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Castro v. Poulton

United States District Court, D. Nevada

August 29, 2017

AZUCENA CASTRO, et al., Plaintiff(s),
CRAIG STUART POULTON, et al., Defendant(s).


         Presently before the court is plaintiff Azucena Castro's motion to strike defense expert Jack Broadhurst. (ECF No. 51). Defendants Craig Stuart Poulton and USF Reddaway, Inc. (“USF”) responded. (ECF No. 58).

         Also before the court is plaintiff's motion in limine #1 to preclude defendants from presenting a fraud defense at trial. (ECF No. 59). Defendants responded. (ECF No. 68).

         Also before the court is plaintiff's motion in limine #2 to exclude defendants from referencing Azucena Castro's family's unrelated accidents. (ECF No. 60). Defendants responded. (ECF No. 69).

         Also before the court is plaintiff's motion in limine #3 regarding speculation as to credibility. (ECF No. 61). Defendants responded. (ECF No. 70).

         Also before the court is plaintiff's motion in limine #4 to strike portions of the deposition testimony of Jose Salud Castro and Carolina Tafoya-de-Castro. (ECF No. 62). Defendants responded. (ECF No. 71).

         Also before the court is plaintiff's motion in limine #5 to allow the court to take judicial notice of a life expectancy table. (ECF No. 63). Defendants responded. (ECF No. 72).

         Also before the court is plaintiff's motion to reconsider. (ECF No. 78). Defendants responded (ECF No. 83), to which there has been no reply.

         I. Facts

         This is a negligence action resulting from a rear-end automobile collision. (ECF No. 1-1). Poulton was operating a tractor-trailer semi-truck owned by USF Reddaway, his employer, on southbound U.S. Highway 95 between Las Vegas and Boulder City. (ECF No. 68 at 3). Two cars slowed down in front of him, causing him to apply his brakes. (ECF No. 59 at 4). Poulton allegedly took his eyes off the road and, when he looked up, the cars in front of him had come to a complete stop. Id. Poulton crashed into the back of the vehicle in front of him. Id.

         The vehicle-a Lincoln LS sedan-was registered to former plaintiff Claudia Castro, who was in the back seat while Azucena Castro drove. (ECF No. 68 at 3). The Lincoln, Poulton, and a white vehicle that had been in front of them all pulled over. Id. Jose Silvestre Castro, a former plaintiff in this case, was in the front seat of the Lincoln and on his cell phone when he got out of the vehicle. Id. The white vehicle sped off shortly after pulling over. Id.

         Trooper Sanders and other Nevada Highway Patrol (“NHP”) officers responded to the scene. (ECF No. 68 at 4). Sanders, as the lead officer on scene, originally investigated the crash to see if it was staged. (ECF No. 68 at 4). He later cleared the incident because all of the occupants of the Lincoln had the same story. (ECF No. 68 at 4). Poulton received a citation from NHP for “failure to use due caution.” (ECF No. 59 at 4).

         Plaintiff filed the instant complaint in state court alleging seven causes of action against Poulton: (1) negligence, and (2) negligence per se; against USF, (3) respondeat superior, (4) negligent entrustment, (5) negligent hiring, (6) negligent training, and (7) negligent supervision. (ECF No. 1-1).

         Defendants timely removed the case to federal court. (ECF No. 1). Defendants filed an amended answer thereafter alleging a fraud defense and claiming the accident was staged. (ECF No. 43 at 6).

         Plaintiff argues in her motion to strike that defendants' “staged accident” expert, Jack Broadhurst, fails the test for expert testimony described in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 583 (1993). (ECF No. 51). Plaintiff filed an errata to her motion to strike. (ECF No. 52).

         Further, plaintiff filed four motions in limine to exclude evidence regarding: a fraud defense at trial, plaintiff's family's prior auto accidents, plaintiff's credibility, and plaintiff's parents' deposition testimonies. (ECF Nos. 59, 60, 61, 62). Plaintiff's fifth motion in limine requests the court take judicial notice of a life expectancy table. (ECF No. 63).

         Finally, plaintiff moved for reconsideration of the magistrate judge's denial of plaintiff's motion to compel responses to written discovery. (ECF No. 78).

         II. Legal Standard

         “The court must decide any preliminary question about whether . . . evidence is admissible.” Fed.R.Evid. 104. Motions in limine are procedural mechanisms by which the court can make evidentiary rulings in advance of trial, often to preclude the use of unfairly prejudicial evidence. United States v. Heller, 551 F.3d 1108, 1111-12 (9th Cir. 2009); Brodit v. Cambra, 350 F.3d 985, 1004-05 (9th Cir. 2003).

         “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, 41 n.4 (1980). Motions in limine may be used to exclude or admit evidence in advance of trial. See Fed. R. Evid. 103; United States v. Williams, 939 F.2d 721, 723 (9th Cir. 1991).

         Judges have broad discretion when ruling on motions in limine. See Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002); see also Trevino v. Gates, 99 F.3d 911, 922 (9th Cir. 1999) (“The district court has considerable latitude in performing a Rule 403 balancing test and we will uphold its decision absent clear abuse of discretion.”). “[I]n limine rulings are not binding on the trial judge [who] may always change his mind during the course of a trial.” Ohler v. United States, 529 U.S. 753, 758 n.3 (2000); accord Luce, 469 U.S. at 41 (noting that in limine rulings are always subject to change, especially if the evidence unfolds in an unanticipated manner).

         “Denial of a motion in limine does not necessarily mean that all evidence contemplated by the motion will be admitted at trial. Denial merely means that without the context of trial, the court is unable to determine whether the evidence in question should be excluded.” Conboy v. Wynn Las Vegas, LLC, No. 2:11-cv-1649-JCM-CWH, 2013 WL 1701069, at *1 (D. Nev. Apr. 18, 2013).

         III. Discussion

         a. Motion to Strike

         Here, Federal Rule of Evidence 702 controls the court's determination whether to strike plaintiff's proposed expert witness, Jack Broadhurst:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Fed. R. Evid. 702; see generally Daubert, 509 U.S. 579.

         “Daubert's general holding-setting forth the trial judge's general ‘gatekeeping' obligation-applies not only to testimony based on ‘scientific' knowledge, but also to testimony based on ‘technical' and ‘other specialized' knowledge.” Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 141 (1999). This “gatekeeping obligation” requires “that all admitted expert testimony is both relevant and reliable.” Wendell v. GlaxoSmithKline LLC, 858 F.3d 1227, 1232 (9th Cir. 2017). Expert testimony must be relevant and reliable, and it must “relate to scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge, which does not include unsupported speculation and subjective beliefs.” Guidroz-Brault v. Missouri Pac. R.R. Co., 254 F.3d 825, 829 (9th Cir. 2001).

         Exclusion of expert testimony is proper only when such testimony is irrelevant or unreliable because “[v]igorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible ...

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