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Fontenot v. Gonzalez

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

November 7, 2017




         Before the court is a Motion in Limine [doc. 26] filed by plaintiff Jeremi J. Fontenot (“Fontenot”), seeking to prohibit William Rodolfo Gonzalez (“Gonzalez”) and Hudson Insurance Company (“Hudson) (collectively, “defendants”) from mentioning or introducing any evidence on certain topics at trial. Defendants oppose the motion, and Fontenot has filed a reply. Docs. 34, 38.



         This action relates to a motor vehicle accident between Fontenot and Gonzalez on June 21, 2015, in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. Doc. 1, att. 1, pp. 1-2. Fontenot filed suit in the Fourteenth Judicial District, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, and Hudson subsequently removed the action to this court on the basis of federal diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Doc. 1, att. 1, pp. 1-4; doc. 1. On September 14, 2017, the court granted Fontenot's unopposed motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability. Doc. 25; see docs. 19, 22 (motion and response). Accordingly, it is settled that the subject accident was due to Gonzalez's negligence and the only issue to be decided at trial in this matter is the amount of damages owed to Fontenot.


         Law & Application

         Under Rule 104(a) of the Federal Rules of Evidence, “[t]he court must decide any preliminary questions about whether a witness is qualified, a privilege exists, or evidence is admissible. In so deciding, the court is not bound by evidence rules, except those on privilege.”

         Fontenot brings this motion to exclude evidence or mention of the following topics at trial: 1) his prior arrests and misdemeanor conviction; 2) his prior drug and alcohol usage; 3) evidence not made known during discovery; 4) the fact that Fontenot retained an attorney shortly after the accident; 5) the fact that Fontenot's medical bills have been paid; 6) the fact that any award is not taxable under federal and state income tax laws; 7) Fontenot's failure to call anyone on his witness list; 8) attorney file documents; 9) financial impact to defendants of an adverse verdict; 10) probable testimony of an absent witness; and 11) the fact that Fontenot has filed this motion. Defendants oppose the motion in all respects. Doc. 34.

         A. Prior arrests and conviction

         Fontenot admits that he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempted possession of drug paraphernalia in the Fourteenth Judicial District Court, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, on July 28, 2015. Doc. 26, att. 1, p. 1. The parties also state that he has been arrested as a result of disagreements with his father. Id.; doc. 34, pp. 1-2. Fontenot argues that evidence of the arrests and conviction should be excluded under Federal Rule of Evidence 609 and because its probative value is substantially outweighed by the potential for prejudice, under Rule 403.

         Rule 609 sets the limits on uses of a criminal conviction to attack a witness's character for truthfulness, and provides generally that a criminal conviction may not be used for that purpose unless it is a felony or the court can readily determine from the elements that it involved a dishonest act or false statement. Fed.R.Evid. 609(a). The defendants contend, however, that they would not seek to introduce this evidence to attack Fontenot's credibility. Doc. 34, p. 4. Instead, they would use it to refute his allegations that his injuries in the accident have led to behavioral difficulties, by showing that his behavioral issues (as expressed through fights with his father) preceded the accident. Id.

         Accordingly, this portion of the motion should be analyzed under Rule 404(b), which allows evidence of prior wrongdoings for purposes other than proving the person's character in order to show that he acted in conformity with that character. Fed.R.Evid. 404(b)(1). However, evidence of a prior bad act may be admissible “for another purpose.”[1] Id. at 404(b)(2). In such cases the court must first determine whether the evidence is relevant to an issue other than character, and then ensure that its probative value is not substantially outweighed by its potential for undue prejudice. United States v. Cervantes, 706 F.3d 603, 615 (5th Cir. 2013).

         Here the defendants argue that the prior bad acts are admissible to rebut a damages claim. They do not provide any citation for their allegation that behavioral problems are part of Fontenot's claimed damages. See doc. 34, p. 4. However, Fontenot's complaint shows that he has alleged injuries including “[s]evere head injuries and trauma” and “[s]evere nervous shock.” Doc. 1, att. 1, p. 3. He also claims damages for, inter alia, “physical and mental pain, suffering, discomfort, anxiety, distress, disability, disfigurement and inconvenience.” Id. In his interrogatory answers, Fontenot listed three treating psychologists as possible witnesses and admitted that he has been prescribed several medications since the accident, including sedatives and antidepressants.[2]Id. at 12-14. Thus, as defendants argue, arrests relating to arguments with a family member, introduced to show that Fontenot's psychological issues preceded the accident, are both relevant to this issue and ...

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