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Rivera v. City of Worcester

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 17, 2014

PABLO RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WORCESTER, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

DAVID H. HENNESSY, Magistrate Judge.

By Order of Reference dated February 14, 2014, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) (Docket #73), this matter was referred to me for a ruling on Plaintiff Pablo Rivera's Motion to Preclude Opinion Testimony of Detective Daniel Rosario and Lieutenant John Towns (Docket #62). Defendants have filed a response to this motion. (Docket #70). A hearing on the motion was held on March 31, 2014. The motion, as it pertains to the testimony of Detective Rosario was denied as moot. (Docket 81). With respect to the motion as it relates to Lieutenant Towns, the Court held the motion in abeyance until the parties provided additional documentation. (Id.). Specifically, the Court ordered Defendants to set forth the exact opinion testimony that Lieutenant Towns will provide as well as his qualifications to give that opinion, and for Rivera to respond with any objections he has to Lieutenant Towns' testimony as an expert. (Id.). On April 14, 2014, Defendants provided a supplement to their opposition to the motion and the affidavit of Lieutenant Towns. (Dockets # 82, 82-1). On April 23, 2014, Rivera filed his objections. (Docket #83). This matter is now ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the Motion to Preclude Opinion Testimony of Lieutenant John Towns is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 8, 2010, an armed robbery took place at a Honey Farms Store in Worcester Massachusetts. (Docket #18 at ¶ 7). Following an investigation into the incident by the Worcester Police Department ("WPD"), still photographs of the perpetrator were taken from the store's surveillance system and posted in the police station so members of the WPD could aid in identifying the suspect. (Id. at ¶ 13). Rivera is approximately 5' 9" tall. (Id. at ¶ 24). The victim of the robbery told investigators that the suspect was approximately 4' 11". (Id. at ¶ 20). Defendant Detective Richard Burgos, Defendant Detective James O'Rourke, and Defendant Officer Francis Bartley each viewed the photograph displayed in the police station. (Id. at ¶¶ 14-17). Detective Burgos identified the suspect in the photograph as Rivera. (Id. at ¶ 14). Detective O'Rourke and Officer Bartley also confirmed that the suspect was Rivera but only after a side-by-side comparison with a photograph of Rivera already on file. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17). As a result of these identifications, Detective Bartley applied for an arrest warrant for Rivera which was subsequently issued by the Worcester District Court. (Docket #88 at ¶ 13). Rivera was subsequently arrested. (Docket #18 at ¶ 26).

Rivera filed this action in the Superior Court of Worcester County on February 6, 2012. (Docket #3-2). On May 12, 2012, Rivera filed an amended complaint asserting claims of false imprisonment, negligence, failure to supervise and/or failure to train, and violations of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants.[1] (Docket #3-10). Rivera alleges that he was wrongfully arrested by the WPD for an armed robbery and, as a result, was held in custody for approximately eight months until the Worcester County District Attorney dismissed the prosecution against Rivera. (Id.). Defendants removed the action to this Court on May 25, 2012. (Docket #1).

Defendants have disclosed Lieutenant Towns as a hybrid fact/expert witness. Lieutenant Towns seeks to offer the following three opinions:

1. An initial statement made by the store clerk at the Honey Farms Store on May 8, 2010 that the perpetrator was four feet eleven inches tall was not credible, as victims of violent crime are typically not very accurate in their initial description of a perpetrator. (Docket #82-1 at ¶ 8).
2. The identification of Rivera by Detective Burgos and Detective O'Rourke, who had extensive familiarity with Rivera, was properly given considerable weight by Bartley, who completed the application for the arrest warrant for Rivera. (Docket #82-1 at ¶ 10).
3. All available evidence was taken into account and properly considered and used in the arrest warrant for Rivera, and, therefore, the arrest warrant for Rivera was reasonable and warranted under all of the circumstances facing Officer Bartley. (Docket #82-1 at ¶ 11).

II. STANDARD

The admission of expert evidence is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which provides:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence ...

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