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Gadley v. Ellis

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 17, 2015

GARY GADLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
JERRY ELLIS, trading as JERRY ELLIS CONSTRUCTION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Before the Court in this matter are three motions in limine filed by Defendant, Jerry Ellis. (ECF Nos. 79, 81, 83). In his motions, Defendant seeks to exclude evidence of Defendant's liability insurance (ECF No. 79), evidence of an estimate for costs to remove and replace the roof (ECF No. 81), and evidence of an estimate for costs related to inspecting Plaintiff's home for water damage (ECF No. 83). Defendant has filed a brief and exhibits in support of each motion (ECF Nos. 80, 82, 84), and Plaintiff has filed a response in opposition with supporting exhibits to each motion (ECF Nos. 87, 88, 89). Trial in this matter is currently scheduled to begin on July 20, 2015.

For the reasons below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendant's motions in limine. Specifically, the Court will grant Defendant's motion to exclude evidence of Defendant's liability insurance, deny Defendant's motion to exclude the estimate of costs to remove and replace the roof, and grant Defendant's motion to exclude estimate of costs to investigate for water damage.

II. Jurisdiction and Venue

The Court has jurisdiction over the instant action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and 28 U.S.C. § 1441. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391.

III. Background

This case arises from the construction of a timber frame home by Plaintiff, Gary Gadley, for his personal use. Plaintiff designed the home with the assistance of an architectural firm and served as his own general contractor during its construction. (ECF No. 18-1 at 9-14). For the roof, Plaintiff decided to use structural insulated panels ("SIPs") after learning about them from a friend and discussing the product with representatives from an SIP manufacturer at a timber frame conference. (Id. at 22-23). Plaintiff contracted with a company, Thermocore, to design and construct the SIPs for his home, and hired Defendant, Jerry Ellis Construction, to install the SIP panels on his roof for $7, 550. (Id. at 24-25, 30; ECF No. 18-1 at 30-31).

Defendant installed the SIPs on Plaintiff's home between October 27, 2011, and October 29, 2011. (ECF No. 1-2 at ¶ 15, 22). Almost immediately, Plaintiff identified several shortcomings in the quality of the installation, including numerous gaps and misalignments between the panels, a lack of proper overhang at the edge of the roof, and the fact that the end of each SIP did not properly rest on a support rafter. (ECF No. 18-1 at 34-36, 39-40). Plaintiff also became alarmed at the amount of cutting and sledgehammering that Defendant had to do in order to get the panels to fit properly. (ECF No. 26-12 at 6-7). When Plaintiff raised these concerns, Defendant repeatedly assured him that the installation was proceeding in a normal manner and that nothing was wrong. (Id. ).

Based on his belief that the SIP panels had been improperly installed, Plaintiff initiated the instant action by filing a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County on December 21, 2012. (ECF No. 1-2 at 3). Defendants removed the complaint to this Court on January 18, 2013. (Id. at 1). In his complaint, Plaintiff asserted a claim for breach of contract at Count I, a claim for breach of express and implied warranties at Count II, and a private cause of action pursuant to the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law at Count III. On January 6, 2014, Defendant filed a partial motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff's UTPCPL claim was barred by the gist of the action doctrine and/or the economic loss doctrine. (ECF No. 16). On July 23, 2014, the Court issued a memorandum opinion and order granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's UTPCPL claim. (ECF No. 38). On May 15, 2015, the Court issued a memorandum opinion and order granting Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. (ECF No. 68). In its opinion and order, the Court vacated its previous summary judgment ruling concerning Plaintiff's claims against Defendant under the UTPCPL at Count III of the complaint.

On June 25, 2015, Defendant filed the three pending motions in limine (ECF Nos. 79, 81, 83). Plaintiff filed a response to each motion on July 6, 2015. (ECF Nos. 87, 88, 89). The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.

IV. Standard of Review

Defendant's motions in limine raise issues under Federal Rules of Evidence 402, 403, and 411. The Court will briefly summarize those rules and then will address each motion separately below.

Federal Rule of Evidence 401 provides that evidence is relevant if "(a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action." Fed.R.Evid. 401; see also U.S. v. Sampson, 980 F.2d 883, 888 (3d Cir. 1992). Federal Rule of Evidence 402 states that relevant evidence is admissible unless the Constitution, a federal statute, the Federal Rules of Evidence, or rules prescribed by the Supreme Court provide otherwise. Fed.R.Evid. 402. Although evidence must be relevant to be admissible, Rule 401 does not set a high standard for admissibility. Hurley v. Atl. City Police Dep't, 174 F.3d 95, 109-10 (3d Cir. 1999) (citation omitted); see also Blancha v. Raymark Indus., 972 F.2d 507, 514 (3d Cir. 1992) (explaining that because the rule makes evidence relevant "if it has any tendency to prove a consequential fact, it follows that evidence is irrelevant only when it has no tendency to prove the fact"). However, even relevant evidence may be excluded under Rule 403:

The court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.

Fed. R. Evid. 403. Thus, Rule 403 mandates a balancing test, "requiring sensitivity on the part of the trial court to the subtleties of the particular situation." United States v. Vosburgh, 602 F.3d 512, 537 (3d Cir. 2010).

Rule 411 of the Federal Rules of Evidence prohibits admitting evidence of insurance coverage in order to show wrongdoing. See Varlack v. SWC Caribbean, Inc., 550 F.2d 171, 177 (3d Cir. 1977). "Generally, evidence of liability coverage is not admissible when a party is accused of acting wrongfully because of the likelihood for spillover between insurance and inference of fault." Posttape ...


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