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Hutton v. Nyhart

United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division

June 7, 2019

PETER B. HUTTON, Plaintiff,
v.
JERALD L. NYHART, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Brian Morris, United States District Court Judge.

         Defendant/Counterclaimant Jerald L. Nyhart (“Nyhart”) filed the following motions: (1) Motion in Limine (Doc. 44); and (2) Combined Motion for Permission to File Second Motion in Limine, and Second Motion in Limine (Doc. 108). Defendant/Counterclaimant Peter B. Hutton (“Hutton”) opposes the Motions. The Court addresses both pending Motions.

         MOTION IN LIMINE LEGAL STANDARDS

         A motion in limine constitutes “a procedural mechanism to limit in advance testimony or evidence in a particular area. Frost v. BNSF Ry. Co., 218 F.Supp.3d 1122, 1133 (D. Mont. 2016). A motion in limine “reduces the likelihood that unduly prejudicial evidence will ever reach the jury.” Jackson v. Cty. Of San Bernardino, 194 F.Supp.3d 1004, 1008 (C.D. Cal. 2016) (citing Brodit v. Cambra, 350 F.3d 985, 1004-05 (9th Cir. 2003). District courts possess “wide discretion in considering a motion in limine.” Frost, 218 F.Supp.3d at 1133.

         I. Motion in Limine (Doc. 44)

         Nyhart seeks to exclude the following evidence: (1) communications pursuant to Rules 402, 403, and 408; and (2) prior litigation in which Nyhart was involved, pursuant to Rules 402, 403, 404, and 608. (Doc. 44 at 1.) The Court addresses each argument in turn.

         1. Communication & Negotiation

         Hutton and Nyhart engaged in communication and negotiation beginning in fall of 2016. (Doc. 45 at 4.) These discussions concerned the Farm Lease, the payment of rent, and Side Letter Agreement. Id. at 5 (citing Ex 2; Ex 1, p 102:1-4).) These discussions occurred between the fall of 2016, and October of 2017. Nyhart filed his lawsuit in this Court on November 3, 2017. Nyhart seeks to exclude the negotiations and deposition testimony.

         Rule 408 excludes compromise negotiations when offered “either to prove or disprove the validity or amount of a disputed claim or to impeach a prior inconsistent statement or contradiction[.]” Fed.R.Evid. 408(a). A litigant asserting a motion in limine under Rule 408 must demonstrate a “substantial showing” that the communications were part of the attempts to settle the dispute. United States v. Mirama Enterprises, Inc., 185 F.Supp.2d 1148, 1156 (S.D. Cal. 2002). Offers made in exchange for a release of claims after the commencement of litigation must be excluded under Rule 408. See Coleman v. Quaker Oats, 232 F.3d 1271, 1290 (9th Cir. 2000). Statements made before a formal claim is filed are not made in furtherance of settlement and generally should be admitted. See Cassino v. Reichhold Chem., Inc., 817 F.2d 1338, 1342 (9th Cir. 1987).

         Nyhart asserts that the communications between the parties constituted “compromise communication.” (Doc. 45 at 4.) The record demonstrates, however, that the communication between the parties constitutes prelitigation communication. These conversations reflect the parties' business negotiations before Nyhart filed his lawsuit on November 3, 2017. The purpose of Rule 408 serves to encourage the compromise and settlement of “existing disputes.” Josephs v. Pacific Bell, 443 F.3d 1050, 1064 (9th Cir. 2006). Communications between the parties before Nyhart filed the lawsuit fall outside of the Rule 408 exclusion and purpose.

         Nyhart's Motion in Limine concerning communications made before Nyhart filing the lawsuit with this Court on November 3, 2017 is therefore denied. Evidence of communications concerning the Farm Lease, payment of rent, and the Side Letter Agreement is admissible. Nyhart's deposition testimony concerning the parties' negotiations is similarly admissible.

         2. Prior Litigation

         Nyhart next asserts that evidence of prior lawsuits in which Nyhart was a party proves inadmissible. (Doc. 45 at 9.) Nyhart argues that such evidence constitutes improper character evidence under Rule 404. Id. at 11. Nyhart further argues that such evidence is unfairly prejudicial under Rule 403. Id. Hutton asserts that his purpose in the use of prior litigation evidence involving Nyhart would be to demonstrate that Nyhart possesses knowledge and experience with real estate contracts. (Doc. 71 at 16.)

         Rule 404 prohibits “[e]vidence of a person's character or character trait . . . to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait.” Fed.R.Evid. 404(a)(1). Further, “[e]vidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character.” Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)(1). Such evidence may be admissible to prove motive. A district court may exclude evidence if its probative ...


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