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Dotson v. Price

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 3, 2019

DAVID H. DOTSON, Plaintiff
v.
JOHN PRICE, ET AL., Defendants

         SECTION: “E” (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SUSIE MORGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are (1) a motion to introduce evidence of Plaintiff David H. Dotson's prior convictions, filed by Defendant Atlantic Specialty Insurance Co. (“Atlantic”);[1] (2) a motion for the Court to take judicial notice of a statement made during the workers' compensation proceeding related to this matter, filed by Atlantic;[2] and (3) a motion to exclude evidence of Dotson's prior convictions, his workers' compensation claim, and his prior civil litigation, filed by Dotson.[3] The motions are opposed.[4] The Court rules on the motions as set forth herein.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a January 19, 2015 auto accident between Dotson and John Price.[5] Dotson seeks to recover damages resulting from personal injuries he alleges he sustained in the accident. Dotson filed a workers' claim against his employer, Pitts & Sons, Inc., with the Louisiana Office of Workers' Compensation.[6]

         On January 19, 2016, Dotson filed the instant suit against John Price and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.[7] Progressive Casualty Insurance Company, Dotson's underinsured motorist insurer, was joined to the suit on September 6, 2017.[8] Atlantic was named as an additional Defendant on November 3, 2o17.[9] The only remaining Defendant is Atlantic.

         On June 6, 2019, the parties filed the instant motions regarding the admissibility of evidence of Dotson's prior convictions and evidence related to his workers' compensation claim.[10] Dotson also moves to exclude evidence of his prior civil litigation.[11]The motions are opposed.[12] The Court first addresses the parties' arguments regarding evidence of Dotson's convictions, then turns to evidence related to his workers' compensation claim and evidence of Dotson's prior civil litigation.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         I. Evidence Regarding Dotson's Prior Convictions

         Atlantic seeks to introduce evidence of (1) Dotson's 2012 conviction for theft and (2) his 2003 conviction for mail fraud and obstruction of justice.[13] Dotson seeks to exclude evidence of these convictions.[14]

         A. Dotson's 2012 Conviction for Theft

         On April 27, 2012, a jury in the Criminal District Court for the Parish of Orleans found Dotson guilty of theft, in violation of La. Rev. Stat. § 14:67(A).[15] On August 3, 2012, Dotson was sentenced to two years at hard labor.[16] Atlantic argues evidence of Dotson's theft conviction should be admitted under Rule 609(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Evidence.[17]

         1. Rule 609(a)(2)

         Rule 609(a)(2) which requires admission of evidence “if the court can readily determine that establishing the elements of the crime required proving-or the witness's admitting-a dishonest act or false statement.”[18] Evidence of crimes under Rule 609(a)(2) is not subject to Rule 403 balancing. In the Fifth Circuit, felony theft is not a crime that requires proving a dishonest act or false statement.[19] As a result, Dotson's 2012 felony theft conviction is not admissible under Rule 609(a)(2).

         Atlantic argues Rule 609(a)(2) applies because Dotson admitted in discovery that the charge was for contractor fraud.[20] Under the plain language of Rule 609(a)(2), evidence is only admissible if establishing the elements of the crime requires proving a dishonest act or false statement. Dotson's admissions in written discovery are irrelevant to the issue of whether the elements of felony theft require proving a dishonest act or false statement.

         2. Rule 609(a)(1)

         The Court turns to Rule 609(a)(1), which governs the admissibility of convictions for impeachment generally. Rule 609(a)(1)(A) of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides:

[F]or a crime that, in the convicting jurisdiction, was punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one year, the evidence must be admitted, subject to Rule 403, in a civil case or in a criminal case in which the witness is not a defendant.[21]

         At the time of Dotson's conviction, the statute under which he was convicted for theft provided, “When the misappropriation or taking amounts to a value of five hundred dollars or more, but less than a value of one thousand five hundred dollars, the offender shall be imprisoned, with or without hard labor, for not more than five years.”[22] Because the crime was punishable by imprisonment of more than one year, it must be admitted, subject to Rule 403.

         Rule 403 provides, “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.”[23] The Court finds evidence of Dotson's 2012 conviction for felony theft is not probative of his character for truthfulness, and there is a substantial risk of unfair prejudice to Dotson from the introduction of evidence regarding his conviction. As a result, the Court excludes evidence of Dotson's 2012 conviction for theft.

         B. Dotson's 2003 Conviction for Mail Fraud and Obstruction of Justice

          Rule 609(b) provides:

[I]f more than 10 years have passed since the witness's conviction or release from confinement for it, whichever is later[, e]vidence of the conviction is admissible only if:
(1) its probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect; and
(2) the proponent gives an adverse party reasonable written notice of the intent to use it so that the party has a fair opportunity to contest its use.[24]

         On September 16, 2003, a jury in another section of this Court found Dotson guilty of eighteen counts of mail fraud and two counts of obstruction of justice.[25] On January 21, 2004, he was sentenced to twenty-one months' imprisonment for each count, to be served concurrently.[26]

         Atlantic seeks to introduce this evidence at trial.[27] Atlantic has provided Dotson “reasonable written notice” in accordance with Rule 609(b)(2).[28] The Court turns to whether the probative value of evidence of Dotson's convictions for mail fraud and obstruction of justice substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect.

         When considering whether the probative value of a prior conviction substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect pursuant to Rule 609(b), courts consider five factors:

(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 [the witness'] testimony.
(5) The centrality of the credibility testimony.[29]

         “[T]he general rule is inadmissibility” for crimes committed ten years prior to trial, [30] and these convictions are “presumptively inadmissible as impeachment evidence.”[31] The balance is “weighted against finding that the probative value of a more than 10-year-old conviction substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect.”[32] The Court analyzes each factor with respect to Dotson's convictions for mail fraud and obstruction of justice.

         With respect to the first factor, the Fifth Circuit has held that “prior crimes involving deliberate and carefully premeditated intent such as fraud and forgery are far more likely to have probative value with respect to later acts than prior crimes involving a quickly and spontaneously formed intent, ” and that “such crimes are more probative on the issue of propensity to lie under oath than more violent crimes which do not involve dishonesty.”[33]

         Dotson was convicted of mail fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1341. To be convicted under the statute a defendant must meet the mens rea requirement for fraudulent intent that he:

ha[s] devised or intend[ed] to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, or to sell, dispose of, loan, exchange, alter, give away, distribute, supply, or furnish or procure for unlawful use any counterfeit or spurious coin, obligation, security, or other article, or anything represented to be or intimated or held out to be such counterfeit or spurious article, for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice or attempting so to do.[34]

         The Court finds Dotson's mail fraud conviction is highly probative on the issue of Dotson's character for truthfulness and therefore has significant impeachment value. The first factor weighs in favor of admitting evidence regarding Dotson's mail fraud conviction.

         The Court turns to the first factor in connection with Dotson's conviction for obstruction of justice. Dotson was convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 1503, which requires a showing that he acted “corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication.”[35] This offense does not require a “deliberate and carefully premeditated intent, ”[36] and it is not probative as to Dotson's character for truthfulness. The Court finds the first factor weighs against admitting evidence of Dotson's obstruction of justice conviction.

         As to the second factor, the Fifth Circuit views with disfavor the admission of evidence of convictions that are more than ten years old. Dotson's convictions for mail fraud and obstruction of justice are nearly 16 years old. The Court finds this factor weighs against admission for both convictions.

         The third factor, similarity between the past crime and the charged crime, is not applicable here because Dotson has not been charged with a crime.[37]

         The Court turns to the fourth and fifth factors, the importance of the witness's testimony and the centrality of the credibility testimony, in connection with Dotson's mail fraud conviction. “When the crux of the case is a credibility issue, . . . evidence of prior convictions takes on ‘special significance.'”[38] The primary issue in this case is causation- whether the auto accident exacerbated Dotson's pre-existing injuries. In his deposition, Dotson's treating physician Dr. Stewart testified that, comparing MRIs of Dotson's shoulder before and after the accident, “the MRI may have looked unchanged but the- the symptoms were changed.”[39] He stated that his knowledge of the “symptoms” was what Dotson himself reported.[40] Dotson's credibility is particularly important to the jury's determination of causation in this case. The fourth and fifth factors weigh in favor of admitting evidence of Dotson's convictions for mail fraud and obstruction of justice.

         As to Dotson's mail fraud conviction, the first, fourth, and fifth factors weigh in favor of admission. The Court finds the probative value of Dotson's conviction substantially outweighs its prejudicial ...


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