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Bejerano v. Flex Florida Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

October 24, 2019

DIONYS BEJERANO, JORGE L. GRANADOS MILLIAN, and all others similarly situated under 29 U.S.C. 216 b, Plaintiffs,
v.
FLEX FLORIDA COPR. d/b/a BEST AWNINGS, and FELIX G. ARBUCIAS, Defendants.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS' MOTION IN LIMINE

          EDWIN G. TORRES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Dionys Bejerano's and Jorge L. Granados Millian's (“Plaintiffs”) motion in limine against Flex Florida Corp. d/b/a Best Awnings and Felix G. Arbucias (“Defendants”). [D.E. 76]. Defendants responded to Plaintiffs' motion on September 25, 2019 [D.E. 77] to which Plaintiffs replied on October 2, 2019. [D.E. 79]. Therefore, Plaintiffs' motion is now ripe for disposition. After careful consideration of the motion, response, reply, relevant authority, and for the reasons discussed below, Plaintiffs' motion in limine is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs filed this action on January 5, 2018 with allegations that Defendants violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). [D.E. 1]. Plaintiffs claim that they worked as awning installers and welders from approximately February 2013 to December 2017. Plaintiffs also allege that they worked an average of 65 hours per week, but that Defendants never paid the extra half time rate for any hours worked more than 40 hours per week as required under the FLSA. Accordingly, Plaintiffs request damages, reasonable attorneys' fees, court costs, and interest.

         II. APPLICABLE PRINCIPLES AND LAW

         “The purpose of an in limine motion is to aid the trial process by enabling the Court to rule in advance of trial on the relevance of certain forecasted evidence, as to issues that are definitely set for trial, without lengthy argument at, or interruption of, the trial.” Highland Capital Mgmt., L.P. v. Schneider, 551 F.Supp.2d 173, 176 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (citing Palmieri v. Defaria, 88 F.3d 136, 141 (2d Cir. 1996)). Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, evidence is considered relevant as long as it has the tendency to make a fact of consequence more or less probable. See Fed. R. Evid. 401(a)-(b). The Rules permit the exclusion of relevant evidence when the probative value is substantially outweighed by danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, and/or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence. Fed.R.Evid. 403 (emphasis added). Courts are cautioned to use Rule 403 sparingly, see, e.g., United States v. King, 713 F.2d 627, 631 (1983), in part because the federal rules favor admission of evidence and in part because relevant evidence is inherently prejudicial to a criminal defendant. See id. (citing to other sources).

         The term “unfair prejudice” in and of itself speaks to the ability of a piece of relevant evidence to lure the fact finder into declaring a defendant's guilt on grounds other than specific proof of the offense charged. Old Chief v. United States, 519 U.S. 172, 180 (1997). It also signifies an undue tendency to suggest guilt on an improper basis, commonly an emotional one. See Id. In the context of a Rule 403 balancing test, the more essential the piece of evidence is to a case, the higher its probative value; the higher a piece of evidence's probative value, the less likely it should be excluded on 403 grounds. See King, 713 F.2d at 631.

         Rule 404(b) provides that while evidence of a defendant's other crimes, wrongs, or acts is inadmissible to prove a defendant's actions conform with his character, such evidence may be admitted for other purposes such as “proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.” Fed.R.Evid. 404(b). Essentially, Rule 404(b) “protects against the introduction of extrinsic act evidence when that evidence is offered solely to prove character.” Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681, 687 (1988). For evidence of other crimes or acts to be admissible under Rule 404(b), (1) the evidence must be relevant to an issue other than defendant's character, (2) there must be sufficient proof to enable a jury to find by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed the extrinsic act(s) in question, and (3) the probative value of the evidence cannot be substantially outweighed by undue prejudice. See, e.g., United States v. Chavez, 204 F.3d 1305, 1317 (11th Cir. 2000). The evidence must also pass a 403 balancing test. Id. To meet the second prong of the three-part test above, the Government need only make a sufficient showing under which a jury could believe the act actually happened. See generally Huddleston, 485 U.S. 681.

         Evidence falls outside the scope of Rule 404(b) when it is (1) an uncharged offense that arose out of the same transaction or series of transactions as the charged offense, (2) necessary to complete the story of the crime, or (3) inextricably intertwined with the evidence regarding the charged offense. United States v. Baker, 432 F.3d 1189, 1205 n.9 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting another source).

Evidence not part of the crime charged but [that] pertain[s] to the chain of events explaining the context, motive[, ] and set-up of the crime, is properly admitted if linked in time and circumstances with the charged crime . . . forms an integral and natural part of an account of the crime, or is necessary to complete the story of the crime for the jury.

United States v. McLean, 138 F.3d 1398, 1403 (11th Cir. 1998). Such evidence must also still satisfy the requirements of Rule 403. See Baker, 432 F.3d at 1189.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs' motion seeks to exclude evidence of (1) attorneys' fees and costs, (2) liquidated damages, (3) the law firm representing Plaintiffs, (4), Plaintiffs' payment or non-payment of federal income taxes, (5) and Plaintiffs' prior arrests, convictions, pleas, and pending criminal cases. Defendants do not oppose the relief sought as to first three categories but argue that the wholesale exclusion of any references to federal income taxes, arrests, convictions, pleas, and pending criminal cases cannot stand. We will discuss the parties' arguments in turn.

         A. Fees, Liquidated Damages, and ...


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