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Stehn v. Cody

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

November 20, 2014


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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For ISABEL VIKTORIA STEHN, Plaintiff: Michael A. Wein, LEAD ATTORNEY, Greenbelt, MD.

For GREGORY CODY, Defendant: Giancarlo M. Ghiardi, LEAD ATTORNEY, TIMOTHY S. SMITH & ASSOCIATES, Greenbelt, MD.

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COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, United States District Judge.

Upon reviewing the parties' [31] Pretrial Statement, the Court requested additional briefing from the parties as to several issues raised in the Pretrial Statement. See Mem. Opinion, ECF No. [22]. Although the parties' supplemental briefing was not styled as motions in limine, the Court addresses those arguments as it would with respect to motions in limine given that the briefing pertains to objections raised by the parties in the Pretrial Statement and to associated evidentiary concerns.[1] The primary evidentiary issues addressed in this Memorandum Opinion relate to (A) portions of Defendant's deposition regarding his fine payment, (B) the police report of the underlying incident, (C) Defendant's answers and amended answers to interrogatories, (D) the medical and hospital records of Plaintiff, and (E) video recordings portraying the intersection where the collision occurred. The Court provides this analysis in order to inform the scheduled December 1, 2014, status hearing. At a later date, the Court will address the proposed jury instructions, including the parties' related arguments with respect to the doctrines of negligence per se, contributory negligence, and last clear chance.


The factual allegations and legal claims at issue in this case are set forth fully in the August 26, 2013, Memorandum Opinion denying Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. In short, on June 11, 2008, at approximately 5:45 p.m., Plaintiff Isabel Stehn was crossing Pennsylvania Avenue at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 19th Street in Northwest Washington, D.C. Pl.'s Statement ¶ 1; Def.'s Statement ¶ ¶ 1-4. Plaintiff testified that she left the northeast corner of the intersection when the pedestrian signal facing her began to display the visual " Walk" signal. Pl.'s Statement ¶ 2. As Plaintiff proceeded southbound through the crosswalk, she was struck by a car driven by Defendant, who was making a left turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue during a green light. Pl.'s Statement ¶ ¶ 5, 13; see Pl.'s Statement Ex. B, Ex. C. The parties dispute the precise timing of the crossing. See Def.'s Statement ¶ 16. After Plaintiff was taken away in an ambulance, Defendant was ticketed at the scene of the accident by a police officer for " Failure to Yield Right of Way to a Pedestrian." Pl.'s Statement ¶ ¶ 8, 23-24. Defendant ultimately paid the fine required by this ticket. Id. at ¶ 25-26.

On August 26, 2013, the Court denied Plaintiff's [21] Motion for Summary Judgment

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on the Issue of Liability. In a Memorandum Opinion issued that date, ECF No. [22], the Court concluded that facts essential to a finding that Plaintiff was not contributorily negligent remained in dispute. The Court denied plaintiff's motion because Plaintiff's contributory negligence is a dispositive issue under the governing law of the District of Columbia. See Jarrett v. Woodward Bros., Inc., 751 A.2d 972, 985 (D.C. 2000) (" The District of Columbia is one of the few jurisdictions in which the claimant's contributory negligence can act as a complete defense to the defendant's liability for negligence." ). The parties filed their Pretrial Statement on May 9, 2014, and submitted additional briefing at the request of the Court on various evidentiary issues raised in the Pretrial Statement. A pretrial conference is scheduled for December 1, 2014.


The briefing with respect to the several evidentiary issues before the Court share the purpose of motions in limine : to narrow the evidentiary issues at trial. The Federal Rules of Evidence generally permit the admission of " relevant evidence" -- i.e., evidence having " any tendency" to make the existence of any fact of consequence more probable or less probable--provided it is not otherwise excluded by the Rules, the Constitution, or an Act of Congress, and its probative value is not " substantially outweighed" by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or the needless presentation of cumulative evidence. Fed.R.Evid. 401-403. In deference to their familiarity with the details of the case and greater experience in evidentiary matters, district courts are afforded broad discretion in rendering evidentiary rulings, a discretion which extends to assessing the probative value of the proffered evidence and weighing any factors against admissibility. Sprint/United Mgmt. Co. v. Mendelsohn, 552 U.S. 379, 384, 128 S.Ct. 1140, 170 L.Ed.2d 1 (2008).

In light of the limited purpose of motions in limine, they " should not be used to resolve factual disputes," which remains the " function of a motion for summary judgment, with its accompanying and crucial procedural safeguards." C & E Servs., Inc. v. Ashland Inc., 539 F.Supp.2d 316, 323 (D.D.C.2008). Rather, parties are charged with demonstrating why certain categories of evidence should (or should not) be introduced at trial and directing the district court to specific evidence in the record that would favor or disfavor the introduction of those particular categories of evidence. See U.S. ex rel. El--Amin v. George Washington Univ., 533 F.Supp.2d 12, 19 (D.D.C.2008). With these principles in mind, the Court turns to the evidentiary disputes presented by the parties.


Although the Court takes this important opportunity to resolve the parties' pretrial evidentiary disputes, and certainly does not foresee a need to revisit the issues addressed herein, the Court nonetheless recognizes that it cannot predict with absolute certainty how events will unfold at trial. Accordingly, this Memorandum Opinion sets forth the Court's analysis based upon the record as it now stands and the arguments articulated by the parties in their respective motions. As evidence is presented at trial, however, the parties may find it desirable to raise again discrete evidentiary issues addressed here. To be clear, they are not absolutely foreclosed from doing so. Where appropriate, a party wanting to revisit an evidentiary ruling should, conspicuously, bring the matter to the Court's attention and be prepared to summarize the Court's original ruling and explain why that ruling should be modified in light of new evidence or a change in circumstances. However,

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the parties are cautioned that this is not an invitation to recycle old arguments. With these caveats, the Court proceeds to the merits of the various disputes.

A. Deposition Testimony with Respect to Ticket Payment

Plaintiff seeks to offer a portion of Defendant's testimony in his deposition that pertains to his statements regarding his payment of a fine resulting from the traffic ticket that he received for failing to yield in the incident that is the subject of this lawsuit. In particular, Plaintiff seeks to admit Defendant's response to a line of questioning about whether any " points" were associated with the ticket. In response, Defendant stated, " Well, once I paid the fine, that was the end of the -- that was admitting that, you know, I was at -- the failure to yield." Pretrial Statement at 10. Defendant objects to the admission of this statement, arguing that it is unduly prejudicial and that it is a backdoor attempt to offer evidence of the payment of the fine levied by the ticket -- even if that evidence would not be otherwise allowed. The Court notes that Plaintiff does not seek to offer other evidence of the payment of the ticket.

In order to determine whether this deposition testimony is admissible, the Court must answer two questions. First, is this statement barred by the prohibition on hearsay? See Fed.R.Evid. 801. Second, even if the testimony is not barred by the hearsay prohibition, does the testimony with respect to the payment of the fine run afoul of Federal Rule of Evidence 403? See Fed.R.Evid. 403 (" The court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a 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." ) In particular, with respect to the second question, the Court must consider whether the probative value of the testimony is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, or misleading the jury. Cf. Anthony v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., No. 04-cv-622, 2005 WL 5329518, at *3 (D.D.C. Dec. 19, 2005) (" In balancing the probative value of that evidence against the potential unfair prejudice and confusion or misleading nature of the evidence, as envisioned by the drafters of F.R.E. Rule 403, the Court found that the probative value of Officer Griffin's testimony regarding issuance and payment of the citation was substantially outweighed by the danger of its unfair prejudice to the Defendant and the risk of misleading the jury." )

The Court's analysis of this question is informed by the D.C. Court of Appeals' discussion of the effect of the payment of a traffic fine with respect to the admissibility of that evidence. See Johnson v. Leuthongchak, 772 A.2d 249, 251 (D.C.2001). In Johnson v. Leuthongchak, the D.C. Court of Appeals considered the admissibility of " evidence of [the defendant's] payment by mail of the civil fine for a traffic ticket, given for allegedly failing to yield the right of way," in a subsequent related negligence action. Id. at 250 (footnote omitted). The D.C. Court of Appeals " follow[ed] the virtually unanimous holding of courts in this country rejecting such evidence" as barred by the prohibition on hearsay.[2] Id.

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In its opinion, the D.C. Court of Appeals started from the premise that " [g]uilty pleas are generally admitted on the theory that they fall within the rule dealing with admissions by party-opponents." Id. at 250. See Fed.R.Evid. 801(a) (statements include conduct " intended as an assertion" ). The D.C. Court of Appeals recognized that, in the District of Columbia, the payment of a traffic fine necessarily involves an admission of liability:

It is true that in the District of Columbia, a person receiving a traffic ticket (formally termed a Notice of Infraction) must, by statute, respond in one of two ways. The person may " admit, by payment of the civil fine, the commission of the infraction" or " deny the commission of the infraction," and payment of the fine " shall be deemed a finding of liability."

Leuthongchak, 772 A.2d at 251. However, the D.C. Court of Appeals also recognized, based on real world experience, that the payment of a traffic fine does not actually imply a ...

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