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Stubblefield v. Suzuki Motor Corp.

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

September 25, 2018

BRADLEY STUBBLEFIELD and KRISTAN STUBBLEFIELD PLAINTIFFS
v.
SUZUKI MOTOR CORP., and SUZUKI MOTOR OF AMERICA, INC. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANTS' OMNIBUS MOTION IN LIMINE

          HENRY T. WINGATE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         BEFORE THIS COURT is the defendants' Omnibus Motion in Limine [Docket no. 263]. Defendants, by their motion, ask this court to exclude several categories of evidence. Plaintiffs oppose defendants' request and ask this court to deny defendants' Omnibus Motion in Limine [Docket no. 263].

         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 Defendants Seek to Exclude

         Defendants seek an order excluding several categories of evidence that they expect plaintiffs to attempt to introduce at the jury trial of this lawsuit. This court will address each category individually below. Defendants also ask this court to sequester all witnesses whom the parties intend to call during the jury trial of this matter.

         a. Kristan Stubblefield's Blog

         Plaintiff Kristan Stubblefield allegedly maintains a blog[1] on the internet at http://bradandkristan.blogspot.com that documents what plaintiffs allege that they endured as a result of the subject motorcycle accident. Defendants acknowledge that the court will give a preliminary instruction to the jury forbidding them to conduct independent investigations. Defendants campaign that the instruction will not be enough to prevent the prejudice that will occur if a jury member violates the court's instruction. Defendants further argue - by citing Rule 801 and 802 of the Federal Rules of Evidence - that the blog is hearsay, and should be excluded.

         Plaintiffs respond that the blog is a “source of therapy” for plaintiff Kristan Stubblefield and the court should not order her to remove it from the internet. Moreover, says plaintiffs, the court's preliminary instruction should be enough to prevent individual jurors from conducting independent investigation, to include searching for and reading plaintiff Kristan Stubblefield's blog. Plaintiffs finally say that they may attempt to introduce the blog at trial, making defendants' motion moot.

         This court is persuaded that it does not possess enough information at this stage of the litigation to order plaintiff Kristan Stubblefield to remove her blog from the internet. The complained-of blog may constitute inadmissible hearsay - an argument that defendants alluded to, yet failed to expand upon - and, therefore, defendants' motion in limine on this ground is denied without prejudice. Plaintiffs must inform the court out of the presence of the jury before attempting to introduce evidence of the blog.

         b. Medical Expenses Other Than Those Actually Incurred

         Defendants next ask this court to limit plaintiffs' proof of their medical expenses to those expenses that they have actually incurred. For support, defendants cite Miss. Code § 41-9-119[2]. Defendants say that Mississippi adheres to the collateral source rule[3], but state that Mississippi is shifting in its approach to the collateral source rule.

         Plaintiffs say that the collateral source rule in Mississippi is still the law, despite defendants' urging of this court to find to the contrary. Further, say plaintiffs, the case cited by defendants for the proposition that the collateral source rule in Mississippi is shifting away from the application of the rule is, in actuality, a limited exception to the collateral source rule. That exception is where the evidence of collateral source payments are admitted for the limited purpose of impeaching false testimony. Citing Robinson Prop. Grp., 7 So.3d at 245, 247.

         This court agrees with plaintiffs that Mississippi adheres to the collateral source rule. Accordingly, defendants' motion in limine is denied on this ground.

         c. Third Party Attempts to Interpret Defendants' Documents

         Defendants ask this court to exclude any testimony from plaintiffs or their witnesses interpreting defendants' state of mind or knowledge from any documents produced in discovery by defendants. To allow such, say defendants, would violate Rules 602[4] and 703[5] of the Federal Rules of Evidence. First, says defendants, plaintiffs expert witnesses do not possess personal knowledge about the state of mind or knowledge of defendants. Second, says defendants, plaintiffs expert witnesses lack the qualifications to offer opinion testimony about defendants' knowledge or state of mind to be able to interpret said documents for the jury. Thirdly, says defendants, plaintiffs did not designate their expert witnesses as experts to interpret defendants' documents regarding the state of mind or knowledge of defendants.

         Plaintiffs say that their expert witnesses are allowed to rely upon the documentation in formulating their opinions. Moreover, says plaintiffs, their experts are properly designated and have the requisite knowledge and experience to formulate an opinion about defendants' state of mind and knowledge.

         This court is persuaded that it does not currently possess enough information to rule on this ground of defendants' motion in limine. Accordingly, this court will deny the defendants' motion in limine without prejudice and the parties may reurge their motion at a later time.

         d. Relative Financial Status of the Parties

         Defendants next ask this court to order that plaintiffs may not refer to the relative size, financial condition, or financial status of the parties. For support, defendants cite Hankins v. Ford Motor Co., Civ. A. No. 3:08-cv-639-CWR-FKB, 2012 WL 174793 (S.D.Miss. Jan. 20, 2012). In Hankins, United States District Court Judge Carlon Reeves quoted and adopted the opinion of United States District Court Judge Daniel P. Jordan:

Although Ford is correct that witnesses may not speculate as to its state of mind, a witness may be allowed to testify about conclusions Ford reached or what Ford should have known based on its own documents and data. The line between what is admissible and not admissible will depend in large part on the specific questions and responses, and the Court cannot rule in limine on this matter.

Hankins v. Ford Motor Co., No. 3:08-CV-639-CWR-FKB, 2012 WL 174793, at *6 (S.D.Miss. Jan. 20, 2012)(Citing Bradley, 2007 WL 4624613, *3 (S.D.Miss. Aug. 3, 2007)).

         This court is likewise persuaded that defendants' motion in limine on this ground is question and response specific. Accordingly, this court denies defendants' motion in limine without prejudice.

         Defendants also say that this court should exclude all evidence of plaintiffs' financial status because introduction of such: is immaterial and irrelevant (citing Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence[6]); and would be more prejudicial than probative (citing Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence[7]). Plaintiffs respond that evidence of their financial hardship is an integral part of this lawsuit and, therefore, their financial status is relevant and not overly prejudicial. This court agrees with plaintiffs that their financial status, without comparing it to that of defendants' financial status, is relevant and the prejudicial nature of such does not substantially outweigh the probative value. Accordingly, defendants' motion in limine on this ground is denied.

         e. References to Defendants' Counsel

         Defendants next ask this court to exclude all references by plaintiffs or their witnesses to various aspects of defendants' counsel, namely: the relationship between defendants and their counsel; defendants' counsels' area of speciality; the size of defendants' counsels' firm; and the location of defendants' counsels' firm. Defendants cite Smerke v. Office Equipment Co. et al, 158 S.W.2d 302, 303 (Tex. 1941), a Texas Commission of Appeals case. In that case, the court held that “personal references to counsel in a case manifestly have nothing to do with the merits of the case.” Smerke, at 303.

         Plaintiffs, by their response, appear to be confused about what defendants are asking this court to exclude. They respond with the same arguments that they made to defendants' motion about the relative size and financial status of the parties.

         The nature, location, size, and speciality of defendants' counsel is irrelevant to this lawsuit. This court cannot discern a relevant reason for plaintiff to attempt introduction of such. ...


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