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Davenport v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America Ltd.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Aiken Division

February 12, 2018

Devon Davenport, Plaintiff,
v.
Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd. and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         This matter is before the court pursuant to Defendants' Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd., and The Goodyear Tire and Company (collectively “Defendants”) Motion in Limine. (ECF No. 103.) Plaintiffs Maria Davenport, Arnold Davenport, Demorio Davenport, and Devon Davenport (collectively “Plaintiffs”) filed a response in opposition to Defendants' Motion (ECF No. 122), and Defendants filed a reply (ECF No. 131). For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' Motion (ECF No. 103).

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On September 18, 2015, Plaintiffs Maria Davenport, Arnold Davenport, and Demorio Davenport filed a Complaint against Defendants. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff Maria Davenport alleged she suffered injuries while she was driving a 1996 Ford Explorer when the tread on the left rear tire (“Subject Tire”) separated from the car, causing it to overturn. (Id.) Plaintiff Demorio Davenport was a passenger in the car and he also alleges that he suffered injuries during the incident. (Id.) Plaintiffs Maria and Demorio Davenport seek damages for their claims of negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty. (Id.) Plaintiff Arnold Davenport alleges loss of consortium. (Id. at 2.) On August 2, 2016, Defendants filed a Motion to Consolidate both cases. (ECF No. 34.) On October 25, 2016, the court granted Defendants' Motion to Consolidate for all purposes, including trial. (ECF No. 46 at 5.)

         In the present Motion, Defendants request that the court prevent Plaintiffs from offering any evidence or argument about or including: (1) reference to any other lawsuits or claims involving Defendants, specifically Haeger v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 906 F.Supp.2d 938 (D. Ariz. 2012), rev'd and remanded, 137 S.Ct. 1178 (2017); (2) the views of alleged “document historians” about Defendants' state of mind or knowledge regarding the use or need for nylon overlays; (3) Defendants' wealth, income, or financial condition; (4) during opening statements, comments on Defendants' anticipated defenses or Defendants' defenses in other cases; and (5) reference to depositions of Defendants' representatives in other cases. (ECF No. 103.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow a court to rule on evidentiary issues in advance of trial in order to avoid delay, ensure an even-handed and expeditious trial, and focus the issues the jury will consider.” United States v. Dylann Storm Roof, No. 2:15-472-RMG, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185415, at *2 (D.S.C. Dec. 12, 2016) (internal citations omitted). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence (“Fed. R. Evid.”) 401, evidence is relevant if it has “any tendency” to make a fact of consequence to the issues in question “more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. Fed.R.Evid. 403 provides that evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, waste of time or needless cumulative evidence. Evidence should be construed in the “light most favorable to its proponent, maximizing its probative value and minimizing its prejudicial effect.” United States v. Salazar, 338 F. Appx 338, 343-44 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing United States v. Simpson, 910 F.2d 154, 157 (4th Cir. 1990)). Prejudicial evidence is excluded to protect the jury from drawing improper inferences. Mullen v. Princess Anne Volunteer Fire Co., 853 F.2d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1988) (“All relevant evidence is ‘prejudicial' in the sense that it may prejudice the party against whom it is admitted. Rule 403, however, is concerned only with ‘unfair' prejudice. That is, the possibility that the evidence will excite the jury to make a decision on the basis of a factor unrelated to the issues properly before it.”).

         Acknowledging that “expert witnesses have the potential to be both powerful and quite misleading, ” Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., (509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993)) requires courts “to ensure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable." Cooper v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 259 F.3d 194, 199 (4th Cir. 2001) citing Westberry v. Gislaved Gummi AB, 178 F.3d 257, 261 (4th Cir. 1999). “A reliable expert opinion must be based on scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge and not on belief or speculation and inferences must be derived using scientific or other valid methods.” Oglesby v. Generaly Motors Corp., 190 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1999) (emphasis added). Reliability “may be indicated by testing, peer review, evaluation of rates of error and general acceptability.” Id. Furthermore, “given the potential persuasiveness of expert testimony, proffered evidence that has a greater potential to mislead than to enlighten should be excluded.” Westberry v. Gislaved Gummi AB, 178 F.3d 257, 261 (4th Cir. 1999). A motion in limine is thus appropriately directed to address and deal with the evidentiary concerns of relevancy, reliability and prejudice regarding expert testimony.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Reference to Other Lawsuits Involving Defendants

         Defendants move to preclude Plaintiffs from referencing other lawsuits involving Defendants, specifically Haeger v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 906 F.Supp.2d 938 (D. Ariz. 2012), rev'd and remanded, 137 S.Ct. 1178 (2017). (ECF No. 103.) Defendants argue that (1) information regarding Haeger would constitute inadmissible hearsay (ECF No. 103 at 2-3); (2) the facts of Haeger are not probative for any facts at issue in this case, and so they are not relevant under Fed.R.Evid. 401 (ECF No. 131 at 3); and (3) even if the facts of Haeger are relevant, their probative value is substantially outweighed by the likelihood of unfair prejudice and are thus inadmissible under Fed.R.Evid. 403 (ECF No. 103 at 3; ECF No. 131 at 3). Plaintiffs assert that information regarding Haeger should be admissible as character evidence to prove Defendants' credibility, or lack thereof. (ECF No. 122 at 2-3.)

         Reference to other cases, specifically Haeger, is inadmissible because it is not relevant to this case and carries a substantial risk of unfair prejudice. Under Rule 402, only relevant evidence is admissible. Fed.R.Evid. 402. Rule 401 defines relevant evidence as evidence that “has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable.” Fed.R.Evid. 401(a). Haeger involved a different kind of tire, different counsel, and an entirely different discovery process from this case. In Haeger, Defendants and their lawyers were sanctioned for failing to turn over certain information during discovery despite repeated requests from the plaintiff. Haeger, 906 F.Supp. at 976. The imposition of sanctions against defendants and their attorneys was affirmed by the Supreme Court; however, the Supreme Court remanded the case for further factual findings regarding the appropriate amount of sanctions. Haeger, 135 S.Ct. at 1190. Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that the facts and circumstances of Haeger, namely the sanctions against Defendants and their attorneys, make any material fact in the present case more or less likely. Therefore, the facts and circumstances of Haeger are irrelevant and inadmissible.

         Additionally, references to Haeger cannot be admitted as character evidence. Specific instances of conduct are admissible as character evidence only when “a person's character . . . is an essential element of a charge, claim, or defense, ” Fed.R.Evid. 405(b), or on cross examination if they are “probative of the character for truthfulness or untruthfulness of: (1) the witness, ” Fed.R.Evid. 608(b). Defendants' character is not an essential element of any of the claims or defenses in this case. (See ECF No. 1; ECF No. 10.) Thus, the evidence is not admissible under Rule 405(b). Further, Plaintiffs have alleged no connection between this case and Haeger. (ECF No. 122 at 3.) As a result, the behavior of Defendants in Haeger would not be probative of the character for truthfulness of any of the witnesses in this case. Thus, the evidence is not admissible under Rule 608(b).

         Lastly, the facts of any other case involving Defendants, are not admissible because the probative value of the information is “substantially outweighed by a danger of . . . unfair prejudice [and] confusing the jury.” Fed.R.Evid. 403. “Evidence of other lawsuits . . . is inadmissible under Rule 403. . . . Evidence of other lawsuits is likely to confuse and mislead the jury . . . and it is highly prejudicial” to defendants. In re Ethicon, Inc., Pelvic Repair Sys. Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 2:12-MD-02327, 2014 WL 505234, at *6 (S.D. W.Va. Feb. 5, 2014). Therefore, Plaintiffs' inclination to reference other lawsuits is not allowed. Defendants' first Motion in Limine is GRANTED.

         B. Evidence Regarding Defendants' State of ...


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