The opinion of the court was delivered by: Karen E. Schreier Chief Judge
Plaintiff, Ryan Boddicker, filed suit against defendant, Esurance, Inc.*fn1 Only Boddicker's Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) interference and Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) causes of action survived summary judgment. The parties filed a number of motions in limine and, after a pretrial hearing, the court reserved ruling on three of Boddicker's motions in limine. Boddicker's motions in limine are granted in part and denied in part.
I. Motions in Limine Numbers 2 and 3
In his motion in limine number 2, Boddicker seeks to prohibit Esurance from offering "[e]vidence, testimony, or argument concerning or referencing any abuse suffered by Ryan Boddicker from his parents, stepparents, or other relatives." Docket 90. Motion in limine number 3 seeks to forbid Esurance from offering "[e]vidence, testimony, or argument concerning or referencing the relationship between Ryan Boddicker and his parents, stepparents, or any other relative." Docket 90.
Boddicker objects to the evidence on the basis of relevancy under Rules 401 and 402. "All relevant evidence is admissible . . . ." Fed. R. Evid. 402. Relevant evidence is "evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Fed. R. Evid. 401. "Relevancy is not an inherent characteristic of any item of evidence but exists only as relation between an item of evidence and a matter properly provable in the case." Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681, 689 (1988) (citing Advisory Committee's Notes on Fed. Rule. Evid. 401, 28 U.S.C. App., at 688).
During the pretrial hearing, the court requested Boddicker's mental health records and the depositions of his mental health providers. The records reflect that Boddicker told his mental health providers that he was exposed to, at a minimum, verbal abuse by his father and his stepmother. The records also state that Boddicker has experienced stressed relationships with some family members.
The central issue with regard to Boddicker's FMLA interference claim is whether Esurance chilled or interfered with Boddicker's FMLA rights resulting in Boddicker's suffering emotional stress or other mental problems that caused him to miss work. Esurance contends that Boddicker's relationship with and abuse from his family were the cause of his emotional stress and other mental problems and not Esurance's actions. Because the evidence goes to a material issue in the case, it is relevant.
Boddicker contends that the evidence is prohibited by Rule 403. Relevant evidence "may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice." Fed. R. Evid. 403. "Rule 403 does not offer protection against evidence that is merely prejudicial in the sense of being detrimental to a party's case. The rule protects against evidence that is unfairly prejudicial, that is, if it tends to suggest decision on an improper basis." Wade v. Haynes, 663 F.2d 778, 783 (8th Cir. 1981), aff'd sub nom. Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30 (1983). Unfairly prejudicial evidence is evidence that is " 'so inflammatory on [its] face as to divert the jury's attention from the material issues in the trial.' " United States v. Adams, 401 F.3d 886, 900 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting United States v. Shoffner, 71 F.3d 1429, 1433 (8th Cir. 1995)).
Boddicker does not identify the unfair prejudice that he would suffer if the evidence surrounding his familial relationship is admitted. Instead, he only asserts that "any possible probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice of this evidence, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury and therefore, it should be excluded." Docket 91 at 3. Because the evidence is relevant and Boddicker has not articulated how the evidence would result in unfair prejudice, the motion in limine is without merit. Moreover, evidence of Boddicker's relationship with his family or any abuse he suffered from his family would not suggest a decision on an improper basis, because if the jury believes Esurance's version of the facts, Boddicker's familial difficulties may have been the cause of his missing work.
Boddicker further asserts Rules 404 and 608 as bases for refusing to admit the evidence. Evidence of a person's character is generally not admissible, see Fed. R. Evid. 404, especially in a civil case. See, e.g., McCabe v. Macaulay, No. 05-CV-73-LRR, 2008 WL 1844048, at *4 (N.D. Iowa 2008) ("[C]haracter evidence not admissible in civil actions, unless character or reputation is put in issue by the very proceeding itself." (citation omitted)). Additionally, if a witness's credibility is attacked, the evidence can only refer to the witness's character for truthfulness or untruthfulness. See Fed. R. Evid. 608(a). Character is not defined in the federal rules, but leading commentators have noted that character tends to refer to a personality trait or a person's mental or, in some cases, physical attributes. See generally Charles Alan Wright & Kenneth W. Graham, Jr., Federal Practice and Procedure § 5232 (1978).
Boddicker offers no argument on how evidence of his familial relationships or possible abuse is character or reputation evidence. A history of abuse or difficult familial relationships are neither mental or physical attributes nor personality traits. Thus, the evidence is not character evidence and Boddicker's motions in limine numbers 2 and 3 are denied.
II. Motion in Limine Number 5
In motion in limine number 5, Boddicker seeks to prohibit ...