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Julian III Flores v. FCA U.S. LLC

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 18, 2019

JULIAN III FLORES, et al., Plaintiffs,
FCA U.S. LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTIONS IN LIMINE [1] (DOCS. 55-56, 59-63)


         The Flores' purchased a 2012 Dodge Ram 1500 on September 4, 2011, which they contend had serious defects and nonconformities to warranty. Plaintiffs contend 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.

         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. Plaintiffs' motion in limine No. 1 (Doc. 55)

         Plaintiffs seek to exclude evidence that they did not make use of the Better Business Bureau's arbitration service. (Doc. 55) They argue that whether they took steps to resolve the dispute or make sufficient effort to seek repurchase is irrelevant because California law has no such requirement. Consequently, the plaintiffs assert that any argument or evidence suggesting he failed to act reasonably in this regard is irrelevant or misleading.

         Nevertheless, the plaintiffs argue that FCA's refusal to repurchase or replace the defective vehicle is relevant to his prayer for civil penalties. Song-Beverly provides for civil penalties where a plaintiff establishes that a defendant's failure to comply with an obligation of that statute was willful. Cal. Civ. Code § 1794(c). A jury can find that a violation was willful where a manufacturer “refused a refund or replacement on the ground a reasonable number of repair attempts had not been made, without making any effort to gather the available information on repair history. . .” Kwan v. Mercedes-Benz of N. Am., Inc., 23 Cal.App.4th 174, 185 (1994).

         The plaintiffs also seek to preclude FCA from examining them about why they “did not do more to obtain a buy-back prior to filing a lawsuit” because 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 Court agrees that though the plaintiffs are not required to affirmatively request repurchase, if he chooses to testify that he requested repurchase, the defense is entitled to question him about this action. Whether he sought arbitration through the BBB, however, is irrelevant and may not be admitted. Whether FCA maintains an informal dispute solution program is pertinent to the penalties the plaintiffs seek and is admissible. Thus, the motion is GRANTED IN PART.

         B. Plaintiffs' motion in limine No. 2 (Doc. 56)

         The plaintiffs seek to exclude expert testimony from FCA's “person most knowledgeable.” (Doc. 56) The plaintiffs assert they noticed and took the deposition of FCA's person most ...

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