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Follis v. Memorial Medical Center

January 29, 2010

LINDA FOLLIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, U.S. District Judge

OPINION

This cause is before the Court on Defendant's Motions in Limine 1-6 (d/e 30) and Defendant's Memorandum in Support of Motions in Limine 1-6 (d/e 31). Plaintiff Linda Follis has filed Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant's Motions In Limine (d/e 32).

This matter is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the Court grants Motions 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6, and grants Motion 2 in part and denies Motion 2 in part.

FACTS

On February 26, 2008, Plaintiff Linda Follis sued Defendant Memorial Medical Center alleging violations of: (1) § 510 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1140; (2) Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213; (3) the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq.; and (4) the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq.*fn1 See Complaint (d/e 1).

At the close of discovery, the Court granted Plaintiff's Motion to voluntarily dismiss the ERISA claim. See Text Order of June 2, 2009. Defendant then filed its Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 16), which the Court granted in part and denied in part. Opinion of September 11, 2009 (d/e 26). The Court dismissed the ADEA claim and the discrimination portion of Plaintiff's ADA claim. The claims remaining for trial are ones for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation in violation of the ADA, and for violations of the FMLA. Plaintiff seeks lost wages, front pay, damages for emotional distress and other non-economic injuries, punitive damages under the ADA, and attorneys' fees and costs.

This case is now set for trial, and Defendant seeks to prohibit six types of evidence from being presented to the jury. Using Defendant's numbering system, the Court addresses each issue in turn.

I. MOTION IN LIMINE 1: INSURANCE

Defendant first asks the Court to bar Plaintiff, Plaintiff's counsel, and Plaintiff's witnesses from mentioning the fact that Defendant has insurance that may be available to reimburse or indemnify Defendant for any judgment that may be entered against it. Defendant points out that such evidence is inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence (FRE) 411, and unfairly prejudicial under FRE 403. See FRE, 411 & 403. Plaintiff agrees that this evidence is inadmissible.

Federal Rule of Evidence 411 makes clear that such evidence is inadmissible under the circumstances of this case. Therefore, the Court grants Motion 1. All parties, witnesses, and attorneys are barred from mentioning the possibility that Defendant has insurance that may reimburse or indemnify Defendant for all or part of any judgment that may be entered against Defendant in this case.

II. MOTION IN LIMINE 2: FINANCIAL STATUS

Defendant asks the Court to prohibit any reference to either party's financial status, arguing that such evidence is inadmissible under FRE 401 and 402 as unfairly prejudicial. Plaintiff counters that a restriction on discussing a party's "financial status" is too broad, because Plaintiff will need to present evidence of economic damages to prove her claims. See Response (d/e 32), p. 3. Specifically, Plaintiff states that she will use evidence of "fear of financial ruin" to support her claim for emotional distress under the ADA. Id.

Efforts to invoke the jury's sympathy "through references to the relative wealth of the defendant[] in contrast to the relative poverty of the plaintiff[] [are] improper . . . ." Adams Labs., Inc. v. Jacobs Eng'g Co., Inc., 761 F.2d 1218, 1226 (7th Cir. 1985). This prohibition applies only to the relative wealth of the parties, and does not prevent a plaintiff from presenting evidence of her "financial status" to prove economic and non-economic damages. Additionally, a plaintiff seeking punitive damages is allowed to present evidence of the defendant's wealth so that the potential award serves punitive damages' twin purposes of punishment and deterrence. See Kemezy v. Peters, 79 F.3d 33, 34-36 (7th Cir. 1996) (noting that "plaintiffs who are seeking punitive damages often present evidence of the defendant's wealth" to the jury); see also Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. Klockner H&K Machines, Inc., 168 F.R.D. 233 (E.D. Wis. 1996); Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. Staffing Network, 2002 WL 31473840, at *3-4 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 4, 2002).

Therefore, the Court grants Motion 2 in part. The parties, witnesses, and attorneys are barred from referencing the parties' relative financial statuses for purposes of invoking the jury's sympathy. This ruling does not necessarily prevent Plaintiff from providing evidence of financial status relevant to her claims for economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. However, prior to introducing evidence of the financial status of the Plaintiff, Plaintiff is directed to make an offer of proof to the Court outside the presence of the jury in order that the Court may evaluate whether the proffered evidence is relevant or only an appeal for sympathy. Plaintiff may introduce evidence of Defendant's financial circumstances in connection with her punitive damages' claim.

III. MOTION IN LIMINE 3: GOLDEN RULE JURY VERDICT

Defendant next moves the Court to bar any effort by Plaintiff or Plaintiff's counsel to "induce the jury to render a verdict in a manner inconsistent with its role as a neutral fact-finder." Memorandum, p. 2. ...


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