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Celestine v. FCA U.S. LLC

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 26, 2019

FCA U.S. LLC, Defendant.



         Mr. Celestine purchased a 2012 Dodge Durango in April 2012, which he contends had serious defects and nonconformities to warranty. He contends FCA UC LLC manufactured the vehicle and is liable for violations of the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act and fraudulent inducement under California law. The defendant denies these claims.

         The parties have filed pretrial motions in limine. Because the positions of the parties are adequately set forth, the Court VACATES the hearing on the motion in limine.

         I. Legal Standards Governing Motions in Limine

         “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, 40 n. 2 (1984). The Ninth Circuit explained motions in limine “allow parties to resolve evidentiary disputes ahead of trial, without first having to present potentially prejudicial evidence in front of a jury.” Brodit v. Cabra, 350 F.3d 985, 1004-05 (9th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted).

         Importantly, motions in limine seeking the exclusion of broad categories of evidence are disfavored. See Sperberg v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., 519 F.2d 708, 712 (6th Cir. 1975). The Court “is almost always better situated during the actual trial to assess the value and utility of evidence.” Wilkins v. Kmart Corp., 487 F.Supp.2d 1216, 1218 (D. Kan. 2007). The Sixth Circuit explained, “[A] better practice is to deal with questions of admissibility of evidence as they arise [in trial]” as opposed to ruling on a motion in limine. Sperberg, 519 F.2d at 712. Nevertheless, motions in limine are “an important tool available to the trial judge to ensure the expeditious and evenhanded management of the trial proceedings.” Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Services, 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997).

         “[A] motion in limine should not be used to resolve factual disputes or weigh evidence, ” C & E Services, Inc. v. Ashland Inc., 539 F.Supp.2d 316, 323 (D. D.C. 2008), because that is the province of the jury. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). The Court will bar use of the evidence in question only if the moving party establishes that the evidence clearly is not admissible for any valid purpose. Jonasson, 115 F.3d at 440.

         For example, under the Federal Rules of Evidence, any evidence that is not relevant is not admissible. Fed.R.Evid. 402. To determine that evidence is relevant, the Court must find “(a) it has a tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. Nevertheless, relevant evidence may be excluded “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 403.

         The rulings on the motions in limine made below do not preclude either party from raising the admissibility of the evidence discussed herein, if the evidence adduced at trial demonstrate a change of circumstances that would make the evidence admissible, such as for impeachment or if the opponent opens the door to allow for its admissibility. However, if this occurs, the proponent of the evidence SHALL raise the issue with the Court outside the presence of the jury. Finally, the rulings made here are binding on all parties and their witnesses and not merely on the moving party.

         II. Plaintiffs' Motions in Limine

         A. Plaintiff's motion in limine No. 1 (Doc. 63)

         Plaintiff notes that his recollection about whether he “called FCA or one of its authorized dealers regarding the issues he has had with the vehicle is unclear.” (Doc. 63 at 4) Mr. Celestine argues that whether he requested repurchase, FCA had a duty to monitor vehicle repairs and to repurchase the truck. In short, the plaintiff seeks to prohibit FCA from asking him questions about his efforts to obtain buyback and his failure to engage in FCA's dispute resolution program and to prohibit FAC to presenting evidence about its dispute resolution program. Id. at 5.

         Indeed, Song-Beverly places the burden on the manufacturer to monitor warranty repair attempts and “does not require consumers to take any affirmative steps to secure relief for the failure of a manufacturer to service or repair a vehicle to conform to applicable warranties-other than, of course, permitting the manufacturer a reasonable opportunity to repair the vehicle, ” even though, “as a practical matter, ” most consumers likely will make such a request. Krotin v. Porsche Cars N. Am., Inc., 38 Cal.App.4th 294, 302-303 (1995), as modified on denial of reh'g (Sept. 14, 1995); see also id. at 303 (“As it stands now, however, the manufacturer has an affirmative duty to replace a vehicle or make restitution to the buyer if the manufacturer is unable to repair the new vehicle after a reasonable number of repair attempts, and the buyer need not reject or revoke acceptance of the vehicle at any time. The buyer need only provide the manufacturer with a reasonable opportunity to fix the vehicle.”); Lukather v. Gen. Motors, LLC, 181 Cal.App.4th 1041, 1050 (2010) (citing Krotin and rejecting the defendant's contention that plaintiff “himself had a duty to act promptly under the Act”).

         The defense argues that the fact the plaintiff never complained to FCA or a dealership that the vehicle was defective is probative of whether the vehicle had a defect that substantially impaired its use, value or safety that FCA did not repair within a reasonable number of attempts. (Doc. 71 at 3) The Court agrees. Thus, the motion is DENIED.

         B. Plaintiff's motion in limine No. 2 (Doc. 64)

         The plaintiff seeks to exclude testimony from Michael McDowell, who is FCA's “person most knowledgeable.[1]” (Doc. 64) The plaintiff asserts correctly that only designated experts are permitted to offer opinions.

         FCA reports that the plaintiff did not take Mr. McDowell's deposition, so he can have no idea what Mr. McDowell will say. (Doc. 72) FCA notes also that Mr. McDowell is a long-time employee who, due to this experience working for FCA, has personal knowledge about various topics including the Customer Assistance Inquiry Records. FCA clarifies that it has no intention of seeking testimony that is beyond Mr. McDowell's personal knowledge and which strays into expert testimony.

         Consequently, the motion is DENIED and neither party is entitled to ask Mr. McDowell questions that would urge him to stray into expert territory and ...

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