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Charmaine Klatch-Maynard and William Maynard, H/W v. Sugarloaf Township

August 9, 2011

CHARMAINE KLATCH-MAYNARD AND WILLIAM MAYNARD, H/W, PLAINTIFFS
v.
SUGARLOAF TOWNSHIP, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Pending before the Court are four separate motions in limine: two filed by Plaintiffs (Doc. Nos. 155, 157), one filed by Defendants Sugarloaf Township, Robert Stanziola, Earl Miller, Joyce P. Stevens, and James Schneider ("Township Defendants") (Doc. No. 150), and one filed by Defendant John Hudson (Doc. No. 152). On July 1, 2011, the Court granted Defendant John Hudson's motion to join in the Township Defendants' motion in limine. (Doc. No. 158.) The Court will address each issue in turn.

I. PLAINTIFFS' MOTION IN LIMINE TO EXCLUDE TOWNSHIP MEETING RECORDS (DOC. NO. 155)

Plaintiffs first seek to exclude a number of Defendants' exhibits*fn1 , including an audio recording of a Sugarloaf Township Supervisors meeting, attendance registers for various Township meetings, and the minutes of various Township meetings. (Doc. No. 155 ¶¶ 3, 5, 7, 9, 11.) Plaintiffs argue that these exhibits constitute hearsay and are irrelevant. (Doc. No. 156 at 2-3.) Plaintiffs also assert that Defendants have offered no foundation for these exhibits. (Id. at 3.)

Because the audio recording of the January 10, 2006 Supervisors meeting, Township meeting attendance registers, and Township meeting minutes are public records, these exhibits are admissible under the public records exception to the hearsay rule found in Rule 803(8)(A) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. See Fed. R. Evid. 803(8)(A) (Stating that "records, reports, statements, or data compilations, in any form, of public offices or agencies, setting forth (A) the activities of the office or agency . . ." are not excluded by the hearsay rule). Further, Defendants assert that the audio recording is not being offered to establish the truth of what was asserted at the meeting; rather, it is being offered to show what was stated at the meeting. Therefore, the Court must deny Plaintiffs' hearsay objections to the exhibits at this time.

In addition, the Court finds the audio recording to be relevant pursuant to Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence."'Relevant evidence' means 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." Fed. R. Evid. 401. In their complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Stanziola and Schenider "announced at a Public Meeting that the Plaintiffs refused to pay their taxes for, presumably, numerous years immediately previous to 2006." (Doc. No. 56 ¶ 191.) According to Defendants, the meeting Plaintiffs refer to in their complaint is the Sugarloaf Township Supervisors meeting held on January 10, 2006. (Doc. No. 160 at 2.) Thus, the audio taped recording of this meeting is highly relevant to Plaintiffs' claims. 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." Fed. R. Evid. 403. Plaintiffs argue that the recording is highly prejudicial because Defendants have "cherry-picked" this recording and have failed to offer audio taped recordings of all Township meetings. (Doc. No. 156 at 2-3.) To the extent that Defendants are correct that the January 10, 2006 Supervisors meeting is the "Public Meeting" referred to in Plaintiffs' complaint (Doc. No. 56 ¶ 191), the Court is unpersuaded by Plaintiffs' argument that Defendants "cherry-picked" this particular audio recording. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' Rule 401 and Rule 403 objections to the audio taped recording must fail.

Plaintiffs also object to the relevance of the Township meeting minutes and attendance registers. (Doc. No. 155 ¶¶ 6, 8, 10, 12.) Defendants argue that these exhibits are relevant to establish who was present at each meeting and the matters that arose. (Doc. No. 160 at 2-3.) In addition, Defendants state that the meeting minutes establish that the January 10, 2006 Supervisors meeting was the only meeting at which Plaintiff Charmaine Maynard's taxes were discussed. (Id. at 3.) The Court agrees with Defendants that the Township meeting minutes and attendance registers are relevant. Therefore, Plaintiffs' Rule 401 objection to these exhibits also fail.

Finally, Plaintiffs object to the exhibits on the basis of chain of custody and foundation. (Doc. No. 155 ¶¶ 4, 6, 8, 10, 12.) Defendants assert that they will present witnesses at trial who will testify to the exhibits' chain of custody and foundation. Accordingly, the Court will defer ruling on Plaintiffs' objections to chain of custody and foundation at this time.

II. TOWNSHIP DEFENDANTS' MOTION IN LIMINE TO PRECLUDE PLAINTIFFS' DEFAMATION CLAIM AGAINST DEFENDANTS STANZIOLA AND SCHNEIDER FROM BEING SUBMITTED TO THE JURY (DOC. NO. 150)

In their motion in limine, the Township Defendants seek to exclude any testimony relating to Plaintiffs' defamation claim against Defendants Stanziola and Schneider. (Doc. No. 150 ¶ 1.) Defendants Stanziola and Schneider argue that they have absolute privilege as high public officials and therefore they have immunity from Plaintiffs' defamation claim. (Doc. No. 151 at 2.) The Court notes that this dispositive issue is improperly brought under a motion in limine. "Motions in limine are inappropriate vehicles to seek a final determination with respect to a substantive cause of action, and should not be used as a substitute for a motion for summary judgment." Mavrinac v. Emergency Med. Ass'n of Pittsburgh, No. 04-1880, 2007 WL 2908007, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 2, 2007); see also Lafrance v. Grand River Navigation Co., Inc., No. 08-13411, 2010 WL 3768328, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 21, 2010) ("Motions in limine are meant to deal with discrete evidentiary issues related to trial, and are not another excuse to file dispositive motions disguised as motions in limine."); Dunn v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 264 F.R.D. 266, 274 (E.D. Mich. 2009) (collecting cases); Tuttle v. Tyco Elcs. Installation Servs., Inc., No. 2:06-cv-581, 2008 U.S. DIST. LEXIS 12307, at *12-*13 (E.D. Ohio Feb. 7, 2008). The time for dispositive motions has passed, and Defendants have not sought leave of court to file a dispositive motion nunc pro tunc. Accordingly, the Court must deny Defendants' motion in limine on this issue. See, e.g., Mitchell v. Alexander, No. 08-2496, 2010 WL 2622935, at *1 (W.D. Tenn. June 25, 2010) ("Because Defendants failed to raise these issues in a dispositive motion, Defendants' Motions in Limine are denied.").

III. PLAINTIFFS' MOTION IN LIMINE TO "ALLOW PUNITIVE DAMAGES TO BE AWARDED TO THEM" (DOC. NO. 155)

Plaintiffs' motion in limine asks the Court to "submit their claim for punitive damages to the jury. . . ." (Doc. No. 155 at 1.) Defendants respond that "the issue of whether sufficient evidence has been presented to warrant the issue of punitive damages to [be] submitted to the jury should be decided by the Court at the conclusion of the Plaintiffs' case." (Doc. No. 160 at 3.) The Court agrees. See Bowers v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 563 F. Supp. 2d 508, 531 (D.N.J. 2008) ("[T]he Court finds that the motion is procedurally improper, in that it calls upon the Court to weigh the sufficiency of the evidence in support of the parties' claims and defenses. . . ."); Figgins v. Advance Am. Cash Advance Ctrs. of Mich., Inc., 482 F. Supp. 2d 861, 870 (E.D. Mich. 2007) ("To the extent that the defendants are arguing that the facts are insufficient to allow the plaintiff to seek punitive damages from the jury, that argument must be rejected because it should have been raised in a motion for summary judgment."). Therefore, the Court will deny Plaintiffs' motion in limine on this issue.

IV. PLAINTIFFS' MOTION IN LIMINE TO EXCLUDE CERTAIN WITNESSES AT TRIAL (DOC. NO. 157)

In their second motion in limine, Plaintiffs seek to exclude the testimony of witnesses Peter Fagan, Hannah Skellington, James Skellington, and Ciara Skellington. (Doc. No. 157.) In support of their motion, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants have offered no foundation for the witnesses' testimony and that "Plaintiffs believe the purpose of these witnesses is to offer irrelevant, hearsay and excludable character evidence regarding Plaintiffs. . . ." (Doc. No. 157 ΒΆ 2.) Defendants state that identifying the subject matter of the witnesses' testimony will disclose trial strategy and it is premature for the Court to rule on this issue. (Doc. No. 160 at 5.) Given the parties' opposing representations, it is unclear to the Court whether the witnesses' testimony is admissible. The ...


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