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Von Wiegen v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

December 17, 2013

ERIC P. VON WIEGEN and PAMELA VON WIEGEN, Plaintiffs,
v.
SHELTER MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Eric P. von Wiegen and Pamela von Wiegen have moved the Court to prohibit at trial certain comments, evidence, and testimony that they believe are improper. [Record No. 37] Having reviewed the motion and response, the Court finds that a reply is not needed.[1] For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiffs' motion will be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

I.

This case arises out of an automobile accident involving Plaintiff Eric von Wiegen that occurred on July 9, 2010. [Record No. 1-1] Von Wiegen claims that he was injured when his automobile was rear-ended by a vehicle operated by another driver. Because the alleged injuries exceeded the insurance coverage of the other driver, after settlement, the plaintiffs submitted a claim under the underinsured motorist ("UIM") policy issued by the defendant.

The plaintiffs have asserted two claims in this action. First, they contend that Shelter owes them UIM benefits under their policy. Second the von Wiegens assert that Shelter acted in bad faith in adjusting their UIM claim. On July 17, 2013, the Court bifurcated the bad faith claim, and stayed discovery on that claim until the underlying coverage issue is resolved. [Record No. 15] After discovery on the first claim, the parties filed several motions, including the motion in limine discussed herein.

II.

While the Federal Rules of Evidence do not explicitly authorize in limine rulings, the practice has developed pursuant to a district court's inherent authority to manage the course of trials. Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 (1984). Although a party can ask the Court to make an in limine ruling on evidentiary matters, it is within the Court's discretion to do so. In short, there is no right to an in limine ruling. Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681, 688-89 (1988). In fact, a ruling on a motion in limine is nothing more than a preliminary opinion which allows the parties to better formulate their trial strategy. United States v. Yannott, 42 F.3d 999, 1007 (6th Cir. 1994). In addition, "[t]he court has the power to exclude evidence in limine only when evidence is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds." Ind. Ins. Co. v. GE, 326 F.Supp.2d 844, 846 (N.D. Ohio 2004).

A. Agreed Exclusions

There are a number of matters that the plaintiffs seek to exclude and that Shelter agrees should be excluded. In addition, these matters would be improper if presented during trial. The Court will grant the plaintiffs' motion with respect to those items.

Accordingly, the following will be excluded: any negative or disparaging remarks about attorneys and the legal profession [Record No. 37, ¶2]; testimony regarding increases in insurance premiums as the result of lawsuits [ Id., ¶4]; references to the negative effects of jury awards on businesses [ Id., ¶5]; testimony that Plaintiff Eric P. von Wiegen caused or contributed to the accident or his injuries on July 9, 2010[2] [ Id., ¶¶7, 8]; evidence containing sensitive personal identifiers [ Id., ¶18]; testimony about ethnic backgrounds or religious beliefs [ Id., ¶19]; arguments that the jury must expend special efforts to be fair and impartial to corporations [ Id., ¶21]; improper speaking objections [ Id., ¶22]; evidence regarding plaintiffs' use of any amount recovered or the taxation of that amount [ Id., ¶¶23, 24]; arguments that the jury should reduce future earnings for personal consumption [ Id., ¶25]; "Golden rule" arguments [ Id., ¶28]; and any testimony or suggestions regarding the potential testimony of any witness not called. [ Id., ¶29] The plaintiffs' motion will be granted with respect to those matters.

B. Contested Exclusions

1. Evidence that Shelter is a "good company"

The plaintiffs attempt to exclude "[a]ny and all attempts" by Shelter to show that it is "good company" or that it timely pays valid claims. [Record No. 37, ¶1] The plaintiffs cite Estate of Miller v. Ford, No. 2:01-cv-545-FtM-29DNF, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS, at *7 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 17, 2004), in support of this request. In that case, as here, the court was faced with a number of motions in limine, one of which was a motion to prevent Ford from offering references, remarks or evidence concerning its "good acts." Id. at *10-11. The court sustained the motion, noting that such an offering would be irrelevant and prejudicial. Id.

Here, however, the Court declines to issue such a broad ruling because there is no indication that these remarks would necessarily be improper. To illustrate: at least part of the plaintiffs' case is centered upon the supposition that Shelter acted improperly in its scheduling of an Independent Medical Examination and in handling the plaintiffs' claim. [ See., e.g., Record No. 35, p. 12.] For the sake of argument, Shelter could rebut this assertion by offering evidence showing that it acted properly and in a timely manner in ...


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