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R.D. v. Shohola, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 19, 2019

“R.D., ” Plaintiff,
v.
SHOHOLA, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          MARTIN C. CARLSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. Factual Background

         The 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 30 motions in limine, including two motions filed by the plaintiff, (Doc. 301, 347), and 28 motions submitted by the defendant. (Docs. 302-327, 360).

         We now turn to consideration of three of these motions. Defense motion in limine Number 4 asks the court to enter a pre-trial order forbidding speaking objections. (Doc. 305). Defense motion in limine Number 5, in turn, asks that we forbid parties from referring to excluded evidence at trial. (Doc. 306). Finally, defense motion in limine Number 19 alleges that the deposition of the plaintiff's father, an attorney, may have descended into an inappropriate and ad hominem exchange at times, and asks that we enter an order prescribing proper decorum between counsel and this witness at trial. (Doc. 321).

         These motions are fully briefed and argued by the parties and are, therefore, ripe for resolution. (Doc. 366). For the reasons set forth below, the motions are GRANTED in part, and DEFERRED in part.

         I. Discussion

         A. Motions in Limine-Guiding Principles

         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.

         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, and their permissive attitude towards the admission of evidence, 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 or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

Fed. R. Evid. 401.

         Adopting this broad view of relevance it has been held 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.' [Therefore] ‘[i]t follows that evidence is irrelevant only when it has no tendency to prove the fact. Thus the rule, while giving judges great freedom to admit evidence, diminishes substantially their authority to exclude evidence as irrelevant.' ” 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)).

         This quality of inclusion embraced by the Federal Rules of Evidence, favoring the admission of potentially probative proof in all of its forms, is further buttressed by Rule 402, which generally defines the ...


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