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First Circuit: No Deposition Testimony of Incarcerated Witness; Incarceration Does Not Make Witness "Unavailable"

First Circuit: No Deposition Testimony of Incarcerated Witness; Incarceration Does Not Make Witness "Unavailable"

The First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Rhode Island federal court's decision to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims, bar deposition and live testimony of an incarcerated witness and grant Defendants judgment as a matter of law.

On August 12, 2005, Pawtucket Police Department (PPD) officers Christopher Lombardi and Richard LaForest received a report of two recent armed robberies in Providence, Rhode Island. Seeing what they believed was the suspect vehicle, Lombardi and LaForest attempted to get a look at the driver, but the vehicle sped away.

The officers gave chase, as the car raced through rush hour traffic at 60-70 miles per hour, ignoring traffic signals. Two minutes into the chase, the vehicle ran a red light, colliding with another car in the intersection. The occupants of the suspect vehicle were ejected on impact. Passenger Jason C. Goncalves was killed but driver Josimar Pereira survived.

When Lombardi and LaForest reached the crash scene they first realized that neither occupant matched the robbery suspect's physical description.

Goncalves's estate and surviving children sued the officers and other Defendants in state court, alleging federal constitutional and state tort claims. Defendants removed to federal court and Plaintiffs' constitutional claims were dismissed.

The court refused to remand the state law claims back to state court. During trial, Plaintiffs sought to admit Pereira's testimony in deposition form, arguing that his imprisonment rendered him unavailable. The district court disagreed. Plaintiffs then moved for a continuance to secure Pereira's presence. The court then denied the request, because they chose not to secure his testimony pretrial.

Without Pereira's testimony, the officers' testimony about the chase was uncontroverted. Under Rhode Island law, police who give audible warning signals while pursuing suspects are not liable unless they recklessly disregard the safety of others.

After plaintiffs rested, Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law on the issue of recklessness, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). The court granted the motion, concluding "that no reasonable jury could find that the officers had acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others."

The First Circuit affirmed, first concluding that the district court appropriately exercised its discretion in exercising supplemental jurisdiction under 28 USC § 13670(3).
The court also concluded that the district court correctly refused to admit Pereira's deposition testimony and did not abuse its discretion in denying a continuance to secure his live testimony.

The court finally held "that there was no error in the allowance of the defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law" because "the jury had no legally cognizable basis for finding the officers liable for Goncalves' death." See: Delgado v. Pawtucket Police Department, 668 F.3d 42 (1st Cir. 2012).

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Related legal case

Delgado v. Pawtucket Police Department