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Ridolfi v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 27, 2017



          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Factual Background

         This is an insurance dispute between Tracey Ridolfi and her insurer, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, relating to claims concerning State Farm's alleged refusal to provide underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage to Ridolfi. Currently the sole remaining claim in this lawsuit is Ridolfi's allegation that State Farm's conduct constitutes a breach of this insurance contract, this court having previously dismissed Ridolfi's claim that State Farm violated Pennsylvania's bad faith statute, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8371, by: (1) misstating the scope of its coverage; (2) insisting upon a sworn statement from its insured; (3) unreasonably delaying its investigation of this claim and requiring the production of multiple sets of medical records; and (4) failing to keep Ridolfi fully informed in writing on the progress of her claim.

         This case is set for trial on August 7, 2017. In anticipation of trial State Farm has filed a series of motions in limine. Three of these motions in limine appear to reflect a common legal and factual theme in that they seek to preclude Ridolfi from presenting evidence relating to claims as to which it is alleged that she either failed to make discovery disclosures, or actually disclaimed in the course of discovery. For example, State Farm seeks to preclude Ridolfi from presenting wage loss evidence, (Doc. 61), arguing in part that: “Plaintiff indicated numerous times that she is not presenting a claim for lost wages or potential future lost earnings, as she was unemployed at the time of the accident, and did not decide to work until February 2012, nearly four years after the subject accident. Additionally, Plaintiff has presented no documentary evidence of a claim for lost wages to date.” (Doc. 66, p. 3.) Likewise State Farm seeks to preclude Ridolfi from presenting evidence pertaining to future medical expenses because of an alleged failure to provide discovery on these matter, (Doc. 63), asserting that: “Plaintiff has not undergone treatment since February 2014 for the alleged injuries at issue. Further, Plaintiffs own expert did not opine that Plaintiff needed future medical treatment and did not provide any approximation of future medical costs. Plaintiff has provided no documentary evidence that she will need future medical treatment for her alleged injuries at issue.” (Doc. 64, p.3.) Finally, State Farm moves to preclude testimony regarding a nerve conduction study allegedly undertaken by Ridolfi at some point in time (Doc. 62), contending that:

Throughout her third party deposition, Plaintiff never mentioned undergoing an EMG/nerve conduction test. In addition, Plaintiff never mentioned undergoing an EMG/nerve conduction test in her Statement Under Oath either. See a true and correct copy of Plaintiff's Statement Under Oath attached hereto as Exhibit A.The first time an EMG was brought to Defendant's attention was in Plaintiffs Expert Report by Dr. Andrew Collier. The report states "She states she did have a positive EMG on the right." See a true and correct copy of Plaintiff's Expert Report attached hereto as Exhibit B, at page 2. Despite this allegation, Plaintiff has never provided any records substantiating this alleged positive EMG result. Moreover, in Plaintiffs expert report, Dr. Collier states that Plaintiff had a normal EMG performed in 1998 after her first motor vehicle accident. See Exhibit B at page 3. Once again, Plaintiff has not provided any records substantiating that Plaintiff underwent an EMG/nerve conduction study in 1998.

(Doc. 65, p.2.)

         Thus, in each instance we construe the defendant's motion in limine to rest upon an alleged failure to make timely and complete discovery. For her part Ridolfi has responded to the these motions, albeit in a fashion which is not fully responsive to the defendant's objection that it has not been provided with discovery on these elements of the plaintiff's claims. (Docs. 86-88.) Instead, Ridolfi has focused her argument primarily on questions of the evidentiary relevance of this proof.

         Further complicating our assessment of these motions is a certain lack of legal clarity and factual precision regarding the nature of the discovery propounded, and the information provided by Ridolfi in the course of discovery. Thus, the parties have made assertions regarding discovery that, on occasion, cannot be fully reconciled, but have not directed us to any evidence which would enable us to make a fully-informed evaluation of these factual assertions.

         Given these facts, for the reasons set forth below, we will GRANT these motions in limine, (Docs. 61, 62, and 63), in part and prescribe a procedure for fulsome offers of proof which must be made by counsel out of the presence of the jury before any of this evidence is offered or admitted at trial.

         II. Discussion

         The Court is vested with broad inherent authority to manage its cases, which carries with it the discretion and authority to rule on motions in limine prior to trial. See Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984); In re Japanese Elec. Prods. Antitrust Litig., 723 F.2d 238, 260 (3d Cir. 1983), rev'd on other grounds sub nom., Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986) (the court exercises its discretion to rule in limine on evidentiary issues “in appropriate cases”). Courts may exercise this discretion in order to ensure that juries are not exposed to unfairly prejudicial, confusing or irrelevant evidence. United States v. Romano, 849 F.2d 812, 815 (3d Cir. 1988). Courts may also do so in order to “narrow the evidentiary issues for trial and to eliminate unnecessary trial interruptions.” Bradley v. Pittsburgh Bd. of Educ., 913 F.2d 1064, 1069 (3d Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). However, courts should be careful before doing so.

         Typically there are two primary bases for motions in limine. First, such motions are filed when it is alleged that evidence is going to be offered which is improper under the Federal Rules of Evidence. In considering motions in limine which call upon the Court to engage in preliminary evidentiary rulings under Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, we begin by recognizing that these “evidentiary rulings [on motions in limine ] are subject to the trial judge's discretion and are therefore reviewed only for abuse of discretion ... Additionally, application of the balancing test under Federal Rule of Evidence 403 will not be disturbed unless it is ‘arbitrary and irrational.' ” Abrams v. Lightolier Inc. 50 F.3d 1204, 1213 (3d Cir.1995) (citations omitted); see Bernardsville Bd. of Educ. v. J.H., 42 F.3d 149, 161 (3d Cir.1994) (reviewing in limine rulings for abuse of discretion). Yet, while these decisions regarding the exclusion of evidence rest in the sound discretion of the district court, and will not be disturbed absent an abuse of that discretion, the exercise of that discretion is guided by certain basic principles.

         One of the key guiding principles is reflected in the philosophy which shapes the rules of evidence. The Federal Rules of Evidence can aptly be characterized as evidentiary rules of inclusion, which are designed to broadly permit fact-finders to consider pertinent factual information while searching for the truth. The inclusionary quality of the rules, is embodied in three cardinal concepts. The first of these concepts is Rule 401's definition of relevant evidence. Rule 401 defines what is relevant in an expansive fashion, stating:

“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 *197 or ...

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