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Ohlson-Townsend v. Wolf

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Western Division

December 31, 2019

LORI OHLSON-TOWNSEND, Plaintiff,
v.
ALEC WOLF and CHEROKEE COUNTY, Defendants.

          ORDER

          C.J. Williams United States District Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' motions in limine. (Docs. 33 & 34). On October 12, 2018, plaintiff filed a Petition at Law and Jury Demand in the Iowa District Court in and for Cherokee County against defendants.[1] (Doc. 3). On November 14, 2018, plaintiff filed an amended petition. (Doc. 4). On November 19, 2018, defendants removed the case to this Court. (Docs. 1 & 24-2, at 5). After partial summary judgment, plaintiff's only remaining claims against defendants are for false arrest under both Title 42, United States Code, Section 1983 and Article I, Section 8 of the Iowa Constitution. (Doc. 31, at 25-26).

         For the following reasons, the Court grants in part, denies in part, and holds in abeyance in part the parties' motions.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Defendants' Motion in Limine

         1. Insurance

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 411, defendants seek to exclude from trial evidence of any liability insurance afforded to defendants via the Iowa Community Insurance Pool. (Doc. 33-1, at 4). Plaintiff does not resist. (Doc. 35, at 1). Thus, defendants' motion is granted as to this issue.

         2. Defendant Alec Wolf's Subsequent Resignation

         Defendants also seek to exclude from trial evidence related to the end of Alec Wolf's (“Wolf”) employment with the Cherokee County Sheriff's department. (Doc. 33-1, at 4). In August of 2018, Cherokee County permitted Wolf to resign as deputy sheriff following Wolf's improper destruction of a dog. (Id.). As part of his resignation, Wolf “admitted under oath that he lied to his superiors[.]” (Id.). Plaintiff does not resist defendants' motion but does contend that evidence related to Wolf's resignation “is permissible for impeachment purposes and/or if [Wolf] offers testimony of his own character for truthfulness or offers testimony of his reliance on past training and/or his investigative and other law enforcement activities.” (Doc. 35, at 1).

         In relevant part, Federal Rule of Evidence 608 provides:

(a) Reputation or Opinion Evidence. A witness's credibility may be attacked or supported by testimony about the witness's reputation for having a character for truthfulness or untruthfulness, or by testimony in the form of an opinion about that character. But evidence of truthful character is admissible only after the witness's character for truthfulness has been attacked.
(b) Specific Instances of Conduct. . . . [E]xtrinsic evidence is not admissible to prove specific instances of a witness's conduct in order to attack or support the witness's character for truthfulness. But the court may, on cross-examination, allow them to be inquired into if they are probative of the character for truthfulness or untruthfulness of . . . the witness; or . . . another witness whose character the witness being cross-examined has testified about.

         Advisory Committee Note (b)(2) states that inquiry into specific instances of conduct on cross-examination are subject to Federal Rule of Evidence 403, which allows a court to “exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” The Court has discretion here to allow plaintiff to inquire into Wolf's resignation on cross-examination of Wolf, should he testify. See Fed. R. Evid. 608(b). Inquiry into these events would be directly probative of Wolf's character for truthfulness, particularly because they occurred less than a month after the conduct at issue here. Such probative value, however, must be balanced against the danger of unfair prejudice Wolf may suffer if these potentially emotionally upsetting and factually unrelated events are brought forth. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. The Court notes that, in any case, plaintiff would not be permitted to introduce extrinsic evidence of Wolf's resignation. See Fed. R. Evid. 608(b).

         Given the discretionary nature of this issue, the Court finds it inappropriate to rule on the admissibility of Wolf's resignation for impeachment purposes ahead of trial. The Court does not know, at this time, whether Wolf intends to testify and, if he does, what the substance of his testimony will be. The Court is also unaware at this stage what other evidence may come to light about Wolf's character or training that would impact the Court's analysis here.

         Thus, defendants' motion is granted in part and held in abeyance in part as to this issue. Defendants' motion is granted as to using evidence related to Wolf's resignation as substantive evidence but held in abeyance as to using such evidence for various impeachment purposes.

         B. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine

         1. Sequestering of Witnesses

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 615, plaintiff requests the Court sequester all non-party witnesses until the conclusion of their testimony. (Doc. 34, at 1). Defendants do not resist. (Doc. 36, at 1). The Court notes that this motion is unnecessary as the ...


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