The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES KOCORAS, District Judge
Before the court are four motions in limine brought by
Plaintiff Werner von Pein ("von Pein"). For the reasons set forth
below, von Pein's motions are denied.
Defendant Hedstrom Corporation ("Hedstrom") is a manufacturer
and marketer of children's toys and outdoor recreational
products. In June 2000, Hedstrom retained von Pein as a temporary
executive consultant for its ERO Division ("ERO"). On November 1,
2000, Hedstrom hired von Pein to work full-time as ERO's Vice
President and General Manager. In this position, von Pein had
overall responsibility for the ERO business and reported directly
to Michael Johnston ("Johnston"), Hedstrom's President and CEO. On March 14, 2002, Johnston drafted a letter (the "Severance
Agreement") to von Pein that provided for severance payments in
the event that von Pein's "employment [is] terminated for any
reason other than cause." Von Pein's Severance Agreement
specified that if he was fired without "cause," he would receive
one year's base salary and that Hedstrom would continue to pay
his health and life insurance benefits for one year.
On the morning of December 12, 2002, Johnston fired von Pein.
For one month following von Pein's discharge, Hedstrom paid von
Pein's salary and his benefits under the Severance Agreement.
That evening, several Hedstrom employees took von Pein out for a
going away dinner. It is alleged that during this dinner von Pein
discussed competing against Hedstrom. Shortly thereafter, various
individuals who were present at the dinner, or had knowledge of
what was purportedly said at the dinner, provided Johnston with
information and statements regarding the alleged conversation.
On January 13, Hedstrom informed von Pein that it was
suspending his severance payments because it believed that von
Pein had removed confidential proprietary information and was
preparing to form a business venture that would compete with
Hedstrom. Four days later, Hedstrom sent von Pein a Settlement
Agreement and General Release ("the Non-Compete Agreement") that
offered to pay the remainder of von Pein's salary and benefits
under the Severance Agreement in exchange for von Pein's returning any proprietary information and
refraining from suing Hedstrom or competing with Hedstrom for
three years. Von Pein refused to sign the Non-Compete Agreement.
Von Pein contends that the initial health benefits and salary
payments Hedstrom made after the date of von Pein's termination
indicate Hedstrom's willingness to honor the terms of the
Severance Agreement. Von Pein further contends that Johnston
decided to terminate the severance payments based upon the
information that he had received regarding the statements von
Pein allegedly made at the going away dinner. Conversely,
Hedstrom maintains that the payments made to von Pein in the
month following his discharge were made gratuitously due to von
Pein's purported financial problems and Hedstrom's desire to
avoid a confrontational separation.
On March 28, 2003, von Pein, who resides in Connecticut, filed
the present lawsuit in the Southern District of New York,
alleging breach of the Severance Agreement and violation of the
Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act ("Wage Act"),
820 ILCS 115/1 et seq. On May 8, 2003, Hedstrom answered von Pein's
complaint and filed a counterclaim alleging breach of fiduciary
duty of loyalty. On January 12, 2004, Judge Richard P. Casey
transferred the case to this court. Discovery has been completed
and the case is poised for trial. Von Pein has filed various
motions in limine. LEGAL STANDARD
A federal district court's authority to manage trials includes
the power to exclude evidence pursuant to motions in limine.
Falk v. Kimberly Services, Inc., 1997 WL 201568, *1 (N.D. Ill.
1997). However, a court has the power to exclude evidence in
limine only when that evidence is clearly inadmissible on all
potential grounds. Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Technologies,
Inc., 831 F. Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D. Ill. 1993). A district court
should be mindful that some proposed evidentiary submissions
cannot be accurately evaluated in a pretrial context via a motion
in limine. Tzoumis v. Tempel Steel Co., 168 F. Supp. 2d 871,
873 (N.D. Ill. 2001). For this reason, certain evidentiary
rulings should be deferred to trial so that questions of
foundation, relevancy, and potential prejudice may be resolved in
proper context. Hawthorne Partners, 831 F. Supp. at 1400.
Denial of a motion in limine does not automatically mean that
all evidence contemplated by the motion will be admitted at
trial. Id. at 1401. Instead, the court will entertain
objections to individual proffers as they occur at trial. Id.
In any event "the district judge is free, in the exercise of
sound judicial discretion, to alter a previous in limine
ruling." Luce v. U.S., 469 U.S. 38, 41-42 (1984). With these
principles in mind, we turn to the present motions. DISCUSSION
Von Pein's first motion in limine seeks to bar the
introduction of eleven exhibits that Hedstrom has submitted
pursuant to the final pretrial order. Von Pein contends that
these exhibits contain after-acquired evidence or, put another
way, evidence that Hedstrom uncovered after making the decision
to terminate von Pein on December 12, 2001. Further, von Pein
moves this court to exclude any testimony by Johnston that would
consist of after-acquired evidence. Specifically, von Pein seeks
to bar testimony relating to: (1) Johnston's terminating von Pein
because von Pein took confidential documentation or other company
records, and (2) Johnston's terminating von Pein because von Pein
was planning to set up a competing business. Von Pein further
argues that pursuant to a previous ruling issued by this
court,*fn1 the doctrine of the law of the case dictates that
we should presumably adhere to rulings made at a prior stage of
the proceedings throughout the suit. See Alston v. King,
157 F.3d 1113, 1116 (7th Cir. 1998).
Hedstrom counters that von Pein's motion to exclude
after-acquired evidence is expressly made as to his claim that he
was terminated without "cause" under the Severance Agreement and that von Pein's summary judgment motion,
as well as this court's opinion denying that motion, addressed
the after-acquired evidence doctrine only in the context of von
Pein's breach of employment contract claim. Further, Hedstrom
argues that since its counterclaim against von Pein for breach of
fiduciary duty of loyalty is not dependent or related to a
termination decision or date, the after-acquired evidence
doctrine has no conceivable application.
With any relevancy consideration, a court must first determine
the purpose for which the evidence is being offered.
Fed.R.Evid. 402. The evidence must increase the factfinder's knowledge
and enhance the likelihood of ascertaining the truth about the
facts at issue. See Fed.R. Evid. 402 advisory committee's
note. It is well settled that evidence may be irrelevant and thus
inadmissible when offered for one purpose but meet the threshold
relevancy requirements for admissibility when offered for another
purpose. See generally Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. v.
Pribyl, 259 F.3d 587 (7th Cir. 2001). This proposition is
exemplified in the present case. While evidence of von Pein's
alleged misconduct that was not known to Hedstrom at the time of
firing is not relevant in proving that von Pein was fired "for
cause" under the terms of the Severance Agreement, it is relevant
to facts at issue regarding Hedstrom's counterclaim for breach of
the duty of loyalty. Under Illinois law, corporate officers "owe a duty of loyalty
to their corporate employer not to (1) actively exploit their
positions within the corporation for their own personal benefit,
or (2) hinder the ability of a corporation to continue the
business for which it was developed." Veco Corporation v.
Babcock, 611 N.E.2d 1054, 1059 (Ill.App. Ct. 1993). The cause
of action is not dependent upon an employee being terminated, or
when a termination decision was made. The timing component only
becomes operative in the application of the after-acquired
This decision does not disturb the law of the case, as it is
consistent with our previous ruling that after-acquired evidence
pertaining to von Pein's termination will not be considered in
determining a "for cause" termination. This evidence however, is
in fact relevant when used for the purpose of proving Hedstrom's
counterclaim for breach of the duty of loyalty, an issue which
was not addressed in the summary judgment ruling. Consequently,
von Pein's motion is denied.
Von Pein's second motion seeks to exclude Hedstrom's exhibits
that were disclosed after the close of discovery. Initially, all
discovery was to be completed by October 30, 2003. A signed
stipulation dated October 30, 2003, endorsed by Judge Casey,
extended the discovery cutoff date until November 10, 2003. Von
Pein contends that three Hedstrom exhibits were first mailed to
him after that date ...