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Reynolds v. University of Pennsylvania

June 2, 2010

FRANK REYNOLDS
v.
THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA



The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'neill, J.

MEMORANDUM

In preparation for a retrial of the above captioned matter, each party has filed one motion in limine. Presently before me are both motions and responses to each.*fn1 For the following reasons I will deny Reynolds's motion and grant the University of Pennsylvania's motion.

BACKGROUND

The factual background underlying this lawsuit is set forth at length in my January 27, 2010 Memorandum wherein I granted Penn's motion for a new trial. In essence, Reynolds claims that Penn made several misrepresentations about the nature of the Executive Masters in Technology Management degree he was to receive. During the discovery period prior to the first trial, Reynolds contended that such misrepresentations were contained in a variety of marketing materials, slide show presentations and webpages. Penn argued that the documents on which Reynolds allegedly relied were altered in several material respects. On the eve of trial, Reynolds moved to exclude any reference to those documents. I granted Reynolds's motion over Penn's objection. After the trial concluded, I decided that my ruling was incorrect and thus granted Penn's motion for a new trial.

DISCUSSION

I. Reynolds's Motion to Exclude Evidence Will Be Denied

Reynolds moves to exclude forty-seven of Penn's exhibits as irrelevant or, alternatively, as more prejudicial than probative. The motion is largely identical to that which he filed in advance of the first trial. Penn argues that the documents are relevant and admissible. I will discuss each argument in turn.

A. Reynolds's Motion To Exclude Evidence as Irrelevant

The forty-seven documents that he seeks to exclude are those that Penn alleges Reynolds altered in order to support his claim that Penn misrepresented the nature of the EMTM program. Rule 401 of the 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." Reynolds argues that each of these exhibits relates only to the companion case filed by Anurag Harsh and is thus irrelevant.*fn2 Penn argues that each of the documents is relevant either to attack Reynolds's credibility or to show that there was no meeting of the minds between the parties. I agree with Penn.

Penn helpfully divides the forty-seven contested documents into three categories: (1) those that were altered; (2) those that prove the documents were altered; and (3) those that relate exclusively to Harsh and Harsh's lawsuit. Def.'s Br. at 2. The first two categories are, as Penn suggests, relevant for the two reasons set forth in my January 27, 2010 Memorandum. First, they bear directly on Reynolds's credibility. "Questions concerning the credibility of any witness--especially one whose credibility could have an important influence on the outcome of the trial--are relevant." See Reynolds, 684 F. Supp. 2d 621, 632 (E.D. Pa. 2010) (citing Harbor Ins. Co. v. Schnabel Foundation Co., 946 F.2d 930, 935 (D.C. Cir. 1991)). If it is true that Reynolds claimed during discovery to have relied on certain documents and later, at trial, claimed to rely on a different set of documents, a jury could reasonably question his credibility. Certainly, if the evidence shows that he altered those documents to strengthen his case or even knew that they were altered, a jury could conclude that his testimony is entitled to little weight.

Second, even if the documents were altered through no wrongdoing of Reynolds, Harsh or anyone else associated with this case, they might still be relevant. In the event that Reynolds was shown documents that neither he nor Penn knew to be inaccurate but were in fact materially inaccurate, such documents might be relevant to demonstrate that there was no "meeting of the minds" as is required to prove breach of contract. See Benchmark Group, Inc. v. Penn Tank Lines, Inc., 612 F. Supp. 2d 562, 581 n. 10 (E.D. Pa. 2009) (citing Brisbin v. Superior Valve Co., 398 F.3d 279, 293 (3d Cir. 2005) (noting that a legally binding contract requires a meeting of the minds)). The documents in the first category--those that were altered--are relevant and admissible.

Because the altered documents are relevant, the second category of documents--those that establish the alterations--are also relevant. Penn intends to present four such exhibits. Three arguably establish that the Wharton logo contained in the documents Reynolds claims to have relied on was not used by the University until after Reynolds claims to have seen the documents. The fourth exhibit shows that the version of Adobe software used to prepare the allegedly altered documents did not exist at the time Reynolds claims to have seen the documents. Each of these exhibits is relevant to show that the documents Reynolds claimed to rely on were altered.

The third category of exhibits--those relating to Harsh and his lawsuit--is not susceptible of a categorical pre-trial ruling. The relevance of most of the documents in this category will depend on what evidence Reynolds presents at trial. If, for example, he argues that the documents were altered by Harsh, then Harsh's testimony and the exhibits documenting Harsh's actions might be relevant. Penn will be granted enough leeway in this area to explore through Harsh the truth of Reynolds's trial testimony and to establish, if possible, that the documents were indeed altered. I will reserve ruling on the admissibility of individual exhibits and the scope of Harsh's testimony, however, until trial.

B. Reynolds's Motion to Exclude Evidence Pursuant to Rule 403

Reynolds also argues that even if the documents and testimony in question are relevant, they should nonetheless be precluded because they are substantially more prejudicial than probative. His argument is based on the proposition that the jury might ...


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