United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge
plaintiff, “R.D., ” commenced this action on June
3, 2016, alleging that the defendant, Shohola, Inc., is
liable to him for the injuries he incurred when he was
sexually assaulted on one of the defendant's overnight
camping trips. The parties are currently preparing for trial
on the remaining negligence claims in this lawsuit. As trial
approaches, the parties have filed some 29 motions in
limine, including two motions filed by the plaintiff,
(Docs. 301, 347), and 28 motions submitted by the defendant.
(Docs. 302-12, 15-29 and 360).
turn to consideration of one of these motions. The plaintiff
in this case, R.D., is gay. As a young man, R.D. has also
been treated for drug and alcohol addiction. The plaintiff
has filed a motion in limine (Doc. 301), which seeks
to bar references to his sexual orientation and alleged drug
and alcohol use. From R.D.'s perspective, this evidence
is both irrelevant and highly prejudicial. Defendant Shohola,
in turn, has filed a response in opposition to this motion,
arguing the relevance of these issues to some of the proposed
psychiatric testimony in this case. (Doc. 331). In
particular, Shohola notes that one major issue in this
lawsuit relates to R.D.'s claim that he suffers from PTSD
as a result of this assault, and R.D.'s assertion that
the PTSD caused by this sexual assault is a substantial
contributing factor to his other emotional impairments.
Shohola notes that its own expert witness is prepared to
testify that R.D. does not suffer from PTSD and that his
other emotional impairments may be a product of what were
unresolved issues of sexual identification. Accordingly,
Shohola posits that evidence relating to these matters is
directly relevant to these diagnostic issues and contends
that any prejudice stemming from the presentation of this
evidence can simply be addressed through a cautionary
instruction. This motion has been briefed by the parties and
is, therefore, ripe for resolution.
with this binary choice proffered by counsel, for the reasons
set forth below, we choose a third path. We will grant the
motion in limine in part, and direct that no
evidence or argument regarding R.D.'s sexual orientation
or drug and alcohol use will be made without a prior offer of
proof and authorization by the court. To the extent that
testimony or argument is permitted, it will be strictly
limited to the offer of proof made by the moving party, and
we will fashion appropriate cautionary instructions guiding
the jury in its consideration of this evidence.
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). 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
motions call upon us to strike an appropriate balance between
principles which shape the philosophy behind the rules of
evidence. At the outset, the Federal Rules of Evidence can
aptly be characterized as evidentiary rules of inclusion,
which hold that: “Under [Rule] 401, evidence is
relevant if it has ‘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.' ” Frank v. County of
Hudson, 924 F.Supp. 620, 626 (D.N.J. 1996) (citing
Spain v. Gallegos, 26 F.3d 439, 452 (3d Cir. 1994)
(quotations omitted)). Further Rule 402 provides that:
relevant evidence is admissible, except as otherwise provided
by the Constitution of the United States, by Act of Congress,
by these rules, or by other rules prescribed by the Supreme
Court pursuant to statutory authority. Evidence which is not
relevant is not admissible.
Fed. R. Evid. 402.
against these principles favoring admission of relevant
evidence is the concept embraced by Rule 403, which provides
Although 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,
or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or
needless presentation of cumulative evidence.
Fed. R. Evid. 403. Furthermore, while the Third Circuit
encourages a cautious approach to the pre-trial exclusion of
evidence on the grounds of undue prejudice, Spain v.
Gallegos, 26 F.3d 439, 453 (3d Cir. 1994) (noting that
the Third Circuit's “cautious approach to Rule 403
exclusions at the pretrial stage . . . .”), case law
has long recognized that certain areas of inquiry are fraught
with potential prejudice.
of sex, sexuality, and sexual identity are one such area.
Despite the progress of the law in this field, Obergefell
v. Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584, 2588, 192 L.Ed.2d 609 (2015),
questions of human sexuality can trigger deep-seated biases
and inspire visceral responses which are antithetical to the
dispassionate analysis of the evidence that is essential to a
fair trial. Likewise, issues of drug use or abuse often cloud
judgment with passion in ways which are potentially
prejudicial at trial. For these reasons, litigants often seek
pretrial rulings relating to the exclusion or use such
evidence through motions in limine. See,
e.g., Cartagena v. Serv. Source, Inc., No.
1:17-CV-742, 2019 WL 183853, at *5 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 14, 2019)
(granting motion in limine regarding drug use);
E.E.O.C. v. Smokin' Joe's Tobacco Shop,
Inc., No. CIV.A. 06-01758, 2007 WL 2461745, at *2 (E.D.
Pa. Aug. 22, 2007) (granting in part and denying in part
motions in limine regarding sexual conduct and drug
use); United States v. Neufeld, 949 F.Supp. 555, 557
(S.D. Ohio 1996), aff'd, 149 F.3d 1185 (6th Cir.
1998) (discussing consequences which flowed from alleged
failure to abide by motion in limine ...