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Saacks v. Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 2, 2017

ANTOINE SAACKS, ET AL.
v.
PRIVILEGE UNDERWRITERS RECIPROCAL EXCHANGE

         SECTION "L" (5)

          ORDER & REASONS

         Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Appeal the Magistrate's Decision on Plaintiff's Motion to exclude evidence of convictions and arrests. R. 216. The Court has reviewed the record, the magistrate's ruling, Plaintiffs' arguments and applicable law, and now issues this Order and Reasons.

         I.BACKGROUND

         This case arises from a car accident that occurred on December 30, 2014, on North Causeway Boulevard in Metairie, Louisiana. According to Plaintiff Antoine Saacks, he was struck by Jonathan St. Pierre as the two drove along the causeway. R. 1-1 at 1. Mr. St. Pierre was insured by Progressive Security Insurance Company (“Progressive”), but his policy was capped at $50, 000. R. 1-1 at 1. Progressive paid to the limit of the policy, but Mr. Saacks contends that $50, 000 is insufficient to compensate him and his wife for their losses. R. 1-1 at 1.

         At the time of the accident, Mr. Saacks carried underinsured motorist coverage with Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange (“Privilege”). Mr. Saacks sought to collect the balance of his damages from his insurance policy, PURE Private Fleet Auto Policy Number PA041437901 (“the policy”). On December 15, 2015, Plaintiffs Antoine & Kim Saacks brought the instant action in the 24th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Jefferson. R. 1-1 at 1. Plaintiffs also contend that Privilege wrongly failed to tender a fair sum or to fairly settle the Plaintiffs' claim within sixty days of receipt of Plaintiffs' medical documentation, as required by LSA-R.S. 22:1892 and LSA-R.S. 22:1973. R. 1-1 at 2. Plaintiffs seek the balance of their damages from the December 30, 2014, car accident, as well as monetary penalties provided for by Louisiana law. R. 1-1 at 2.

         Privilege removed the suit to this Court on February 8, 2016. R. 1. Privilege timely Answers and denies Plaintiffs' allegations. R. 4 at 1-3. Privilege asserts a number of affirmative defenses, including insurance fraud. R. 4 at 3-6. In 1996, Plaintiff Antoine Saacks was convicted of bankruptcy fraud and was sentenced to prison for two years. On November 11, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to exclude evidence of Mr. Saacks' previous arrest and conviction for bankruptcy fraud. R. 36. The Court referred the Motion to Magistrate Judge North, R. Doc. 98, who heard oral argument on the issue.

         After reviewing the parties' motions and their statements during oral argument, Magistrate North denied Plaintiffs' motion to exclude evidence of Mr. Saacks' arrest and conviction for bankruptcy fraud. R. 215. The Magistrate determined the evidence was admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 609 because the elements of the crime required proof of the witness' dishonest acts or false statements. R. 215 at 1-2 (citing United States. v. Porter, No. 13-CR-066, 2016 WL 879996 (E.D. La. Mar. 8, 2016)). Magistrate North reasoned that “[b]ankruptcy fraud is a quintessential example of a crime of dishonesty and is highly probative of the witness' truthfulness.” See, e.g., Smith v. Great West Cas. Co., No. 05-CV-4654, 2007 WL 4114342 at *2 (E.D. La. Nov. 15, 2007).

         However, because the conviction occurred more than 10 years ago, this evidence is only admissible if its probative value substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect, and the proponent gives the adverse party reasonable written notice of their intent to use the evidence. Fed.R.Evid. 609(b). In light of this condition, the Magistrate analyzed the five factors which the Fifth Circuit requires courts to consider when weighing the probative value and prejudicial effect of a prior conviction. These factors are:

(1) The nature [impeachment value] of the crime.
(2) The time of conviction.
(3) The similarity between the past crime and the charged crime.
(4) The importance of defendant's testimony.
(5) The centrality of the credibility testimony.

United States v. Acosta, 763 F.2d 671, 695 (5th Cir. 1985). Magistrate North determined that the first, fourth, and fifth factors weighed in favor of admission, the third factor was neutral, and only the second factor weighed in favor of exclusion. Specifically, Magistrate North reasoned that the nature of the prior conviction-fraud-is highly probative of the witness' truthfulness and Mr. Saacks' credibility is “crucially important” in all aspects of this case. Based on the specific facts and circumstances of this case, Magistrate North determined that the probative value of the conviction substantially outweighed its prejudicial effect, and the evidence is admissible. R. 215 at 2-3; see United States v. Acosta, 763 F.2d 671, 695 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 863, 106 ...


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