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Hemingway v. Russo

United States District Court, D. Utah

December 4, 2018

TRUDY HEMINGWAY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
E. ROBERT RUSSO, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION IN LIMINE

          Jill N. Parrish United States District Court Judge.

         This matter comes before the court on the motion in limine filed by plaintiffs Trudy Hemingway, Daniel McGuire, Michael McGuire, and Aaron Christensen on November 8, 2018. (ECF No. 93). Defendants Christopher McHugh and Daniel Bartlett responded on November 15, 2018. (ECF No. 103). The court heard oral argument on this motion at the final pretrial conference on November 30, 2018. For the reasons below, plaintiffs' motion is granted.

         I. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs' motion in limine asks the court, in essence, to reaffirm the validity of Rule 408 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which declares that:

Evidence of the following is not admissible - on behalf of any party - either to prove or disprove the validity or amount of a disputed claim or to impeach by a prior inconsistent statement or a contradiction:
(1) furnishing, promising, or offering - or accepting, promising to accept, or offering to accept - a valuable consideration in compromising or attempting to compromise the claim; and
(2) conduct or a statement made during compromise negotiations about the claim - except when offered in a criminal case and when the negotiations related to a claim by a public office in the exercise of its regulatory, investigative, or enforcement authority.

         Plaintiffs fail, as required by the trial order, to certify that they have met and conferred with defendants in an attempt to obviate the necessity of this motion. This omission is notable in light of plaintiffs' complete failure to frame the disputed evidence. They merely explain that they have settled claims against defendants, and that they have engaged in settlement negotiations with the remaining defendants. They appear to argue that those facts alone ought to compel this court to exclude all settlement-related evidence at the outset.

         But this is overly simplistic. That settlement has occurred between certain of the parties, or that settlement negotiations have been conducted does not suffice to obtain a pretrial ruling that related evidence is categorically excluded. Indeed, settlement negotiations are likely to have occurred in virtually every case that goes to trial.

         As the defendants point out, Rule 408 only bars settlement evidence if it is offered to prove or disprove the validity or amount of a disputed claim, or to impeach by a prior inconsistent statement made during settlement negotiations. Fed.R.Evid. 408. If offered for another purpose, Rule 408 does not prohibit the admission of settlement evidence.

         Defendants' response suggests two potential uses of settlement-related evidence, neither of which, they argue, runs afoul of Rule 408. First, they contend that they are entitled to introduce evidence of plaintiffs' settlement with the Unified Police Department (the “UPD”) defendants to show that it was the UPD, rather than Messrs. McHugh and Bartlett, who were responsible for the harm caused by the search. Second, they submit that evidence of that settlement can properly be used to demonstrate that plaintiffs' testimony is biased.

         But even if these purposes are not prohibited by Rule 408, evading that bar does not render settlement evidence automatically admissible. Such evidence remains subject to the remaining rules of evidence, including the rules governing relevance. “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. And relevant evidence may nevertheless be excluded “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.

         As explained below, what minimal probative value the settlement agreement may have is substantially outweighed by the risk of confusing the jury and engendering unfair prejudice. As a result, plaintiffs' motion in limine is granted, and neither the fact of settlement nor the related evidence will be admitted at trial.

         The court assumes, without deciding, that the defendants may deduct the amount of the UPD settlement from any recovery the plaintiffs obtain via jury award so as to avoid double recovery. After dispensing with ...


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