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Watts v. United Parcel Service

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

September 5, 2013



KAREN L. LITKOVITZ, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon the following motions: (1) plaintiff Theresa Watts's motion in limine regarding Exhibit 2 (Doc. 251) and a memorandum in opposition filed by defendant United Parcel Service (UPS) (Doc. 253); (2) defendant UPS's motion in limine (Doc. 252) and plaintiff Watts's response in opposition to the motion in limine (Doc. 257); (3) defendant's motion to strike as untimely plaintiff's motion in limine and response to defendant's motion in limine (Doc. 260); (4) plaintiff's motion in limine relating to grievance proceedings (Doc. 258) and defendant's memorandum in opposition (Doc. 266); and (5) plaintiff's motion for a punitive damages instruction (Doc. 256) and defendant's memorandum in opposition (Doc. 262).

I. UPS's motion to strike (Doc. 260)

Defendant UPS moves to strike plaintiff's second motion in limine (Doc. 258) and plaintiff's response in opposition to defendant's motion in limine (Doc. 257) as untimely. Plaintiff filed the second motion in limine and the opposing memorandum shortly after this matter was reassigned to the undersigned for all further proceedings. (Doc. 254). Full briefing of the pending motions and disputed evidentiary matters is helpful to a complete understanding of the issues involved in this case, which has a lengthy procedural history. Accordingly, defendant's motion to strike is DENIED.

II. Motion in limine standard

The Court has the discretion to rule on an evidentiary motion in limine pursuant "to the district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials." Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). "The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow the Court to rule on issues pertaining to evidence in advance of trial in order to avoid delay and ensure an even-handed and expeditious trial." Morrison v. Stephenson, No. 2:06-cv-283, 2008 WL 5050585, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Nov. 20, 2008) (citing Ind. Ins. Co. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 326 F.Supp.2d 844, 846 (N.D. Ohio 2004) (internal citations omitted)). See also Tuttle v. Tyco Electronics Installation Services, Inc., No. 2:06-cv-581, 2008 WL 343178, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Feb. 7, 2008).

A party seeking to exclude evidence on a motion in limine must demonstrate that the evidence is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds. See Ind. Ins. Co., 326 F.Supp.2d at 846; English Woods Civic Ass'n/Resident Cmty. Council v. Cincinnati Metro. Hous. Auth., No. 1:03-cv-186, 2004 WL 6043508, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Nov. 23, 2004) (a motion in limine should be granted only where evidence "is clearly inadmissible for any purpose") (citation omitted); cf. Luce, 469 U.S. at 41. "Unless evidence meets this high standard, evidentiary rulings should be deferred until trial so that questions of foundation, relevancy and potential prejudice may be resolved in proper context." Indiana Ins. Co., 326 F.Supp.2d at 846.

If the Court denies a motion in limine, the evidence sought to be excluded by the motion will not necessarily be admitted at trial. Id. The Court will consider objections raised at trial, even if the objection falls within the scope of a motion in limine that has been denied. Id. at 846-47 citing United States v. Connelly, 874 F.2d 412, 416 (7th Cir. 1989) (citing Luce, 469 U.S. at 41)). The trial judge, in the exercise of his or her sound discretion, is free to alter a previous in limine ruling at trial. Luce, 469 U.S. at 41-42. See also United States v. Hurd, 7 F.3d 236, 1993 WL 389944, at *3 (6th Cir. 1993) (table) (a ruling on a motion in limine is essentially an advisory ruling which the trial court is permitted to change during the trial).

A motion in limine that seeks to exclude broad categories of evidence should rarely be granted. Sperberg v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 519 F.2d 708, 712 (6th Cir. 1975). The better practice is to deal with questions of admissibility of evidence as they arise at trial. Id. See also SPX Corp. v. Bartec USA, No. 06-14888, 2008 WL 3850770, at *3 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 12, 2008) ("Normally, motions in limine are not proper procedural devices for the wholesale disposition of theories or defenses."). A motion in limine is meant to address evidentiary questions and is not an appropriate device for resolving substantive issues, nor a substitute for summary judgment. Tuttle, No. 2:06-cv-581, 2008 WL 343178, at *5 (citations omitted). See also ABC Beverage Corp. & Subsidiaries v. United States, No. 1:07-cv-051, 2008 WL 5424174, at *2 (W.D. Mich. Dec. 4, 2008) (noting that motions in limine are not "substitutes for dispositive motions") (citations omitted).

The undersigned's rulings on the parties' motions in limine are informed by the prior evidentiary rulings that have been issued in this case and by the findings of the judges who have presided over the trial of this case on three prior occasions. The undersigned is generally bound by these prior rulings pursuant to the law of the case doctrine. The law of the case doctrine provides that "when a court decides upon a rule of law, that decision should continue to govern the same issues in subsequent stages in the same case." Scott v. Churchill, 377 F.3d 565, 569-70 (6th Cir. 2004) (quoting Arizona v. California, 460 U.S. 605, 618 (1983)). The doctrine precludes a court from reconsidering issues "decided at an early stage of the litigation, either explicitly or by necessary inference from the disposition." Hanover Ins. Co. v. Am. Engineering Co., 105 F.3d 306, 312 (6th Cir. 1997) (quoting Coal Res., Inc. v. Gulf & Western Indus., Inc., 865 F.2d 761, 766 (6th Cir. 1989)). The doctrine applies equally to the decisions issued by coordinate courts in the same case and to the court's own decisions. Christianson v. Colt Industries Operating Corp., 486 U.S. 800, 816 (1988).

"Law of the case directs a court's discretion, it does not limit the tribunal's power." Association of Frigidaire Model Makers v. General Motors Corp., 51 F.3d 271, 1995 WL 141344, at *4 (6th Cir. March 31, 1995) (table) (quoting Arizona, 460 U.S. at 618); see also Gillig v. Advanced Cardiovascular Sys., Inc., 67 F.3d 586, 589-90 (6th Cir. 1995). Nonetheless, although the doctrine does not foreclose a district court from reconsidering its prejudgment orders, "it does cast an air of caution on such an exercise by a judicial officer." Waste Mgmt. of Ohio, Inc. v. City of Dayton, 169 F.Appx. 976, 985 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Gillig, 67 F.3d at 589-90). While a court "has the power to revisit prior decisions of its own or of a coordinate court in any circumstance, " the Supreme Court has cautioned that "as a rule courts should be loathe to do so in the absence of extraordinary circumstances." Christianson, 486 U.S. at 817. As recognized by the Sixth Circuit: "It would be utterly destructive... if each successive decision resulted in the reconsideration of every previous one, and a sequence of decisions in the same case based on different views of overlapping issues of law would likely result in an internally inconsistent judgment. To avoid the horns of this dilemma, it is the practice to treat each successive decision as establishing the law of the case and depart from it only for convincing reasons." Waste Mgmt. of Ohio, Inc., 169 F.Appx. at 985 (quoting Moore ' s Federal Practice ).

The mandate rule is a specific application of the law-of-the-case doctrine. Id. at 986 (citing Scott, 377 F.3d at 570). "The basic tenet of the mandate rule is that a district court is bound to the scope of the remand issued by the court of appeals." Id. Although the same court has the discretion to revisit issues previously decided by it, the same is not true when an appellate court has determined an issue of law. Id. "When a superior court determines the law of the case and issues its mandate, a lower court is not free to depart from it." Id. (citing Litman v. Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co., 825 F.2d 1506 (11th Cir. 1987)). The trial court must "implement both the letter and the spirit" of the appellate court's mandate, "taking into account the appellate court's opinion and the circumstances it embraces." Westside Mothers v. Olszewski, 454 F.3d 532, 538 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Brunet v. City of Columbus, 58 F.3d 251, 254 (6th Cir. 1995)). There are narrow grounds for departure from the general rule that the lower court is bound by the higher court's decisions, including when the evidence on a subsequent trial was substantially different, controlling authority has since made a contrary decision of the law applicable to such issues, or the decision was clearly erroneous and would work a manifest injustice. Waste Mgmt. of Ohio, Inc., 169 F.Appx. at 987 (citing McIlravy v. Kerr-McGee Coal Corp., 204 F.3d 1031, 1035 (10th Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted)).

III. Plaintiff's motion in limine regarding Plaintiff's Exhibit 2 (Doc. 251)

Plaintiff Watts seeks a ruling in advance of trial that she be permitted to publish Plaintiff's Exhibit 2 to the jury during the trial of this matter. Plaintiff has attached Exhibit 2 to her motion in limine as Exhibit A. She describes Exhibit 2 as a purported "written iteration of UPS' policy governing its Temporary Alternative Work program (TAW')." (Doc. 251 at 2). Plaintiff states that Exhibit 2 was admitted at the conclusion of the February 2011 trial of this matter over defendant's objection, and she alleges it therefore appears the admissibility of Exhibit 2 has been resolved in her favor. ( Id. ). Plaintiff requests that she be permitted to publish the exhibit to the jury as an aid to cross-examination of defense witnesses during her case-in-chief and that the jury be permitted to decide the weight to assign the evidence.

Plaintiff asserts that Exhibit 2 is relevant to the issue of whether UPS officials regarded her as disabled for two reasons: (1) the exhibit helps to establish that plaintiff's perceived disability was a motivating factor in defendant's decision to not allow her to participate in TAW, and (2) the exhibit aids in establishing that defendant's purported reasons for not allowing her to participate in TAW were a pretext for discrimination. ( Id. at 2-3). Specifically, plaintiff alleges that Exhibit 2 helps establish that UPS Business Manager Gary Kaufmann had a decision-making role in plaintiff's participation in TAW, and the document calls into question defendant's representations concerning requirements for participating in TAW.

Further, plaintiff asserts that the document is not hearsay. She alleges that Exhibit 2 is a "party admission provided by UPS as part of its verified discovery responses" and as such falls within the hearsay exception set forth in Fed. Rule Evid. 801(d)(2), and/or it is a business record that falls under the hearsay exception listed under Fed. Rule Evid. 803(6). ( Id. at 5).

In response, defendant UPS argues that Exhibit 2 is irrelevant and is inadmissible as hearsay that is not subject to an exception. (Doc. 253). Defendant contends based on prior trial testimony and the language of the exhibit that plaintiff has misconstrued Exhibit 2. ( Id. at 2-4). Defendant also argues that plaintiff has failed to establish the proper context or foundation for admission of the exhibit. ( Id. at 4-5). Defendant asserts that plaintiff cannot establish that Exhibit 2 applied to TAW eligibility decisions within the Kentucky District. Defendant contends that even if the exhibit were to be admitted at trial, plaintiff should be precluded from misleading the jury by misrepresenting the exhibit as a UPS "policy" applicable to TAW eligibility decisions in the Kentucky District. ( Id. at 5).

Upon review of Exhibit 2 and the parties' arguments, the Court finds that a ruling on the admissibility of Exhibit 2 is not properly made in advance of trial on a motion in limine. It is clear from the motion in limine and defendant's response that the admissibility of Exhibit 2 involves substantive issues that cannot be resolved in an evidentiary vacuum. Prior to hearing the evidence to be presented at trial, the Court is unable to determine whether the exhibit is admissible for the reasons stated by plaintiff. Conversely, it is not clear that plaintiff will be unable to establish a foundation for the exhibit and that the exhibit is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds. See Ind. Ins. Co., 326 F.Supp.2d at 846; English Woods Civic Ass'n/Resident Cmty. Council, No. 1:03-cv-186, 2004 WL 6043508, at *1; cf. Luce, 469 U.S. at 41. Accordingly, the Court will deny plaintiff's motion in limine without prejudice to plaintiff's right to offer Exhibit 2 into evidence at trial, subject to any objections defendant may raise at that time and a ruling by the Court on the admissibility of the exhibit.

IV. Defendant UPS's motion in limine (Doc. 252)

Defendant UPS seeks to preclude plaintiff from introducing at trial several categories of evidence, as well as several specific items of evidence. Plaintiff filed a response to the motion in limine on August 29, 2013. (Doc. 257). The Court will address in turn each of the matters defendant seeks to exclude.

A. Alleged statements by purported non-decisionmakers regarding Watts's participation in the TAW

Defendant seeks to exclude alleged statements made by Center Manager Gary Kauffman, UPS Human Resources Representative Jim Knecht, and Kentucky District Labor Manager Peter Dames on the ground none of them played a decision-making role in Watts's participation in the TAW program, so their alleged statements are irrelevant. (Doc. 252 at 3-6). Defendant relies on testimony presented at the prior three trials to argue that Kentucky District Workers' Compensation Case Management Supervisor Andy Germann and his successor, Jeremy Masters, were the only decisionmakers regarding Watts's participation in the TAW program.

Plaintiff's counsel represented to the Court at the Final Pretrial Conference held in this matter on September 3, 2013, that plaintiff does not intend to call Peter Dames as a witness at trial. Accordingly, the motion in limine as to alleged statements by Dames is DENIED as moot.

Defendant asserts that testimony presented at the three trials shows that Kaufmann played no role in deciding whether plaintiff satisfied the eligibility requirements for TAW until December 2004. (Doc. 252 at 4). In fact, however, the Sixth Circuit determined following the 2006 trial that the "record is mixed as to Kaufmanns's role." 378 F.Appx. at 530. Accordingly, the motion in limine as to alleged statements by Kaufmann is DENIED.

Finally, defendant seeks to exclude a letter from Jim Knecht in the UPS Human Resources Department, which defendant contends contains stray remarks. (Doc. 252 at 3). UPS asserts that Watts agreed in the 2011 trial not to introduce this "statement" and withdrew Exhibit 7. UPS contends that the letter is irrelevant because it predates Watts's first release to return to work by nearly 18 months. ( Id. at 5-6).

In response, plaintiff describes Exhibit 7 as a letter drafted by Knecht on July 27, 2001, stating that Watts would be scheduled to work five days per week/eight hours per day "if she is released to return to full duty with no restrictions." (Doc. 257 at 2, citing Plaintiff's Exh. 7). Plaintiff argues that the letter should be admitted "to the extent it substantiates Gary Abraham's testimony that UPS told Watts that she would not be permitted to return to work in the absence of an unrestricted medical release. Kaufmann denies making the statement, and this evidence challenges his credibility on that point." ( Id. at 2-3).

The Court is unable to discern from the parties' arguments and without hearing the evidence whether Exhibit 7 is inadmissible on the ground asserted by defendant. The ...

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