Thompson v. City of Chicago - Seventh Circuit Affirms Motion In Limine Rulings

On December 5, 2000, James Thompson died after he struggled with police officers who were trying to handcuff him. The Cook County Medical Examiner ruled Thompson's death a homicide, concluding that Thompson died at least in part from a "choke hold." Thompson's mother and wife filed suit in the Northern District of Illinois against the City of Chicago and eleven Chicago Police Officers. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants violated Thompson's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by using excessive force. Prior to trial, the defendants filed several motions in limine including motions seeking to bar the plaintiffs from introducing: (1) the opinion testimony of officers from the CPD's Office of Professional Standards concerning their investigation into Thompson's death and (2) the CPD's General Orders, practices and policies (or the Officers failure to act in accordance with those Orders, practices and policies). The District Court judge, the Honorable Amy J. St. Eve, granted the motions and the case proceeded to trial. The jury found in favor of the defendants. Plaintiffs appealed, claiming the District Court erred in granting the motions in limine. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court held that "[i]n this case, the text of the CPD's General Orders pertaining to the use of force would not have been of any consequence whatsoever and would have failed to advance the inquiry into whether Officer Hespe violated Thompson's Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force in apprehending him." The court stated that "[w]hether Officer Hespe's conduct conformed with the internal CPD General Orders concerning the use of force on an assailant was irrelevant to the jury's determination of whether his actions on December 5, 2000 were 'objectively reasonable' under the Fourth Amendment." Finally, the court affirmed the District Court's exclusion of expert testimony concerning excessive force, stating "whatever insight Inspector Lukas and Sgt. Campbell might have had into whether or why Officer Hespe used excessive force would have been of little value except as to possibly causing confusion and bore a substantial risk of prejudice." The opinion was authored by Judge Coffey and joined by Judges Evans and Williams.