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Vargas v. Michaels Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

August 29, 2017

JESUS VARGAS, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAELS STORES, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          VIRGINIA M. HERNANDEZ COVINGTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court upon consideration of Defendant Michaels Stores, Inc.'s Omnibus Motion in Limine (Doc. # 56), filed on August 2, 2017. Plaintiff Jesus Vargas filed his response on August 16, 2017. (Doc. # 60). As set forth herein, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Legal Standard

         “A motion in limine presents a pretrial issue of admissibility of evidence that is likely to arise at trial, and as such, the order, like any other interlocutory order, remains subject to reconsideration by the court throughout the trial.” In re Seroquel Prods. Liab. Litig., Nos. 6:06- md-1769-Orl-22DAB, 6:07-cv-15733-Orl-22DAB, 2009 WL 260989, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 4, 2009). “The real purpose of a motion in limine is to give the trial judge notice of the movant's position so as to avoid the introduction of damaging evidence which may irretrievably effect the fairness of the trial.” Id. (internal quotation omitted). “A court has the power to exclude evidence in limine only when evidence is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds.” Id. (internal quotation omitted).

         “A motion in limine is not the proper vehicle to resolve substantive issues, to test issues of law, or to address or narrow the issues to be tried.” LSQ Funding Grp. v. EDS Field Servs., 879 F.Supp.2d 1320, 1337 (M.D. Fla. 2012)(citing Royal Indem. Co. v. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co., No. 07-80172- CIV, 2008 WL 2323900, at *1 (S.D. Fla. June 5, 2008)). “Denial of a motion in limine does not necessarily mean that all evidence contemplated by the motion will be admitted at trial.” In re Seroquel, 2009 WL 260989, at *1 (internal quotation marks omitted). “Instead, denial of the motion means the court cannot determine whether the evidence in question should be excluded outside the trial context.” Id. “The court will entertain objections on individual proffers as they arise at trial, even though the proffer falls within the scope of a denied motion in limine.” Id.

         The district court has broad discretion to determine the admissibility of evidence, and the appellate court will not disturb this Court's judgment absent a clear abuse of discretion. United States v. McLean, 138 F.3d 1398, 1403 (11th Cir. 1998); see also United States v. Jernigan, 341 F.3d 1273, 1285 (11th Cir. 2003)(“Inherent in this standard is the firm recognition that there are difficult evidentiary rulings that turn on matters uniquely within the purview of the district court, which has first-hand access to documentary evidence and is physically proximate to testifying witnesses and the jury.”).

         II. Analysis

         Rule 401, Federal Rules of Evidence, defines “relevant evidence” as “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. Irrelevant evidence is inadmissible. Fed.R.Evid. 402. All relevant evidence is admissible unless “its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 402, 403; United States v. Ross, 33 F.3d 1507, 1524 (11th Cir. 1994). Use of Rule 403 to exclude relevant evidence is an “extraordinary remedy” whose “major function . . . is limited to excluding matter of scant or cumulative probative force, dragged in by the heels for the sake of its prejudicial effect.” United States v. Grant, 256 F.3d 1146, 1155 (11th Cir. 2001).

         Michaels now seeks an order in limine barring Vargas from presenting evidence on sixteen different topics, arguing that these topics are irrelevant or unduly prejudicial. (Doc. # 56). The Court will address each topic in turn.

         1. Any evidence, statement, or argument related to settlement negotiations

         Michaels seeks to exclude any evidence regarding settlement negotiations pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 401, 402, 403, and 408. (Id. at 2). Rule 408 makes settlement negotiations and compromise offers inadmissible “either to prove or disprove the validity or amount of a disputed claim or to impeach by a prior inconsistent statement or a contradiction.” Fed.R.Evid. 408(a). But Rule 408(b) contains an exception: “The court may admit this evidence for another purpose, such as proving a witness's bias or prejudice, negating a contention of undue delay, or proving an effort to obstruct a criminal investigation or prosecution.” Fed.R.Evid. 408(b).

         Therefore, Rule 408 does not justify a complete bar on the admissibility of evidence of settlement negotiations. And the Court cannot determine at this juncture whether discussion of settlement negotiations for the reasons permitted under Rule 408(b) would be unfairly prejudicial or confuse the jury. Accordingly, the Motion is denied to the extent evidence of settlement negotiations is permitted for the purposes enumerated in Rule 408(b). More specific objections regarding relevance or undue prejudice under Rules 401, 402, and 403 may be addressed at trial.

         2. Any evidence, statement, or argument of insurance

         Pursuant to Rules 403 and 411, Michaels moves to exclude any evidence, statement, or argument about whether it possesses liability insurance. (Doc. # 56 at 2). Federal Rule of Evidence 411 states: “Evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible to prove whether the person acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully. But the court may admit this evidence for another purpose, such as proving a witness's bias or prejudice or proving agency, ownership, or control.” Fed.R.Evid. 411.

         Thus, the rule explicitly contemplates situations in which evidence of insurance would be admissible. Vargas requests “that this Court allow such evidence to be presented to a jury” for the purposes permitted by Rule 411, if the need arises. (Doc. # 60 at 1-2). The Court agrees that all evidence of insurance should not be categorically excluded under Rule 411. And the Court cannot determine at this time whether discussion of Michaels's insurance for the permissible purposes under Rule 411 would be irrelevant or unduly prejudicial under Rule 403. Therefore, the Court denies Michaels's Motion without prejudice. Michaels may raise more specific objections to evidence of insurance at trial.

         3. Any evidence, statement, or argument regarding the EEOC's Notice of Right to Sue and determinations therein

         Michaels seeks to exclude the EEOC's Notice of Right to Sue letter that was issued to Vargas. Michaels argues the letter is irrelevant because “it is undisputed that [Vargas] exhausted his administrative remedies before bringing his claims.” (Doc. # 56 at 2). Additionally, Michaels argues the letter is unduly prejudicial under Rule 403 because “the jury may improperly believe its findings are conclusive or indicative of fault” and “may give unjustifiable weight to a federal agency's determination.” (Id. at 2-3). Vargas argues that the letter is neither irrelevant nor prejudicial. (Doc. # 60 at 2).

         The Eleventh Circuit has stated that district courts must make determinations on a case by case basis whether to admit EEOC documents in a discrimination case before a jury. Barfield v. Orange Cty.,911 F.2d 644, 650 (11th Cir. 1990). The relevant factors include whether the documents contain legal conclusions in addition to factual content, whether questions of trustworthiness are raised pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 803(8)(c), and whether the evidence presents prejudice issues pursuant to Rule 403. And, although there may be circumstances in which the probative value of an EEOC determination ...


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