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Allen Plyler v. Whirlpool Corporation

February 13, 2012

ALLEN PLYLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WHIRLPOOL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the court are nine motions in limine filed by plaintiff Allen Plyler ("Plyler"). [Dkt 108-116.] Defendant Whirlpool Corporation ("Whirlpool") has filed opposition briefs to eight of Plyler's motions. [Dkt 119-126.] The motions are ruled upon as follows.

BACKGROUND

On October 11, 2006, a fire broke out in Plyler's Wheaton, Illinois home, causing the house to burn to the ground. In his complaint, Plyler states that he suffered physical and emotional injuries as a result of the fire which allegedly began inside a defective microwave manufactured by Whirlpool. (Am. Compl., Count I ¶¶ 12-14, Count II ¶¶ 16-18.) [Dkt 25.] Plyler claims that Whirlpool was negligent in failing to notify him of the microwave defect and in failing to recall and remove the microwave from his home. (Id., Count I ¶¶ 1-14.) Plyler further alleges that the danger from the defect was both avoidable and foreseeable such that Whirlpool is subject to products liability for a design defect. (Id., Count II ¶¶ 1-18.) Whirlpool denies each of Plyler's claims. (Answer, Count I ¶¶ 1-14, Count II ¶¶ 1-18.) [Dkt 28.] A jury trial is set to begin on March 12, 2012.

(Order, Nov. 30, 2011.) [Dkt 85.]

DISCUSSION

Generally, "[m]otions in limine are disfavored." Mi-Jack Prods. v. Intl. Union of Operating Engrs., Local 150, No. 94 C 6676, 1995 WL 680214 at *1 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 14, 1995) (Conlon, J.). "Evidence should not be excluded in limine unless it is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds." Id. Rather, rulings on evidence "ordinarily should be deferred until trial," when they may be resolved in the proper context. Id. The movant bears the burden of showing that the evidence that it seeks to preclude is "clearly inadmissible." Plair v. E.J. Branch & Sons, Inc., 864 F. Supp. 67, 69 (N.D. Ill. 1994). Denial of a motion in limine is not a ruling that the material subject to the motion is necessarily admissible. Rather, it means only that "outside the context of trial, the court cannot determine whether the evidence in question is admissible." Id. at 69.

A. Motion in Limine to Prevent Defendant from Proffering Inconsistent Evidence at Trial (Motion in Limine No. 1)

This case, originally filed by Plyler in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, was removed to federal court on November 19, 2008, by former defendant Best Buy Company, Inc. ("Best Buy"). (Def.'s Not. Removal at 1.) [Dkt 1.]*fn1 Whirlpool consented to Best Buy's Notice of Removal, which claimed diversity jurisdiction and stated in relevant part that "the matter in controversy exceeds the sum of $75,000 exclusive of interests and costs[.]" (Id. ¶ 5.)*fn2 In Plyler's first motion in limine, he asks the court to treat this jurisdictional statement as an admission of the value of Plyler's claim and to preclude Whirlpool from eliciting testimony or presenting evidence that Plyler's damages are less than the jurisdictional limit of $75,000. [Dkt 108.]*fn3

However, as Whirlpool correctly points out in its response brief, a defendant's statement in a Notice of Removal concerning the amount in controversy does not constitute a judicial admission to plaintiff's ultimate damage entitlement. To find otherwise "would result in a minimum recovery of $75,000 in every removal action because removing defendants would be judicially estopped by their assertions that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000." Mechler v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co., No. 07 C 0724-CB-M, 2008 WL 4493230 at *6 (S.D. Ala. Sept. 30, 2008).The "amount in controversy" in a given action is nothing more than the good faith "damages claimed or relief demanded by the injured party in a lawsuit." Black's Law Dictionary (Bryan A. Garner ed., 9th ed., West 2009); see also Horton v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 367 U.S. 348, 353 (1961) (holding that the amount in controversy is generally decided from the complaint itself). A defendant removing an action to federal court must merely demonstrate that the legal value of a plaintiff's demand exceeds $75,000. See Oshana v. Coca-Cola Co., 472 F.3d 506, 510-11 (7th Cir. 2006); see also Normand v. Orkin Exterminating Co., Inc., 193 F.3d 908, 910 (7th Cir. 1999) (stating that a removing defendant must demonstrate "that the suit might result in a judgment in excess of" the jurisdictional limit). As such, Whirlpool's consent to removal of the action is simply an acknowledgment that if Plyler prevails he may be legally entitled to over $75,000 in damages, not an admission of the value of Plyler's claim.

Ultimately, the amount in controversy is a jurisdictional requirement, not a liability or damages determination. The Notice of Removal does not preclude Whirlpool from arguing that Plyler is entitled to less than $75,000. Plaintiffs Motion in Limine No. 1 is denied.

B. Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence that the Microwave was on Self-Cleaning Mode (Motion in Limine No. 2)

In Motion in Limine No. 2, Plyler asks the court to exclude evidence that, at and prior to the time of the fire, Plyler's microwave was set on self-cleaning mode. [Dkt 109.] Plyler claims that the evidence in support of that proposition is unduly speculative because Whirlpool has not run any tests on the subject microwave. Further, Plyler argues that the evidence constitutes inadmissible hearsay because there is no current plan by either party to call Kathleen Stuckey ("Ms. Stuckey"), the only source of this information, as a witness at trial. (Id. at 1.)

For its part, Whirlpool states that it does not intend to offer any evidence that the microwave was set on self-cleaning mode at the time of the fire. (Def.'s Resp. Mot. Limine No. 2 at 1.) [Dkt 120.] In fact, Whirlpool states that the microwave does not even have a self-cleaning feature. (Id.) Thus, because Whirlpool has no intention of introducing the ...


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