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Norman P. Lupescu v. Janet Napolitano

April 6, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall


Before the court are the parties' outstanding motions in limine. The court presumes familiarity with the facts. For a description of the underlying facts, see the court's prior opinions. See, e.g., Lupescu v. Napolitano, 700 F. Supp. 2d 962 (N.D. Ill. 2010).


"Although the Federal Rules of Evidence do not explicitly authorize in limine rulings, the practice has developed pursuant to the district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials." Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4, 105 S. Ct. 460, 83 L. Ed. 2d 443 (1984). The court has broad discretion to rule on evidentiary questions raised in motions in limine." Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). Nevertheless, a court should grant a motion in limine excluding evidence only when the movant shows that the evidence "is inadmissible on all potential grounds." CDX Liquidating Trust ex rel. CDX Liquidating Trustee v. Venrock Assocs., 411 B.R. 591, 597 (N.D. Ill. 2009) (citing Townsend v. Benya, 287 F. Supp. 2d 868, 872 (N.D. Ill. 2003), and Robenhorst v. Dematic Corp., No. 05 C 3192, 2008 WL 1821519, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 22, 2008)). "'[E]videntiary rulings should [ordinarily] be deferred until trial so that questions of foundation, relevancy and potential prejudice may be resolved in proper context.'" Id. (quoting Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Techs., Inc., 831 F. Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D. Ill. 1993)). Rulings on motions in limine are preliminary; "the district court may adjust a motion in limine during the course of a trial." Farfaras v. Citizens Bank and Trust of Chi., 433 F.3d 558, 565 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Luce, 469 U.S. at 41-42); Luce, 469 U.S. at 41-42 ("[A] ruling [in limine] is subject to change when the case unfolds, particularly if the actual testimony differs from what was contained in the defendant's proffer. Indeed even if nothing unexpected happens at trial, the district judge is free, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, to alter a previous in limine ruling.") Accordingly, the parties may renew their objections at trial as appropriate.


A. Defendant's Motion In Limine to Exclude Partial Jury Instructions or Misstatements of the Law

The TSA moves in limine to bar partial jury instructions and misstatements of the law, arguing that Lupescu misstated the law and used cherry-picked quotes from jury instructions in his closing argument for the last trial. In particular, the TSA complains that, at the last trial, Lupescu argued that: (1) $300,000 would be a mid-range compensatory damages award, (2) he only needed to show that one similarly situated non-white employee was treated better than he was, (3) the length of time he has spent pursuing his claim indicates that the TSA is indeed liable. Lupescu responds that this is a dispute about jury instructions that cannot be decided upon a motion in limine. The court disagrees; in many instances, parties need such rulings in order to know what evidence to present. The court also agrees that showing the jury partial jury instructions is generally unhelpful and misleading.

However, the relief requested -- a blanket ruling excluding partial jury instructions and misstatements of the law -- is too general and vague. See Abbott Labs. v. Sandoz, Inc., 743 F. Supp. 2d 762, 782 (N.D. Ill. 2010) (denying broad motion in limine that did not seek to exclude any specific testimony or evidence); United States v. Messino, 873 F. Supp. 1177, 1188 (N.D. Ill. 1995) ("defendant's motion is too vague to warrant a ruling that all incidents fitting into defendant's description should be excluded."). The TSA may not escape its obligation to object at trial and chill Lupescu's presentation of his case via broad in limine rulings. Indeed, the court would be far better equipped to rule on whether a given argument is a misstatement of the law or is misleading at trial, in context. Accordingly, the motion is denied except insofar as Lupescu is barred from describing $300,000 in damages as "mid-range." He may, however, ask for the damages he thinks he deserves. The court will apply the statutorily-required cap. Further, Lupescu should request court permission before he uses partial jury instructions to avoid extended argument on this issue during closing argument. To this limited extent, the motion is granted.

B. Defendant's Motion In Limine to Exclude Evidence Regarding Lupescu's Request for Reinstatement

The TSA also moves in limine to bar Lupescu from "introducing any testimony, evidence or argument relating to [Lupescu's] request for reinstatement," arguing that Lupescu only requested reinstatement in a settlement demand and settlement negotiations are inadmissible. (TSA's Mot. In Limine Regarding Reinstatement at 1.) Lupescu flatly denies that the parties ever entered into settlement negotiations, and responds that his testimony that he wishes to be reinstated is relevant to prove his damages.

Insofar as Lupescu argues that he has to testify that he desires reinstatement so that the court can order it if he wins, the argument is absurd. If Lupescu wins and the court has to decide whether or not he should be reinstated, it will take testimony on the issue. That rationale for this evidence is rejected. In addition, the rules plainly provide that a plaintiff may not discuss settlement negotiations, or settlement proposals. See Raybestos Prods. Co. v. Younger, 54 F.3d 1234, 1241 (7th Cir. 1995) ("Rule 408 renders inadmissible evidence of statements made in compromise negotiations if offered as an admission of the validity or invalidity of the claim or its amount under negotiation.") On that score, everyone should be in agreement.

The court has no recollection that plaintiff "asserted repeatedly that he requested reinstatement and that the TSA refused to reinstate him." What the court recalls is that Lupescu testified that in the period when he was being separated from his job he made clear that he wanted to work; further, he testified that the job he lost was the job of his dreams and he would like it back. The court sees no problem with this testimony insofar as it is tied to Lupescu's damages stemming from the loss of his job. If he makes the same claim "repeatedly," the TSA should object that his testimony is cumulative.

The motion is denied.

C. Defendant's Motion In Limine to Exclude Evidence of Retaliation

In addition, the TSA moves in limine to bar Lupescu from mentioning alleged retaliation by the TSA pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 401 and 403, arguing that alleged retaliation is irrelevant and would cause jury confusion, prejudice, and a waste of time. Lupescu responds that the TSA's motion is too vague to merit a ruling.

The court agrees with the TSA's motion in principle: evidence or mention of Lupescu's retaliation claim, which was already decided by the jury, should not enter into this trial. Nevertheless, Lupescu is correct that the breadth and generality of the motion, coupled with the factual overlap of Lupescu's claims, leaves the court with nothing to rule on. The only specific evidence the TSA discusses is Kevin Laurent's disciplinary history. However, the TSA fails to give the court so much as an exhibit number so that the exhibit can be located. The TSA simply mentions that evidence; it does not discuss the evidence, say anything that would refresh the court's recollection concerning it and makes no legal argument concerning it. Lupescu argues in response that Laurent's disciplinary history is relevant to the issue of whether African-American employees were treated differently from Caucasian employees in the context of discipline.

The motion is too vague to be ruled upon and is denied except insofar as: (1) Laurent's disciplinary file is excluded on the grounds that he is not a proper comparator, and (2) the TSA may not prove that a prior jury rejected Lupescu's retaliation claim. (See Def.'s Reply at 2, ¶3.) Based on Federal Rule of Evidence 403, the prior jury verdict is not admissible in this trial. Lupescu may move to reconsider this ruling at trial as appropriate.

D. Plaintiff's Motion In Limine #4 Regarding Alleged Incident at Christmas Party

For his first motion in limine, Lupescu seeks to bar the TSA from presenting evidence or testimony of Lupescu's allegedly inappropriate behavior at a non-TSA Christmas party or other non-TSA event as irrelevant double hearsay that is more prejudicial than probative under Federal Rules of Evidence 402, 403, 201, and 802. The TSA responds that Lupescu admitted to exposing himself at the Christmas party at issue and, therefore, the testimony is admissible as a party admission. The TSA asserts that Lupescu's conduct during the time he was ...

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