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Smith v. Highland Park Ruritan Club

June 27, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: H. Bruce Guyton United States Magistrate Judge



This civil action is before the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), the Rules of this Court, and by Orders [Docs. 31, 47] of the Honorable Thomas W. Phillips, United States District Judge, for disposition of the plaintiffs' Motions in Limine [Docs. 26, 27, 28, 29] and Motion to Strike [Doc. 46], and the defendant's Motion in Limine. [Doc. 43] On June 26, 2008, the parties appeared before the Court for a hearing on the instant motions. After the hearing, the Court took the motions under advisement, and they are now ripe for adjudication. The Court will address each motion in turn.

I. Plaintiffs' First Motion in Limine [Doc. 26]

During the hearing, plaintiffs' counsel advised the Court that plaintiffs were withdrawing their first motion in limine. Accordingly, the plaintiffs' first motion in limine [Doc. 26] is hereby DENIED as moot.

II. Plaintiffs' Second Motion in Limine [Doc. 27]

The plaintiffs next move the Court to exclude any evidence of the defendant's good conduct, such as defendant's community service and other service related projects. The plaintiff contends that such good conduct is inadmissible under Rule 608 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, and further argues that, even if admissible, such evidence would be more prejudicial than probative, and thus would not pass the Rule 404 balancing test. The defendant disagrees, arguing that the information is relevant, and claims that evidence relating to the defendant's good conduct is a factor that must be considered under Tennessee law, citing to Plunk v. National Health Investors, Inc., 92 S.W.3d 409 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2002).

During the hearing, counsel stated that some of the services provided by the defendant include: providing gifts to the survivors of deceased family members, providing scholarships, making donations to police and veteran memorials, assisting the Boy Scouts, and placing American flags around the community on appropriate holidays. In addition, the defendant also rents its facility for use in hosting parties and receptions. It was this final activity, the rental of the defendant's facility, which led to the instant litigation, as the plaintiff was allegedly injured while attending a birthday party hosted by a third party who had rented the defendant's facilities.

Turning to the case cited by the defendant, in analyzing the duty owed to a third party to protect that third party from unreasonable danger, the Plunk court held that [i]n determining whether a risk of harm is unreasonable, the courts consider the foreseeable probability of the harm or injury occurring; the possible magnitude of the potential harm or injury; the importance or social value of the activity engaged in by defendant; the usefulness of the conduct to defendant; the feasibility of alternative, safer conduct and the relative costs and burdens associated with that conduct; the relative usefulness of the safer conduct; and the relative safety of alternative conduct.

Plunk, 92 S.W.3d at 413 (emphasis added). The defendant relies on this portion of Plunk for its argument that the social value of the defendant's activities is relevant to this litigation. The Court disagrees. The Court interprets the phrase "the importance or social value of the activity engaged in by defendant" to mean that a court should consider the social value of the activity at issue in the litigation, not every possible social activity engaged in by the defendant, whether relevant or not.

In the instant case, the litigation arises out of the defendant's rental of its facility to third parties, and it is the social value of that activity that the Court must consider. The other activities engaged in by the defendant are not at issue in this case and are completely irrelevant. The fact that the defendant uses the garage at the rear of the facility, located near the area where Mrs. Smith was injured, for storage is relevant to the extent that it relates to the issue of whether it was foreseeable that Mrs. Smith would be in that area. However, in establishing the fact that the garage is used for storage, it is not necessary for the defendant to go into what the defendant actually stores in the garage, nor is it necessary for the defendant to state how the defendant uses the items stored in the garage. The fact that the defendant stores American flags in the garage for use in decorating the community at appropriate holidays, while commendable, is not relevant to the instant litigation. Furthermore, any probative value such evidence might possess is outweighed by a high risk of undue prejudice to the plaintiffs. Fed. R. Evid. 404.

Accordingly, the Court finds the plaintiffs' second motion in limine [Doc. 27] to be well-taken, and the same is hereby GRANTED. The defendant shall be precluded from introducing specific evidence of the community service related activities unrelated to the incident at issue in this case. For the purpose of introducing the defendant to the jury, the defendant may make general reference, without going into specifics, to the defendant's focus on community service.

III. Plaintiffs' Third Motion in Limine [Doc. 28]

The plaintiffs next move the Court to preclude the defendants from introducing any speculative evidence that Mrs. Smith had been drinking alcoholic beverages on the night of the incident at issue. During the hearing, defense counsel stated that he had no intention of introducing such evidence, but rather would be asserting that Mrs. Smith was sober on the night in question. Accordingly, the plaintiffs' third motion in limine [Doc. 28] is hereby GRANTED. The defendant is precluded from introducing any evidence alleging that ...

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