest, which comport with the factors set forth by the Supreme Court for analyzing "whether the force used to effect a particular seizure is reasonable' under the Fourth Amendment...." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989) (citation omitted). Thus, there is no substantive difference between Dr. Hynes testifying that Sergeant Brewer's use of force was excessive and that Sergeant Brewer failed to comply with generally accepted law enforcement standards. In either case, Dr. Hynes is testifying as to the reasonableness of the force employed, which is a legal conclusion. Cf. Jadbabaei v. City of Florence, Miss., No. 3:13CV247, 2014 WL 4851278, at *1-2 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 29, 2014) (excluding the opinion that the officer "violated known, nationally recognized law enforcement standards when he struck and beat down the Plaintiff in this case").

Defendants also seek the exclusion of Dr. Hynes' opinion that Sergeant Brewer violated the Department's Use of Force Policy by failing to employ reasonable alternatives and by employing an excessive and unwarranted amount of force against Mayfield. A law enforcement officer's violation of department policy "is constitutionally irrelevant" for purposes of a claim brought under § 1983. Pasco v. Knoblauch, 566 F.3d 572, 579 (5th Cir. 2009) ("Violations of non-federal laws cannot form a basis for liability under § 1983, and qualified immunity is not lost because an officer violates department protocol.") (citations omitted); see also McCarthy v. Waddell, No. 3:13CV924, 2014 WL 1571678, at *3 (S.D.Miss. Apr. 17, 2014) (providing that breach of a county policy fails to establish a constitutional violation under § 1983) (citing Harris v. Payne, 254 Fed.Appx. 410, 416-17 (5th Cir. 2007)). As discussed above, Dr. Hynes' beliefs regarding the appropriateness of the degree of force utilized by Sergeant Brewer are inadmissible legal conclusions. See, e.g., McBroom, 478 Fed.Appx. at 200; Peters, 2012 WL 1854311, at *2. As a result, Dr. Hynes' expected testimony that Sergeant Brewer failed to comply with the Department's Use of Force Policy will be excluded as irrelevant. See Wells v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 601 F.3d 375, 378 (5th Cir. 2010) (admissible expert testimony must be both relevant and reliable) (citation omitted); Owen v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 698 F.2d 236, 240 (5th Cir. 1983) ("[A]llowing an expert to give his opinion on the legal conclusions to be drawn from the evidence both invades the court's province and is irrelevant.").

Lastly, Defendants contend that Dr. Hynes' opinions regarding the adequacy of the City's training of its police officers constitute inadmissible speculation or unsupported beliefs. The Court need not address this argument in light of the dismissal of the Plaintiff's failure to train claim against the City. ( See Mem. Op. & Order [121].) Dr. Hynes' expected testimony that the City has improperly trained its officers is irrelevant and will be excluded since Mayfield's failure to train claim is no longer before the Court.

In summation, Dr. Hynes will not be permitted to present testimony at trial regarding: (i) the reasonableness of the force used by Sergeant Brewer during the arrest of Mayfield (including the opinion that Sergeant Brewer used excessive force); (ii) whether Sergeant Brewer's use of force complied with the Department's Use of Force Policy; and (iii) the adequacy of the City's training of its police officers.

Defendants' Motion in Limine [115]

The Fifth Circuit has provided the following guidance for a trial court considering a motion in limine:

A motion in limine is a motion made prior to trial for the purpose of prohibiting opposing counsel from mentioning the existence of, alluding to, or offering evidence on matters so highly prejudicial to the moving party that a timely motion to strike or an instruction by the court to the jury to disregard the ...

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