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Goodloe v. Daphne Utilities

United States District Court, Southern District of Alabama, Southern Division

May 7, 2015




This matter comes before the Court on the following pretrial motions: Defendant’s First Motion in Limine Regarding Other Claims (doc. 133), Defendant’s Second Motion in Limine Regarding Injuries and Medical Treatment (doc. 134), Defendant’s Third Motion in Limine Regarding Punishment (doc. 135), Defendant’s Fourth Motion in Limine Regarding Insurance (doc. 136), Defendant’s Fifth Motion in Limine Regarding Settlement (doc. 137), Defendant’s Sixth Motion in Limine Regarding Unsigned Letters (doc. 138), and Defendant’s Motion to Amend Pretrial Document (doc. 129) as Supplemented (doc. 139). All of these Motions have been briefed and are now ripe for disposition.

I. Motion in Limine Regarding Other Claims.

In its first Motion in Limine, defendant, Daphne Utilities, seeks an order excluding any testimony or argument at plaintiff Cedric Goodloe’s trial that might make “the jury aware that any other EEOC charges, complaints, lawsuits or allegations related to discrimination or retaliation have been lodged against Daphne Utilities.” (Doc. 133, at 3.) As grounds for this Motion, Daphne Utilities observes that Goodloe’s sole remaining claim for trial sounds in a theory of retaliation. In light of the dismissal of Goodloe’s race discrimination claim on summary judgment, Daphne Utilities reasons, any evidence or accusations of racially disparate treatment against any employee would be “irrelevant to his remaining claim of retaliation.” (Id. at 2.) Movant also objects to such evidence under Rules 403 and 801 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, asserting that it “would only confuse the jury” and “is hearsay.” (Id.)

As plaintiff correctly points out in his Response (doc. 140), the relevance objection is unavailing. It is true enough, of course, that Goodloe’s only claim for trial is a retaliation cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, and that neither Goodloe’s race discrimination claims (which were dismissed on summary judgment) nor those of any other Daphne Utilities employee will be tried here. However, Daphne Utilities has emphatically staked itself to a litigation position that Goodloe’s retaliation claim fails for want of statutorily protected activity. On summary judgment, Daphne Utilities posited that Goodloe’s retaliation claim should be rejected as a matter of law because “he cannot show an objectively reasonable perception he was opposing an unlawful employment practice.” (Doc. 81, at 28.) This theme carries over into the Joint Pre-Trial Document, wherein Daphne Utilities recites as “Defenses” each of the following questions: (i) “Did Plaintiff Goodloe have a good faith reasonable belief that the actions he was opposing would be unlawful under the statute at issue?”; (ii) “Did Goodloe have a subjective belief he was being discriminated against?”; and (iii) “Was Goodloe’s belief objectively reasonable in light of the facts and record presented?” (Doc. 127, at 2.)[1]

Having asserted this defense of no subjective or objectively reasonable belief of race discrimination, Daphne Utilities cannot utilize Rules 401 or 403 to handcuff Goodloe from rebutting that defense. Given defendant’s contention that his complaints were not made in good faith (such that they were not statutorily protected activity), plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating to the jury that he harbored a subjective and objectively reasonable belief that Daphne Utilities was engaging in racially discriminatory conduct (whether towards Goodloe or anyone else) at the time of his internal complaints. To meet that burden, plaintiff must present evidence identifying, among other things, (a) what information Goodloe possessed at the time he complained internally of alleged race discrimination by Daphne Utilities; (b) what basis Goodloe had for deeming that information to be reliable; and (c) how that information supported and informed the specific complaints that Goodloe voiced to Daphne Utilities officials. This is exactly the kind of evidence that defendant now seeks to exclude. Simply put, Daphne Utilities cannot challenge whether Goodloe possessed a subjective and objectively reasonable belief that Daphne Utilities was engaging in racially discriminatory conduct towards its employees, on the one hand, then block Goodloe from presenting evidence of such a subjective and objectively reasonable belief, on the other. Evidence of racially discriminatory practices by Daphne Utilities is obviously relevant, and indeed vital, to Goodloe’s mandatory “good faith” showing; therefore, defendant’s objections to this line of evidence under Rules 401 and 403 are overruled.

Similarly, Daphne Utilities’ Rule 801 objection to this “good faith” evidence appears misplaced. If the Court understands plaintiff’s intentions properly, such evidence would appear not to be offered for the truth of the matter asserted (i.e., that Daphne Utilities systematically discriminated against black employees) but rather to show Goodloe’s state of mind (i.e., his good faith belief that Daphne Utilities had done so). Introduced for this limited purpose, the challenged evidence would not be inadmissible under the hearsay rule.

For all of the foregoing reasons, Defendant’s First Motion in Limine Regarding Other Claims (doc. 133) is denied.[2]

II. Motion in Limine Regarding Injuries and Medical Treatment.

Daphne Utilities’ second Motion in Limine seeks an order excluding plaintiff Goodloe from offering evidence or argument at trial “concerning the alleged injuries or treatment of Plaintiff Cedric Goodloe in this case.” (Doc. 134, at 1.) Defendant maintains that, while Goodloe testified in his deposition that he suffers from cardiovascular disease and takes Lisinopril for hypertension, Goodloe never disclosed medical testimony to provide a diagnosis or to establish medical causation for these alleged injuries. In the absence of this necessary factual predicate, Daphne Utilities maintains, any such evidence of Goodloe’s medical issues is inadmissible.

Defendant misapprehends the nature of Goodloe’s anticipated testimony. The deposition excerpt appended to the Motion in Limine reflects the following: (i) Goodloe was diagnosed with a medical condition pursuant to which he was prescribed Lisinopril; (ii) after Daphne Utilities fired him, Goodloe became uninsured and could no longer afford this prescription medication; (iii) without his medication, Goodloe experienced “physical discomfort” in the form of “very strong heart palpitations which created an inability to sleep.” (Doc. 134, Exh. A at 94-95.) As plaintiff states in his Response (doc. 142), his testimony on this issue will simply be to describe “how he feels when on his medication as oppose[d] to how he feels when he is off of his medication.” (Doc. 142, at 1.) Such testimony falls squarely within the boundaries of admissibility under Rule 701, Fed.R.Evid., and does not require a foundation of expert testimony. Thus, the Second Motion in Limine Regarding Injuries and Medical Treatment (doc. 134) is denied.[3]

III. Motion in Limine Regarding Punishment.

The third Motion in Limine filed by Daphne Utilities seeks to bar plaintiff Goodloe and his lawyer from arguing that the jury needs to “send a message” to Daphne Utilities, take decisive action to jar Daphne Utilities into correcting its personnel practices, or otherwise “punish the Defendant.” (Doc. 135, at 1.) Movant theorizes that any such arguments by Goodloe would serve only to inflame the passions of the jury, and are improper in the context of plaintiff’s claims, which do not encompass punitive damages.

In his Response (doc. 141), plaintiff disclaims any intention of arguing to the jury that it should award damages against Daphne Utilities as punishment. Given this statement, it is unclear exactly what Daphne Utilities’ concern is, or upon what legal footing any such concern rests. It is also unclear exactly what plaintiff’s counsel intends to argue about damages at trial. Surely, plaintiff’s proposed arguments encouraging the jury to “hold[ ] Defendant accountable for the wayward behavior of its managers by a favorable verdict for the Plaintiff” (doc. 141, at 1) would not be improper. Rather than engaging in the unproductive hypothetical exercise of attempting to anticipate exactly how plaintiff’s closing argument will be framed, the Court will address any objections to plaintiff’s counsel’s arguments concerning damages in context at the time they are ...

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