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Georgeson v. Dupage Surgical Consultants

March 22, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Blanche M. Manning


Plaintiff Andrew Georgeson sued two doctors with whom he formerly operated a group medical practice, alleging that his former associates improperly terminated his shareholder rights when he left the practice. His claims include shareholder oppression, breach of fiduciary duty, violation of the Illinois Business Corporation Act, and civil conspiracy. He seeks both compensatory and punitive damages. The plaintiff and defendants have filed motions in limine to resolve evidentiary issues before trial, which the court addresses in turn.

1. Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude Evidence Regarding His Other Business Interests and Involvement In Other Litigation [80-1]

Georgeson identifies three groups of evidence he seeks to bar as irrelevant and/or unduly prejudicial. First, Georgeson moves to bar all evidence or mention of his interests in businesses other than his former group practice with the defendants, DuPage Surgical Consultants. Specifically, Georgeson contends that his involvement in a nutritional supplement business as well as his service as president of a biotechnology company, MycoPharma, are irrelevant. According to Georgeson, although he was involved in both outside ventures while a physician with DuPage Surgical, his ownership interest in DuPage Surgical did not preclude outside work. Georgeson also asserts that he never used DuPage Surgical resources in futherance of his outside work. Therefore, Georgeson contends, his outside work is irrelevant to his claims against the defendant for shareholder oppression, breach of fiduciary duty, violation of Illinois' corporation act, or civil conspiracy.

The defendants argue that Georgeson's outside work is relevant because his agreement with them required him to serve as a full-time physician for DuPage Surgical, yet his outside work prevented him from doing so. For instance, they contend, Georgeson frequently cancelled or rescheduled office hours and appointments, to the detriment of his patients, the group practice, and the other physicians.

Under Federal Rule of Evidence 402, to be admissible, evidence must be relevant. Evidence is relevant as long as 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 then it would be without the evidence." Fed. R. Evid. 401. The relevancy of evidence is left to the court's discretion. See Fleming v. County of Kane, 898 F.2d 553, 558 (7th Cir. 1990). Rule 403 provides that relevant evidence may be excluded if "its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice." Fed. R. Evid. 403. Evidence by its nature is prejudicial to one of the parties, and it is only unfairly prejudicial if it "will induce the jury to decide the case on an improper basis, commonly an emotional one, rather than on the evidence presented." United States v. Medina, 755 F.2d 1269, 1274 (7th Cir. 1985).

The parties appear to agree that to the extent Georgeson was a shareholder of DuPage Surgical, he was obligated to provide full-time patient care. Evidence that he failed to do so as a result of his outside work is therefore relevant to whether he is entitled to the shareholder rights he is suing to enforce. Accordingly, the defendants are entitled to present evidence of Georgeson's outside work, but only for the limited purpose of showing that it interfered with Georgeson's ability to provide full-time patient care at DuPage Surgical.

Next, Georgeson seeks to exclude evidence that his nutritional supplement business lost $200,000. Georgeson contends that the loss is irrelevant; the defendants argue that the loss is relevant because it provided him with a financial motivation to file "unsubstantiated" claims against the defendants. The jury will gauge the substantiality of Georgeson's claims by determining his rights as a shareholder and whether those rights were violated. Evidence of Georgeson's motivation for filing this suit will shed no light on either his rights or the defendants' alleged violations of those rights, and therefore his alleged motivation is irrelevant.

Finally, Georgeson argues that evidence of his involvement in other litigation should be excluded. The defendants respond that they do not intend to use such evidence, so the issue is moot.

To summarize, Georgeson's motion in limine [80-1] is granted in part and denied in part as follows: the defendants may introduce evidence of Georgeson's outside work for the limited purpose of showing that his work adversely affected his ability to provide full-time patient care at DuPage Surgical. The defendants may not introduce evidence that Georgeson's nutritional supplement business lost $200,000, or evidence that he has been involved in other litigation.

2. Defendants' Motion to Bar Expert Testimony [82-1]

The defendants anticipate that Georgeson will attempt to use expert testimony to prove part of his damage claim-damages based upon the value of his alleged ownership interest in DuPage Surgical-even though he never disclosed any experts as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2). Therefore, they ask the court to bar the plaintiff from presenting any expert witnesses. The plaintiff concedes that he failed to disclose any expert witnesses, and states that he plans to establish his damages through lay witnesses, specifically accountants for DuPage Surgical. In light of Georgeson's failure to disclose any expert witnesses, the defendants' motion in limine to bar expert testimony is granted.

Additionally, the defendants argue that the court "should not allow [Georgeson] to back-door expert testimony from any alleged lay witnesses." The gist of the argument is that in response to an interrogatory Georgeson stated that only an expert witness could determine his damages, yet Georgeson now proposes to prove his damages through lay witnesses.

Under Federal Rule of Evidence 602, a lay witness may offer testimony on matters upon which the witness has personal knowledge. Addtionally, under Rule 701, the lay witness may offer his or her opinions and inferences as long as they are: (a) rationally based on the perception of the witness; (b) helpful to a clear understanding of the witness' testimony or the determination of a fact in issue; and (c) not based on ...

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