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Morris v. Rumsfeld

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


March 27, 2007

WILLIAM D. MORRIS, PLAINTIFF
v.
DONALD H. RUMSFELD, DEFENDANT

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the court is plaintiff's motion in limine (Doc. 51) to determine the admissibility of his favorable Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") decisions. Plaintiff seeks to admit the Bench Decision of the EEOC Administrative Judge ("Bench Decision") and the decision of the Office of Federal Operations ("OFO Decision"). For the reasons that follow, the court will deny plaintiff's motion.

I. Background

At all relevant times, plaintiff was employed as a WG-5 Warehouse Worker (Forklift Operator) by the Defense Logistics Agency ("DLA"), an agency of the Department of Defense. (See Doc. 5 ¶¶ 3-4.) On August 25, 1992, plaintiff filed an EEO discrimination complaint against the DLA alleging that the DLA discriminated against him by failing to accommodate his medical restrictions. (See Doc. 5 ¶ 12 & Ex. A.) After a hearing, an EEOC Administrative Judge ("AJ") issued the Bench Decision, finding that plaintiff was a qualified individual with a disability and that the DLA intentionally discriminated against him between February 27 and April 11, 1992*fn1 by failing to make any attempts to accommodate plaintiff's medical restrictions. The AJ recommended that plaintiff receive compensatory damages. (See Doc. 5 ¶ 13 & Ex. B.) On February 5, 1995, the DLA rejected the AJ's finding of discrimination between February 27 and April 11, 1992. (See Doc. 5 ¶ 15 & Ex. C.) Plaintiff appealed the DLA's decision and, on October 1, 1998, the EEOC issued the OFO Decision, which agreed with the AJ's findings.*fn2 (See Doc. 5 ¶¶ 16-17 & Ex. D.) On June 11, 2001, the DLA awarded plaintiff $12,500.00 in compensatory damages. (See Doc. 5 ¶ 21 & Ex. F.)

Disagreeing with the amount awarded, plaintiff instituted the instant action regarding his failure-to-accommodate claim. (See Doc. 1.) He subsequently amended the complaint to add a disparate treatment claim. (See Doc. 5.) The order of court dated September 9, 2003 (Doc. 23) granted plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment. The court determined that a plaintiff is entitled to seek de novo review of a final agency decision on damages without risking de novo review of liability from a separate final agency decision. (See Doc. 23.) Defendant sought and was granted a certificate of appealability. (See Doc. 28.) On October 11, 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a mandate reversing this court's decision and holding that a de novo trial is required on all issues, regardless of whether the issues were determined in separate final agency decisions (i.e., trial in the instant matter cannot be limited solely to the issue of damages on plaintiff's failure-to-accommodate claim). (See Doc. 35.)

Following the Third Circuit's mandate, the court scheduled a jury trial on all issues for May 7, 2007.*fn3 (See Doc. 50.) Plaintiff filed the instant motion in limine (Doc. 52), seeking a ruling that the Bench Decision and OFO Decision are admissible at trial. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

The parties do not dispute that the Bench Decision and OFO Decision are hearsay.*fn4 They dispute, however, whether an exception-Rule 803(8)(C) of the Federal Rules of Evidence-to the rule excluding hearsay*fn5 applies to these decisions.*fn6 If the exception applies, defendants argue in the alternative that the decisions are inadmissible because they are irrelevant or substantially more prejudicial than probative. See FED. R. EVID. 401, 402, 403. Assuming, arguendo, that the hearsay exception in Rule 803(8)(C) applies,*fn7 the court finds that the decisions are substantially more prejudicial than probative and will deny plaintiff's motion.

Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence states:

Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if 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. 403. This rule is an "umbrella rule" encompassing all federal rules of evidence, and, therefore, is applied to evidence otherwise admissible under hearsay exceptions, including Rule 803(8)(C). See Coleman v. Home Depot, Inc., 306 F.3d 1333, 1343 (3d Cir. 2002). The Third Circuit has described analysis under Rule 403 as a "cost/benefit analysis" that should exclude evidence "if its probative value is not worth the problems that its admission may cause." Id. Deciding whether to exclude an EEOC report under Rule 403 is within the discretion of the trial court. Id. at 1344. In the matter sub judice, the court finds, given the information presented in the motion in limine and corresponding briefs, that the Bench Decision and OFO Decision should be excluded under Rule 403 for three reasons.*fn8

First, the court finds that the EEOC decisions at issue have minimal probative value. These decisions do not contain a complete account of the evidence presented during the administrative proceedings. In the Bench Decision, the AJ set forth only those facts and testimony that she found relevant and probative. (See Doc. 5, Ex. B at 27 ("While all other matters appearing in the record of the complaint and hearing testimony were considered, they played no part in these recommended findings and conclusions because they could not be adequately established as fact, or were irrelevant to the issue, or lacked probative value.")).

Second, the court finds that admitting the EEOC decisions would be a needless presentation of cumulative evidence. These decisions merely repeat facts and testimony that plaintiff will attempt to prove at trial, through witnesses with personal knowledge, to establish a prima facie case of failure to accommodate a disability. See Kovacs v. Conmed Corp., No. 04-1667, 2006 WL 1340767, at *1 (E.D. Pa. May 11, 2006); Cambra v. Restaurant Sch., No. Civ. A. 04-2688, 2005 WL 2886220, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 2, 2005). Plaintiff argues that because it has been twelve years since the EEOC hearing, "[i]t is possible that some of the witnesses who testified at the hearing are no longer available." (Doc. 57 at 9 (emphasis added)). Plaintiff's claim of unavailable witnesses is clearly speculation and, therefore, cannot alter the court's Rule 403 analysis.*fn9

Third, the court finds that there is a substantial danger of unfair prejudice and misleading the jury. The jury, unlike the court in a bench trial, may give undue weight to the decisions of the EEOC, a government agency. See Kovacs, 2006 WL 1340767, at *2 ("Unlike a bench trial, 'a strong argument can be made that the jury would attach undue weight to this type of agency determination, viewing it as a finding of discrimination.'" (citing Cambra, 2005 WL 2886220, at *4)). The danger of unfair prejudice and misleading the jury is particularly great in this case because the EEOC decisions at issue come to the definitive conclusion that the DLA intentionally discriminated against plaintiff. See id.; Cambra, 2005 WL 2886220, at *4 ("The difference between [an EEOC Letter of Probable Cause], which is 'more tentative in its conclusions,' and [an EEOC Letter of Determination], which 'states the categorical legal conclusion that a violation has taken place,' is 'significant.'" (citation omitted)). Likewise, the AJ in the Bench Decision states what evidence persuaded her in making her determinations.*fn10 Determining the credibility of witnesses and the weight of the evidence is clearly the jury's responsibility. See KEVIN F. O'MALLEY, FEDERAL JURY PRACTICE AND INSTRUCTIONS § 101.10 (5th ed. 2006). The court finds that exposing the jury to the AJ's ratio decidendi would "unfairly influence the jury in this determination." Cambra, 2005 WL 2886220, at *5.

The court also finds that these issues cannot be cured by a limiting instruction. The evidence at issue is simply too influential and too prejudicial. Accordingly, the court finds that the probative value of the EEOC decisions at issue are substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and misleading the jury.

Given the information presented in the motion in limine and corresponding briefs, the court finds that the danger of unfair prejudice and misleading the jury and considerations of needless presentation of cumulative evidence substantially outweigh the minimal probative value of the Bench Decision and OFO Decision. Accordingly, the court will deny plaintiff's motion.*fn11 An appropriate order will issue.

ORDER

AND NOW, this 27th day of March, 2007, upon consideration of plaintiff's motion in limine (Doc. 51), and for the reasons set forth in the accompanying memorandum, it is hereby ORDERED that the motion in limine (Doc. 51) is DENIED.*fn12


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