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Stubblefield v. Suzuki Motor Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

September 11, 2018




         BEFORE THIS COURT is the Plaintiffs' Motion in Limine [Docket no. 245]. Plaintiffs seek an order from this court excluding various categories of evidence during a jury trial in this matter. Plaintiffs did not file a memorandum brief in support of their motion in limine and the motion in limine itself does not cite any authority for the exclusions of the categories of evidence.

         Defendants oppose such motion by response in opposition and memorandum brief. Defendants here are Suzuki Motor Corporation (hereinafter referred to as “SMC”) and Suzuki Motor of America, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as “SMAI”).

         I. Motion in Limine Standard

         United States District Court Judge Debra M. Brown stated succinctly the standard for a motion in limine.

“The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow the trial court to rule in advance of trial on the admissibility and relevance of certain forecasted evidence.” Wechsler v. Hunt Health Sys., Ltd, 381 F.Supp.2d 135, 140 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (citing Luce v. U.S., 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4, 105 S.Ct. 460, 83 L.Ed.2d 443 (1984)) (emphasis omitted). “Evidence should not be excluded in limine unless it is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds.” Fair v. Allen, No. 09-2018, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27390, 2011 WL 830291, at *1 (W.D. La. Mar. 3, 2011); see also Hull v. Ford, No. C-05-43, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3686, 2008 WL 178890, at *1 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 17, 2008).

Harkness v. Bauhaus U.S.A., Inc., No. 3:13-CV-00129-DMB-SAA, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17926, at *1-2 (N.D. Miss. Feb. 13, 2015).

         The court, after reviewing the pleadings, arguments of counsel, and the relevant jurisprudence, makes the following rulings.

         II. Categories Plaintiffs Seek to Exclude

         Plaintiffs seek to exclude several categories of evidence without specific references to items of evidence or testimony. This court will address each category individually below.

         a. Jennifer Lind Testimony

         Plaintiffs seek to exclude the testimony of Jennifer Lind, who is the mother of Preston Lind. According to defendants, plaintiffs conducted a secret riding test of the subject motorcycle in violation of a non-spoliation letter defendants tendered to plaintiffs. The results of that secret testing were purportedly favorable to defendants. Preston Lind is the test rider who drove the subject motorcycle. Plaintiffs' attorney, Mike Malouf, Jr. was the only other person present at the secret riding test of the subject motorcycle. After his test ride, Preston Lind died of unrelated causes. Defendants later discovered the secret test ride and deposed Jennifer Lind, who testified that Preston Lind said the subject motorcycle had no mechanical problems when he test rode it.

         Plaintiffs state generically that Jennifer Lind's “testimony is hearsay and not reliable” without citing the specific testimony and/or statements that are excludable. Plaintiffs also make the argument that Preston Lind was a non-testifying consultant under the authority of Rule 26(b)(4)(D)[1] of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         Defendant responds that plaintiffs have failed to identify specific evidence or testimony of Jennifer Lind and that this court has already rejected plaintiffs Rule 26 objection on other grounds.

         This court is persuaded that Jennifer Lind's testimony, as recited by the defendants, is relevant to whether the subject motorcycle was experiencing mechanical failure. This court must next address plaintiffs' hearsay objection. Hearsay is “a statement that: the declarant does not make while testifying at the current trial or hearing; and a party offers in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.” Fed.R.Evid. 801. Hearsay is generally excluded except where an exception applies. See Fed. R. Evid. 802.

         This court finds that the residual exception may apply to Jennifer Lind's expected testimony. Rule 807 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides:

(a) In General. Under the following circumstances, a hearsay statement is not excluded by the rule against hearsay even if the statement is not specifically covered by a hearsay exception in Rule 803 or 804:
(1) the statement has equivalent circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness;
(2) it is offered as evidence of a material fact;
(3) it is more probative on the point for which it is offered than any other evidence that the proponent can obtain through reasonable efforts; and
(4) admitting it will best serve the purposes of these rules and the interests of justice.
(b) Notice. The statement is admissible only if, before the trial or hearing, the proponent gives an adverse party reasonable notice of the intent to offer the statement and its particulars, including the declarant's name and address, so that the party has a fair opportunity to meet it.

Fed. R. Evid. 807.

         This court has analyzed what it has of Jennifer Lind's expected testimony in light of the mandates of Rule 807. Jennifer Lind's statement may have circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness in that she is not a party to this lawsuit and seemingly will gain no reward in testifying about what her dead son said to her. This court finds further that her testimony is Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 relevant evidence of material fact - that plaintiffs' own expert did not find any mechanical fault with the subject motorcycle - and that it is more probative than any other evidence than can be reasonably obtained by plaintiffs (with the possible exception of the testimony of one of plaintiffs' attorney which is also a subject of this motion in limine). Admitting Jennifer Lind's testimony, this court finds, may best serve the purposes of the Federal Rules of Evidence and the interests of justice. Accordingly, this court recognizes that the residual exception may apply, and, if so, and defendants may call Jennifer Lind as a witness. Still, before this court announces its final decision on this point, this court wants to hear from Jennifer Lind and how, when, where, and before whom, this alleged conversation occurred. Further, this court wants to know what remuneration, if any, her son received from plaintiffs, or was owed by plaintiffs at the time of his death. This inquiry is to proceed out of the presence of the jury before she is to testify.

         b. Preston ...

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