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Dunmiles v. Jubilee Towing LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 3, 2017

DERRELL DUNMILES
v.
JUBILEE TOWING, LLC

         SECTION I

          ORDER AND REASONS

          LANCE M. AFRICK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are three motions[1] in limine filed by the defendant. The Court rules on the motions as set forth herein.

         I.

         Defendant, Jubilee Towing, LLC, first moves[2] to exclude any evidence of and/or reference to alleged racially discriminatory text messages sent to the plaintiff by Jubilee employees. The plaintiff mentioned during his deposition that he was sent racist text messages by a Jubilee employee towards the end of his employment, but plaintiff claimed that he deleted the messages and that he could not specifically recall what the alleged racist messages said.

         Jubilee argues that there is no evidence that racist messages were ever sent to plaintiff. But even if they were, Jubilee contends that such messages would bear no relevance to this maritime slip-and-fall-overboard case and further that they would be unduly prejudicial. Jubilee asks the Court to exclude the messages and any reference to them pursuant to Rules 402 and 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

         In response, plaintiff simply states that “[a]t this point in time, Plaintiff's counsel does not anticipate making reference to ‘racially discriminatory text messages sent to plaintiff by Jubilee Towing employees' in front of the jury, ” but he argues that the Court should defer a ruling as to the admissibility of such messages in case an issue arises during trial which would make the messages relevant. See R. Doc. No. 28. The Court notes that plaintiff does not explain why the messages are relevant or identify any scenarios wherein the alleged messages could become relevant.

         In order to be relevant, evidence must pertain to a fact that “is of consequence in determining the action.” See Fed. R. Evid. 401. Having been presented with no evidence establishing the substance of the text messages and no argument by the plaintiff as to why such messages could be relevant, the Court finds plaintiff's testimony as to the text messages to be irrelevant and it excludes them pursuant to Rule 402. Simply put, the Court is unaware of any reason why racist text messages- even if they exist-would have any bearing on the facts of this case. After all, establishing that an employee of the defendant sent the plaintiff racist text messages at some point after the accident would put the plaintiff no closer to recovering on his claim that the captain of defendant's vessel failed to navigate the vessel in a safe and seamanlike manner.

         Moreover, it appears that any probative value that the messages have is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the jury, and wasting time. The messages should therefore be excluded under Rule 403 as well as pursuant to Rule 402. Counsel shall instruct their witnesses that the text messages are not to be mentioned at trial.

         II.

         Jubilee's second and third motions challenge the admissibility of opinions by two of plaintiff's experts. After setting forth the appropriate standard, the Court addresses each Daubert challenge below.

         A.

         Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence governs the admissibility of expert witness testimony. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 588 (1993); United States v. Hitt, 473 F.3d 146, 148 (5th Cir. 2006). Rule 702 provides:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of ...

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