United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
BRADLEY P. OTTO, as personal representative of the estate of Blaine P. Otto, deceased, Plaintiff,
NEWFIELD EXPLORATION COMPANY; NEWFIELD PRODUCTION COMPANY; and NEWFIELD EXPLORATION MID-CONTINENT, INC., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. WATTERS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a Motion in Limine filed by Defendants Newfield
Exploration Company, Newfield Product Company, and Newfield
Exploration Mid-Continent, Inc., (Newfield). (Doc. 60).
Newfield asks the Court to exclude any evidence of lost
earning capacity damages. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court DENIES Newfield's Motion in Limine.
Otto (Otto) was employed by a company that provided tank
inspection services, among other things, to Newfield on a
contract basis at various well sites in the Bakken Shale Oil
Field. (Doc. 1). On July 18, 2013, Otto was found dead on the
catwalk of an oil storage tank. (Doc. 1). Otto's estate
filed suit, alleging Otto died of exposure to deadly vapors
due to intentional, reckless, and/or negligent conduct by
Newfield. (Doc. 1). Newfield disputes the cause of Otto's
death and denies its conduct was intentional, reckless, or
negligent. (Doc. 6).
complaint seeks damages on behalf of Otto's estate and
his heirs. (Doc. 1. ¶¶ 17-20). Otto did not have a
spouse or children. At their depositions, Otto's father
and mother stated Otto did not contribute any of his income
to them, other than monthly $400 rent payments. Otto's
brother likewise stated Otto did not contribute any of his
income to his siblings.
in limine are procedural devices to obtain an early and
preliminary ruling on the admissibility of evidence. Judges
have broad discretion when ruling on motions in limine.
Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664
(7th Cir. 2002). 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). To exclude evidence on a motion in limine
"the evidence must be inadmissible on all potential
grounds." Ind. Ins. Co, v. K-Mart Corp., 326
F.Supp.2d 844, 846 (N.D. Ohio 2004). Courts have wide
discretion in considering and ruling on motions in limine.
See Luce v. U.S., 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984).
Court previously determined North Dakota law governs this
case. (Doc. 40).
argues any evidence of Otto's lost earning capacity is
inadmissible on relevancy grounds because none of Otto's
family members are entitled to recover damages based on lost
earning capacity unless they received contributions from
Otto's income. While Newfield is correct, the evidence
must be inadmissible on all potential grounds before the
Court will grant a motion in limine. As explained below,
Otto's estate is entitled to collect lost earnings on
Otto's behalf. Evidence of Otto's lost earning
capacity is therefore admissible to prove the estate's
person's wrongful death gives rise to two actions under
North Dakota law. First, N.D.C.C. § 28-01-26.1 provides
for survival actions: "No action or claim for relief,
except for breach of promise, alienation of affections,
libel, and slander, abates by the death of a party or of a
person who might have been a party had such death not
occurred." Survival actions "are remedial in
nature, and are intended to permit recovery by the
representatives of the deceased for damages the deceased
could have recovered had he lived ... a survival action
merely continues in existence an injured person's claim
after death as an asset of his estate, " Weigel v.
Lee, 752 N.W.2d 618, 621-22 (N.D. 2008) (citing
Sheets v. Graco, Inc., 292 N.W.2d 63, 66-67 (N.D.
N.D.C.C. § 32-21-02 provides for wrongful death damages
suffered by the decedent's heirs:
In an action brought under the provisions of this chapter,
the jury shall give such damages as it finds proportionate to
the injury resulting from the death to the ...