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Campbell v. Ackerman

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 29, 2018

TARA-LEE CAMPBELL, f/k/a Tara-Lee Manchester, Plaintiff, Appellant,
BRIAN ACKERMAN, in his individual and official capacity as Detective of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, and CUMBERLAND COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, Defendants, Appellees.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MAINE [Hon. D. Brock Hornby, U.S. District Judge] [Hon. John C. Nivison, U.S. Magistrate Judge]

          Anthony J. Sineni, III for appellant.

          Peter T. Marchesi, with whom Cassandra S. Shaffer and Wheeler & Arey, P.A. were on brief, for appellees.

          Before Torruella, Selya, and Barron, Circuit Judges.


         In the aftermath of a four-day jury trial culminating in a take-nothing verdict, plaintiff-appellant Tara-Lee Campbell challenges the district court's exclusion of certain evidence.[1] Concluding, as we do, that Campbell's grounds for attacking one set of challenged evidentiary rulings were not advanced below and that her remaining challenge is moot, we affirm the judgment below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         We sketch the pertinent facts and travel of the case. On November 19, 2013, members of the Emergency Services Unit (ESU) of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office (Sheriff's Office) executed a search warrant at the home of Campbell and her then-husband, Byron Manchester, in Casco, Maine. Defendant-appellee Brian Ackerman, a detective, had obtained the warrant based on allegations limning probable cause to believe that Manchester was a felon in possession of firearms. As matters turned out, Manchester was not a convicted felon and, thus, the search warrant was issued on a faulty premise.

         The ESU was the functional equivalent of a SWAT team. Its members were equipped with tactical gear and semi-automatic weapons. At trial, the facts surrounding the execution of the search were hotly disputed. Campbell testified that Detective Ackerman - in an effort to move Campbell away from the house - dragged her across the yard as she stumbled over gravel and rocks. Detective Ackerman contested this narrative, asserting that he never touched Campbell and made no effort to restrain her.

         Manchester was arrested following the search, but he was released the same day. No charges were pressed. Even so, the saga did not end there: Campbell and Manchester sued Detective Ackerman and the Sheriff's Office in the federal district court, alleging among other things violations of the Fourth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As relevant here, the complaint alleged that Campbell's Fourth Amendment rights had been violated by Detective Ackerman's use of excessive force while executing the search warrant.[2] Notably, the complaint did not endeavor to state any claim concerning the validity of the warrant.

         On November 9, 2016, the district court convened a pre-filing status conference. See D. Me. R. 56(h). At that time, Campbell agreed that her only cause of action under the Fourth Amendment and section 1983 was an excessive force claim, explicitly disavowing any "illegal search claim." Consequently, the parties stipulated that "[t]he search warrant is relevant only to the extent it provide[s] grounds for the officers' use of force." These agreements were confirmed in an order entered by the district court. See id. (requiring entry of order "reciting the action taken at [pre-filing status] conference").

         Campbell subsequently joined in an attempt to amend the complaint to add a claim, also in pursuance of the Fourth Amendment and section 1983, that the search warrant was unlawfully obtained. The district court denied this motion, [3] holding that Campbell could not "back away" from her earlier agreement and could not belatedly "attempt to make an illegal search claim." The court made pellucid, though, that it was not excluding evidence relating to the procurement or validity of the warrant insofar as such evidence might be shown to be relevant to the excessive force claim by "the defendants rely[ing] on the warrant to support any belief that force of a certain level was required and their knowledge of the circumstances of the warrant's issuance."

         During the later stages of pretrial proceedings, the parties skirmished regarding the admissibility of evidence related to the issuance of the warrant. The defendants moved in limine, premised on the district court's earlier ruling, to exclude any trial evidence relating to the procurement of the warrant. Campbell countered by filing a self-styled motion in limine offering "supplemental argument" in opposition to the exclusion of such evidence. The district court resolved these competing motions on the first day of trial: it ruled provisionally that, consistent with the parties' prior agreements and with its own earlier decisions, Campbell could not present evidence relating to either the procurement or the validity of the search warrant unless she first laid a foundation establishing the relevance of such evidence to her excessive force claim.

         The trial went forward. On the third day, the district court formally granted in part and denied in part Campbell's motion in limine. Specifically, the court allowed the introduction of evidence concerning Detective Ackerman's involvement in the decisions about how to execute the warrant (including the decision to employ a SWAT team) but ...

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