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Coleman v. City of Hattiesburg

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

May 14, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on the Motion In Limine [60] filed by Defendant City of Hattiesburg. After considering the submissions of the parties, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that this motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Dana Coleman (“Plaintiff”) was employed by Defendant City of Hattiesburg (the “City”) from 2012 until 2016, as the office manager for Municipal Court Judge Jerry Evans (“Judge Evans”). Her position required her to work directly with Faye Hicks (“Hicks”), the municipal clerk. The deputy clerks of the municipal court answered to both Hicks and Plaintiff. Plaintiff and Judge Evans are white. Hicks and most[1] of the deputy clerks are African American.

         On September 9, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit in this Court against Defendants the City and former Mayor Johnny Dupree (“Dupree”) (collectively “Defendants”), alleging that she had been the victim of racial harassment and bringing claims under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, and state law claims of intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. She later filed an Amended Complaint [28], alleging that, because of this ongoing harassment, she was forced to quit her job, and adding a claim of constructive discharge.

         Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment [47] on December 14, 2017. The Court ruled on this motion on January 24, 2018, leaving only the following claims pending against the City:[2] the hostile work environment claim under Title VII, the constructive discharge claim under Title VII, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the negligent infliction of emotional distress.


         A. Statements made by Judge Evans

         The City argues that certain statements attributed to Judge Evans should be excluded from evidence at trial as they are hearsay and inadmissible under F.R.E. 802. It also argues that these statements are irrelevant under F.R.E. 401 and unfairly prejudicial under F.R.E. 403.

         Though the City never specifies which statements they wish to have excluded, the Court assumes it is the statements that Plaintiff testified Judge Evans made to her when she complained about the harassment she was facing. Plaintiff testified that Judge Evans told her that the deputy clerks would not respect her because she was white, that she could not complain about extra duties because she was white, and the harassment she was facing was because she was white. (See Plaintiff Depo. [50-1] at 38:16-39:11, 55:15-20.) Plaintiff's claim under Title VII is that she was harassed because of her race, which would make these statements obviously relevant. The City's argument under F.R.E. 401 is therefore meritless.

         The City also argues that these statements could mislead the jury and are therefore unfairly prejudicial under F.R.E. 403. This rule, however, requires that the statements probative value be “substantially outweighed by a danger of . . . unfair prejudice [or] . . . misleading the jury.” Fed.R.Evid. 403. Though the City contends that the jury will give unfair weight to these statements and that they are “nothing more than a thinly veiled invasion of the province of the jury, ” (Motion In Limine [60] at p. 3.), there is absolutely nothing to support these arguments, let alone show that these potential dangers substantially outweigh the probative value of the statements. The City's arguments under F.R.E. 403, then, are unfounded.

         Much of the City's arguments against the admission of these statements are centered on its contention that these statements are hearsay. The Court has already noted that these statements do present a potential hearsay issue in its Order [53] on the City's summary judgment motion. In that Order [53], the Court stated that these statements were potentially admissible as statements made by an opposing party and not hearsay under F.R.E. 801(d)(2) because Judge Evans was an agent of the City, but ultimately refused to definitively hold that these statements were admissible because neither side presented a full argument as to the hearsay issue. (See Order [53] at p. 4, n.3.) The City makes no mention of this rule in its original motion or its rebuttal. Instead, the City cites Terry v. Quitman County School District, in which the Northern District of Mississippi excluded hearsay statements after no argument was made for their admissibility. No. 3:16-CV-13-DMB-RP, 2017 WL 2426873, at *2 (N.D. Miss. June 5, 2017). This is not the case here as Plaintiff has made an argument for the admissibility of these statements under F.R.E. 801(d)(2).

         F.R.E 801(d)(2) excludes from the definition of hearsay those statements which are “offered against an opposing party” and were “made by the party's agent or employee on a matter within the scope of that relationship and while it existed.” Fed.R.Evid. 801(d)(2)(D). Judge Evans, at the relevant time, was an employee of the City and was the department head over the Hattiesburg Municipal Court. As such, he was the supervisor of Plaintiff, Hicks, and all the deputy clerks. The statements attributed to him were made while he was performing his supervisory role. Even if the City had attempted to argue that Judge Evans was not acting within his scope of employment with the City, the Court does not believe that any such argument would succeed. Therefore, because F.R.E 801(d)(2) specifically excludes these types of statements from the definition of hearsay, they are not hearsay and will not be excluded from evidence at trial. The Motion In Limine [60] will be denied as to these statements.

         B. ...

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