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Wiggins v. Clementon Police Dept.

July 30, 2009

DENNIS WIGGINS AND ERICKA WIGGINS PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CLEMENTON POLICE DEPT., SERGEANT CHARLES GROVER, SERGEANT RANDALL FREILING OFFICER GORDON SCHAEFFER, OFFICER ALFRED HIGGINBOTHAM, OFFICER MACKEY, DEFENDANTS.



[Doc. No. 27]

OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on the "Motion to Compel Defendant Grover to Answer Questions About His Failure to Report Income Taxes and for Leave to Re-Depose Defendant Grover" [Doc. No. 27] filed by Plaintiffs, Dennis and Ericka Wiggins. Plaintiffs seek to compel the deposition testimony of Defendant Charles Grover (hereinafter "Defendant") regarding his alleged failure to report income on his tax returns. Defendants oppose Plaintiffs' motion. [Doc. No. 29.] The Court has also received and considered Plaintiffs' reply [Doc. No. 30]. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. 78 and L. Civ. R. 37.1(b)(3), the Court exercises its discretion to decide this discovery issue without oral argument. For the reasons to be discussed, Plaintiffs' motion is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs brought this action alleging civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, including, inter alia, an unlawful motor vehicle stop, unlawful arrest, use of excessive force, and infliction of emotional distress. (Cmplt. [Doc. No. 1] at ¶ 35.) The Complaint arises out of an August 25, 2006 incident when Plaintiff Dennis Wiggins (hereinafter "Plaintiff") was pulled over as part of a motor vehicle stop by Defendant Officer Alfred Higginbotham. (See Cmplt. ¶¶ 12-3.) Defendants Grover, Mackey, Freiling, and Schaeffer arrived at the scene shortly thereafter. (Cmplt. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff alleges that during the traffic stop defendant officers yelled profanities at him, and he feared for his safety. (See Cmplt. ¶¶ 15-6.) Plaintiff was issued tickets for careless driving and failure to use a seatbelt. (Cmplt. ¶ 18.)

According to Plaintiff, as he was driving away from the scene, Defendant opened his van door, yelling for him to pull over. (See Cmplt. ¶ 20.) Defendant began yelling to the other officers, "He ran over my foot!" (Cmplt. ¶ 21.) Upon request by the defendant officers, Plaintiff exited his van. (See Cmplt. ¶¶ 22-3.) Defendant officers, working in concert, proceeded to stomp on Plaintiff while he was on the ground, handcuff him, and arrest him. (See Cmplt. ¶¶ 24-6.)

Defendant Grover pursued a worker's compensation claim as a result of being struck by Plaintiff's vehicle. (Def. Opp. [Doc. No. 29] at ¶ 15.) In an Order dated February 21, 2008, worker's compensation Judge Richard E. Hickey approved the settlement of Defendant's worker's compensation claim. (Def. Opp. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff contends, however, that Defendant's worker's compensation claim alleging injuries from his interaction with Plaintiff is false. (Pl. Br. [Doc. No. 27] at 3.)

On March 24, 2009, Plaintiff's counsel deposed Defendant. (See Def. Opp. ¶ 5.) Defendant testified that beginning in approximately 1990 he worked "on and off" as a locksmith for his father's company, Access Lock and Safe. (See Grover Dep. [Doc. No. 29-4] at 11:22-12:6.) Defendant further testified that between 1990 and 1998 his father gave him less than $500.00 for his work. (See Grover Dep. 43:17-21.) Defendant's father died in January of 1998, after which his father's partner took over the commercial accounts of Access Lock and Safe. (See Grover Dep. 360:13-361:3.) Defendant testified that between 1998 and 2008 he performed locksmith related work for friends for which there was "some money." (See Grover Dep. 366:12-367:10.)

Plaintiff's motion arises out of an objection that was made during the course of Defendant's deposition. Specifically, after Defendant testified that he did not report to the IRS "every cent" of the less than $500.00 that his father gave him between 1990 and 1998 for helping out with Access Lock and Safe, Plaintiff's counsel asked Defendant why he did not report the income to the IRS. (See Grover Dep. 15:3-7.) Defendant was instructed not to answer the question and counsel participated in a telephone conference with the Court to discuss the issue. (See Grover Dep. 15:10-26:20.)*fn1 The Court ruled that defense counsel could object and instruct Defendant not to answer any questions regarding this issue. (See Grover Dep. 24:12-25:2.) The Court also granted the Plaintiff leave to file a motion on the issue. (Grover Dep. 25:3-5.) When Plaintiff's counsel subsequently asked Defendant if he reported any income he earned from Access Lock and Safe between 1998 and 2008, defense counsel objected and instructed Defendant not to answer the question. (See Grover Dep. 366:12-368:2.) Defense counsel argues that this line of questioning would harass and intimidate the Defendant. (Def. Opp. 4-5.)

DISCUSSION

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "allow broad and liberal discovery." Pacitti v. Macy's, 193 F.3d 766, 777 (3d Cir. 1999). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), the scope of discovery is as follows: "Parties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense. . . . For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action. Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Courts have interpreted the federal rules to mean that discovery encompasses "any matter that bears on or reasonably could lead to other matters that could bear on any issue that is or may be in the case." Kopacz v. Del. River and Bay Auth., 225 F.R.D. 494, 496 (D.N.J. 2004).

The discoverability of information is not determinative of its admissibility as evidence at trial. See Nestle Foods Corp. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., Civ. No. 89-1701 (CSF), 1990 WL 191922, at *4 (D.N.J. Nov. 19, 1990) (holding drafting history of insurance policies is discoverable although it may not be admissible at trial). "The fact that the information sought will be admissible at trial is a strong argument in favor of discovery." 8 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2008, at 111 (2d ed. 1994). But the converse is not true. Id. "Admissibility at the trial is not the limit of discovery, and discovery may properly be had of inadmissible matter." Id. Thus, making a determination on the issue of admissibility premature at the discovery phase. See Nestle, 1990 WL 191922, at *4.

Both Plaintiff and Defendant briefed the admissibility at trial of Defendant's alleged failure to report income on his tax returns. Plaintiff, the moving party, argues that Defendant's alleged failure to pay income taxes is relevant to his credibility, and therefore, Plaintiff requests permission to re-depose Defendant about whether Defendant reported income on his tax returns for the last 10 years related to his personal locksmith business. (Pl. Br. 7.) Plaintiff argues that pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 608, evidence about whether a witness reported his or her income to the state or federal government is admissible as relevant to Defendant's character for truthfulness. (See Pl. Br. 5.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant's credibility is important to the case (Pl. Br. 3), and therefore, Defendant's alleged failure to report federal income is admissible as a basis for impeachment (Pl. Br. 5).

In opposition, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's motion should be denied because the probative value of the evidence sought by Plaintiff is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to Defendant. (Def. Opp. 6.) Defendant argues that his credibility is not the "central issue" in the case, and therefore, the case law cited by plaintiff is distinguishable from the present case. (See Def. Opp. 8-9.) Defendant also argues that the remoteness in time of his failure to report income he received beginning in 1998, diminishes the probative value of the evidence. (Def. Opp. 11.)

As argued in Defendant's brief, Defendant's alleged failure to pay income taxes may well be inadmissible or may be admissible for a limited purpose under the Federal Rules of Evidence. The fact that Defendant's alleged failure to report income on his tax returns may not be admissible at trial, however, is not dispositive of whether this topic is a proper subject of discovery. See Nestle, 1990 WL 191922, at *4. Accordingly, it is premature to rule on the admissibility of such evidence at trial. See id. The question of whether information obtained in Defendant's deposition will be admissible is best left until trial. Thus, in arguing whether testimony ...


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