United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
KAROLINE MEHALCHICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
the Court are twelve motions in limine filed by the
parties in anticipation of trial. In addition to briefing,
the Court held oral argument on the motions during the
October 2, 2017 pretrial conference.
Background and Procedural History
Court writes primarily for the parties, the background and
history are limited to the immediately relevant circumstances
of the pending motions. On October 28, 2015, Plaintiff
Matthew Knecht and Defendant Andrei Balanescu were both
travelling west on I-80 near Turbot Township, PA. (Doc.
17, ¶ 14). Balanescu was operating a
tractor-trailer, delivering a load to a customer of Newburg
Egg, while Knecht drove his father's Ford Focus. The
tractor was owned by Hudson Truck Leasing LLC, and leased to
Izzy Trucking Inc. The trailer was owned by JILCO Equipment
Leasing Co. Inc., and leased to Newburg Egg.
the facts and theories surrounding the accident remain in
dispute. Knecht asserts that Balanescu's tractor-trailer
struck him from behind, causing the accident that resulted in
Knecht's severe injuries, necessary surgeries, and memory
loss. (Doc. 17, ¶ 19). The Defendants, citing
the police report created by Trooper Edward Shannon, assert
that Knecht passed Balanescu from the right hand lane, lost
control of his vehicle, came to a rest perpendicular across
the travel lanes, and was struck on the passenger side by
Balanescu's truck when Balanescu could not stop in time
to avoid the crash. (Doc. 60, ¶ 17-19; Doc.
60-6, at 5). On March 30, 2016, Knecht filed suit
against Balanescu, Izzy Trucking, A&B Trucking of Queens
Inc., Hudson Truck Leasing, and JILCO, amending his complaint
on October 14, 2016 to include Newburg Egg. (Doc. 1;
Doc. 17). The Court recently decided several motions
for summary judgment filed by all parties. (Doc.
133). As a result, remaining in the case and proceeding
to trial are claims by Knecht against Balanescu for
recklessness (Count I), Izzy Trucking for recklessness via
vicarious liability (Count II), negligent hiring,
supervision, and retention (Count III), and negligent
entrustment (Count IV), and Newburg Egg for agency/joint
venture (Count XIII), negligence and recklessness via
vicarious liability (Count XIV), negligent hiring,
supervision, and retention (Count XV), and negligent
entrustment (Count XVI). Issues of causation, liability, and
damages remain disputed.
Standard of Review
court is vested with broad inherent authority to manage its
cases, which carries with it the discretion 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) (noting that 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). 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, the Court begins 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.'” Ely v. Cabot
Oil & Gas Corp., No. 3:09-CV-2284, 2016 WL 454817,
at *2 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 5, 2016) (citing 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
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. Ely v. Cabot Oil & Gas
Corp., No. 3:09-CV-2284, 2016 WL 454817, at *3 (M.D. Pa.
Feb. 5, 2016). The grounds for exclusion of evidence under
Rule 403 are described as an exception to the general rule
favoring admission of relevant evidence, and by permitting
the exclusion of relevant evidence only when its probative
value is “substantially outweighed” by other
prejudicial factors, the Court's discretion in
considering evidentiary rulings should consistently be
exercised in a fashion which resolves all doubts in favor of
the admission of relevant proof in a proceeding, unless the
relevance of that proof is substantially outweighed by some
other factors which caution against admission. Ely,
2016 WL 454817, at *3. The rules further provide
that relevant evidence is generally admissible. Fed. R.
Evid. 402. Evidence is “relevant” if its
existence simply has “any tendency to make a fact more
or less probable than it would be without the evidence”
and “the fact is of consequence in determining the
action.” Fed. R. Evid. 401(a)-(b).
relevant evidence may be excluded “if its probative
value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair
prejudice.” Fed. R. Evid. 403. The balancing
test under Rule 403 provides as follows:
[t]he 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.
Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert
testimony and requires an expert witness to have
"specialized knowledge" regarding the area of
testimony. Rule 702 provides:
A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill,
experience, training, or education may testify in the form of
an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other
specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to
understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and
methods to the facts of the case.
Fed. R. Evid. 702.
702 has three major requirements: (1) the proffered witness
must be an expert, i.e., must be qualified; (2) the expert
must testify about matters requiring scientific, technical or
specialized knowledge [, i.e., reliability]; and (3)
the expert's testimony must assist the trier of fact [,
i.e., fit].” United States v. Schiff,
602 F.3d 152, 172 (3d Cir. 2010) (alterations in original)
(quoting Pineda v. Ford Motor Co., 520 F.3d 237, 244
(3d Cir. 2008)).
general, the Federal Rules of Evidence embody a strong
preference for admitting any evidence that may assist the
trier of fact. Fed. R. Evid. 402. Moreover, Rule 702
in particular "has a liberal policy of
admissibility." Kannankeril v. Terminix Int'l,
Inc., 128 F.3d 802, 806 (3d Cir. 1997).
an expert is qualified if “the witness possess[es]
specialized expertise.” Schneider ex rel. Estate of
Schneider v. Fried, 320 F.3d 396, 404 (3d Cir. 2003).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
interprets the qualifications requirement liberally, and
notes that “a broad range of knowledge, skills, and
training qualify an expert as such.” In re Paoli
R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 35 F.3d 717, 741 (3d Cir.
1994); Betterbox Commc'ns Ltd. v. BB Techs.,
Inc., 300 F.3d 325, 327-28 (3d Cir. 2002) ("[T]his
specialized knowledge can be practical experience as well as
academic training and credentials . . . ."). Thus,
“it is an abuse of discretion to exclude testimony
simply because the trial court does not deem the proposed
expert to be the best qualified or because the proposed
expert does not have the specialization that the court
considers most appropriate.” Holbrook v. Lykes
Bros. S.S. Co., 80 F.3d 777, 782 (3d Cir. 1996); see
Pineda, 520 F.3d at 244 & n.11 (collecting cases
that illustrate the permissive nature of qualifications
requirement). “However, at a minimum, a proffered
expert witness must possess skill or knowledge greater than
the average layman.” Betterbox, 300 F.3d at
328 (quotation omitted).
second requirement under Rule 702 is that “the process
or technique the expert used in formulating the opinion is
reliable.” Paoli, 35 F.3d at 742. Therefore,
“the expert's opinion must be based on the
‘methods and procedures of science' rather than on
‘subjective belief or unsupported speculation'; the
expert must have ‘good grounds' for his or her
belief.”Paoli, 35 F.3d at 742 (quoting
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579,
590 (1993)). The Daubert court noted that the
assessment of whether testimony is based on a reliable
foundation is “flexible.” Daubert, 509
U.S. at 594.
third and last requirement under Rule 702 is “that the
expert testimony must fit the issues in the case.”
Schneider, 320 F.3d at 404. This requirement is
satisfied where the “expert testimony proffered . . .
is sufficiently tied to the facts of the case that it will
aid the jury in resolving a factual dispute.”
Downing, 753 F.2d at 1242; “Rule 702's
‘helpfulness' standard requires a valid scientific
connection to the pertinent inquiry as a precondition to
admissibility.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at
591-92. Although the applicable standard for
determining “fit” is “not that high,
” it is nonetheless “higher than bare
relevance.” Paoli, 35 F.3d at 745.
final note, in performing its gatekeeping function to
determine whether an expert's proffer is reliable and
relevant under Daubert and Rule 702, the trial court
“is not to weigh the evidence relied upon or determine
whether it agrees with the conclusions reached therein."
Walker v. Gordon, 46 Fed.Appx. 691, 695 (3d Cir.
2002) (not precedential) (citingBreidor v. Sears, Roebuck
& Co., 722 F.2d 1134, 1138-39 (3d Cir. 1983)
("Where there is a logical basis for an expert's
opinion testimony, the credibility and weight of that
testimony is to be determined by the jury, not the trial
keeping with this framework, the Court turns to each of the
motions in limine filed by the parties.
Motions in Limine deemed unopposed or withdrawn.
the Court notes that three of the motions filed by the
parties are deemed unopposed based upon the representations
made by the parties at oral argument. First, Plaintiff noted
on the record that it does not oppose Defendants' motion
in limine to preclude evidence or testimony from Dr.
Ardo with regard to future medical treatment and associated
costs other than chiropractic care. (Doc. 84).
Specifically, Plaintiff noted that if Dr. Ardo is called as a
witness, she will be called in her capacity as a treating
physician. Second, Plaintiff filed a motion in
limine to preclude Defendants from offering any evidence
or testimony that he was not wearing his seatbelt at the time
of the accident (Doc. 100); Defendants noted on the
record that they do not oppose this motion. Finally,
Plaintiff filed a motion in limine to preclude
Defendants' use of “late” rebuttal reports
(Doc. 109); Plaintiff indicated on the record that
they could “work this issue out” and was not
seeking to pursue this motion at this time.
these reasons, the Court will GRANT Defendants' motion
in limine seeking to limit Dr. Ardo's testimony
(Doc. 84), and GRANT Plaintiff's motion in
limine seeking to preclude evidence or testimony of
Plaintiff not wearing his seatbelt. The Court will deem
WITHDRAWN and MOOT Plaintiff's motion regarding the
rebuttal reports. (Doc. 109).
Motion in Limine for Spoliation, Seeking Judgment in
Plaintiff's Favor, or an Adverse Inference and Reasonable
Attorney Fees And Costs (Doc. 92)
seeks judgment in his favor, or in the alternative, an
adverse inference instruction to the jury, and attorney fees
and costs, for the alleged failure of Defendants Izzy
Trucking, Newburg Egg, and Andrei Balanescu to maintain,
preserve and provide certain relevant documentation
consistent with the FMCSRs and the laws and rules of the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Specifically, Plaintiff submits
that, immediately after the crash, he advised all Defendants
of their duties with respect to record retention, and
further, that during discovery, Plaintiff propounded Requests
for Production of Documents upon the Defendants requesting
all the documentation identified in the initial spoliation
letters. Plaintiff avers that Defendants Balanescu and
Newburg Egg failed to provide verified responses at all, and
Defendant Izzy Trucking provided verified responses which are
in conflict with the sworn testimony and evidence. (Doc.
opposition to Plaintiff's motion, Defendant Newburg Egg
disputes that it ever had any control over the evidence
sought by Plaintiff, as Newburg Egg was not a motor carrier,
and therefore not subject to the records retention provisions
of the FMSCR, as claimed by the Plaintiff, and as such, the
documents sought by Plaintiff were never in Newburg Egg's
possession or control. (Doc. 116). Defendants Izzy
Trucking and Andrei Balanescu also oppose the motion,
providing copies of the verifications produced in response to
discovery (Doc. 119-1), and noting that both Israel
Newman, the corporate designee for Izzy Trucking, and
Balanescu were deposed, during which time numerous exhibits
and documents were reviewed.
general principles regarding inferences to be drawn from the
loss or destruction of one or more documents are
well-established in the Third Circuit. Burdyn v. Old
Forge Borough, No. 3:12-CV-2236, 2017 WL 382304, at *7
(M.D. Pa. Jan. 26, 2017). “In law, spoliation refers to
the hiding or destroying of litigation evidence, generally by
an adverse party.” Archer v. York City School
District, 227 F.Supp.3d 361 (M.D.PA. Dec. 28,
2016); Williams v. BASF Catalysts LLC, 765
F.3d 306, 320 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal citations and
quotations omitted). “In the event that a party
undertakes spoilage, the sanctions available to a court
include dismissal of the relevant claim or a presumption by
the factfinder that the spoiled evidence was harmful to the
offending party's case.” Capogrosso v. 30 River
Court East Urban Renewal Co., 482 Fed.Appx. 677, 682 (3d
Cir. 2012) (citing Bull v. United Parcel
Service, Inc., 665 F.3d 68, 72-73 (3d Cir.
2012)). “The spoliation inference is a
permissive inference that is predicated on the “common
sense observation” that when a party to an adversarial
proceeding destroys relevant evidence it is likely done out
of fear that the evidence would be harmful to that
party.” Kounelis v. Sherrer, 529 F.Supp.2d
503, 520 (D.N.J. 2008) (citing Mosaid Techs.
Inc. v. Samsung Elec. Co., 348 F.Supp.2d 332, 336
occurs where (1) the evidence was in the party's control;
(2) the evidence is relevant to the claims or defenses in the
case; (3) there has been actual suppression or withholding of
evidence; and (4) the duty to preserve the evidence was
reasonably foreseeable to the party. Bull v. United
Parcel Service, Inc., 665 F.3d 68, 73 (3d Cir.
2012). The party asserting that spoliation has
occurred has the burden of establishing these elements.
See Sarmiento v. Montclair State Univ., 513
F.Supp.2d 72, 94 (D.N.J. 2007), aff'd, 285 Fed.Appx.
905 (3d Cir. 2008); Gentex Corp. v. Sutter, 827
F.Supp.2d 384, 390 (M.D. Pa. 2011). Where a court finds
spoliation occurred, it must then determine the appropriate
response, and should consider (1) the degree of fault of the
party who altered or destroyed the evidence; (2) the degree
of prejudice suffered by the opposing party; and (3) whether
there is a lesser sanction that will avoid substantial
unfairness to the opposing party and, where the offending
party is seriously at fault, will serve to deter such conduct
by others in the future.” Gentex Corp., 827
F.Supp.2d at 390-91 (M.D. Pa. 2011); citing
Schmid v. Milwaukee Elec. Tool Corp., 13 F.3d 76, 79
(1994). “Potential sanctions for spoliation
include: dismissal of a claim or granting judgment in favor
of a prejudiced party; suppression of evidence; an adverse
inference, referred to as the spoliation inference; fines;
and attorneys' fees and costs.” Id.;
citing Mosaid Techs. Inc. v. Samsung Elecs. Co.,
Ltd., 348 F.Supp.2d 332, 335 (D.N.J.2004) (internal
citations omitted). No adverse inference can be drawn from
the mere fact of an inability to produce the records, absent
evidence that they were intentionally concealed or destroyed.
Fortune v. Bitner, No. CIV. 3:CV-01-0111, 2006 WL
839346, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 29, 2006); Harding v.
CareerBuilder, LLC, No. 05-1934, 2006 WL 460896 (3d Cir.
Feb 27, 2006).
ruled at the conclusion of oral argument on the motions
in limine, the Court does not find that there was
intentional destruction or concealment of records by any of
the Defendants to the extent such an inference is warranted.
As such, the Court will not grant Plaintiff's motion
seeking either judgment in his favor or an adverse inference
on spoliation at this time. This is without prejudice to the
Plaintiff to reiterating his request at such time as the
Court considers jury instructions, and dependent upon the
record developed at trial.
Motion in Limine to Preclude Evidence of the Alleged
Occurrence of a Pursuit Intervention Technique Maneuver
seek to preclude introduction at trial of any evidence or
testimony regarding the alleged occurrence of a pursuit
intervention technique (“PIT”) maneuver.
magisterial district court proceeding regarding the citations
issued to Plaintiff as a result of the subject accident,
Pennsylvania State ...