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Wycoff v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.

October 27, 2006

ROBERT G. WYCOFF, PLAINTIFF,
v.
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY AND KENNETH F. KACZMAREK, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambrose, Chief District Judge.

OPINION and ORDER

SYNOPSIS

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Prior "Bad Acts" of agent Kenneth F. Kaczmarek.

This action involves two insurance policies, issued in 1991 and 1994. Mr. Kaczmarek is alleged to be involved only in Plaintiff's claim regarding the 1994 policy. As discussed in my Order of Court dated March 18, 2003, that claim is in the nature of one for deception by a fiduciary under § 502(a)(3) of ERISA. This matter has been bifurcated, and the ERISA claim is to be tried before the Court without a jury. Plaintiffs do not appear to argue that the challenged evidence should be admitted at the jury trial regarding the 1991 policy, as their arguments relate primarily to Mr. Kaczmarek. Therefore, I will address the evidence only in the context of the non-jury proceeding.

As a preliminary matter, I note that Defendants' Motion refers to a different matter involving Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and exhibits and parties not involved in this case. In addition, the ad damnum clause of the Motion neglects to fill in the blank provided for identifying the Exhibits that the Motion seeks to strike. I caution counsel to take care with their submissions to the Court, as wholly irrelevant motions may be denied on grounds of inapplicability alone. Nevertheless, in the interest of expediency, and because Defendants' proposed Order and supporting Brief identify and discuss case-appropriate Exhibits, I will consider the Motion as represented in those papers, rather than as filed.

In those papers, Defendants argue that the evidence, Exhibits 15, 16, and 17, are inadmissible as irrelevant, unfairly prejudicial under Fed. R. Evid. 403, or as "bad act" evidence impermissible under Fed. R. Evid. 404(b).*fn1

For the following reasons, the Motion in Limine will be granted in part and denied in part.

OPINION

A. Applicable Standards

Relevant evidence is evidence that tends to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable than it would be without the evidence. Fed. R. Evid. 401. This definition of relevance is very broad, and does not raise a high standard. Gibson v. Mayor & Council of Wilmington, 355 F. 3d 215, 232 (3d Cir. 2004).

Fed. R. Evid. 403 permits the exclusion of relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury. In this case, the lack of a jury significantly ameliorates the dangers of the negative factors enumerated in the Rule, and I will consider Defendants' arguments accordingly.

Fed. R. Evid. 404(b) prohibits evidence of other wrongs or acts to prove character and action in conformity therewith; the Rule permits, however, the admission of such evidence for other purposes, such as proof of intent, knowledge, or absence of mistake or accident. The list of permissible purposes set forth in the Rule is not exhaustive. Moreover, our Court of Appeals has recognized that Rule 404(b) is a rule of "inclusion, rather than exclusion,"and that the admission of evidence is favored when offered for any purpose other than propensity. United States v. Daraio, 445 F. 3d 253, 263 (3d Cir. 2006).

The proponent of evidence bears the burden of establishing its admissibility and relevance. See, e.g., Yibulayin v. Yellow Freight Sys., No. 04-3690, 2005 U.S. Dist. ...


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