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Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rules in Section 1983 civil rights case that defense's police-practices expert could testify about objective reasonableness of officer's conduct

On May 5, 2017, in Knight v. Miami-Dade County, No. 15-10687, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict in favor of Miami-Dade County in a Section 1983 civil rights case involving a police shooting of the unarmed occupants of a vehicle. One of the principal issues on appeal was the trial court’s rulings with regard to the testimony of the defense’s police practices expert, who was allowed to testify that the officers’ conduct had been objectively reasonable and in accordance with training throughout the country.

The plaintiff sought to challenge the testimony on the basis that the expert did not have firsthand knowledge of much of the evidence and instead relied on hearsay evidence provided by a review of the various reports in the case. The Eleventh Circuit summarily dispensed with this argument, noting that this evidence is precisely the kind reasonably relied on by experts in the field.

The appellant’s presented a stronger argument that in assessing the reasonable of the officers’ actions, the expert had been permitted to testify to facts that were not within the officers’ knowledge.. However, the Eleventh Circuit noted that the appellants had not questioned the use of this evidence at the expert’s deposition or at trial and concluded that they could not establish prejudice from the use of the statements given the other evidence in the case.

The Eleventh Circuit also concluded that the trial court had not abused its broad discretion in managing the case by limiting the plaintiff’s attorney’s cross-examination of the defense expert to one hour even though the defense had been allowed eighty minutes in the cross-examination of the plaintiff’s expert.

Finally, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the trial court had not abused its discretion in excluding late-disclosed experts offered by the plaintiff. The Court noted that “in evaluating whether the exclusion of a late witness was an abuse of discretion, an appellate court should consider the explanation for the failure to disclose the witness, the importance of the testimony, and the prejudice to the opposing party if the witness had been allowed to testify.” The Court continued: “[w]hile a court may ‘grant a post hoc extension of the discovery deadline for good cause, it [is] under no obligation to do so’ and, ‘in fact, we have often held that a district court’s decision to hold litigants to the clear terms of its scheduling orders is not an abuse of discretion.’” Quoting Josendis v. Wall to Wall Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1307 (11th Cir. 2011). The Court noted that if a party fails to disclose information or witnesses required by Rule 26, it may still be allowed to use that information or witness under Rule 37(c)(1) provided that the failure was substantially justified or is harmless.. “Substantially justified means that reasonable people could differ as to the appropriateness of the contested action.” Quoting Maddow v. Procter & Gamble Co., Inc., 107 F.3d 846, 853 (11th Cir. 1997).
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