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United States v. Dental Dreams, LLC

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 26, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and STATE OF NEW MEXICO, ex rel. JOSE HERNANDEZ-GIL, DMD, Relator Plaintiff,
v.
DENTAL DREAMS, LLC A/K/A DENTAL EXPERTS, LLC, an Illinois limited liability company, SAMEERA TASNIM HUSSAIN, DMD, individually and as an organization agent, DENTAL DREAMS, LLC, a New Mexico limited liability company, FAMILY SMILES, LLC, a New Mexico limited liability company, FRANK VON WESTERNHAGEN, DDS, individually and as an organization agent, KOS SERVICES, LLC, an Illinois limited liability company, and KHURRAM HUSSAIN, ESQ., individually And as an organization agent, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence or Argument Related to Massachusetts Settlement (ECF No. 139) and Relator's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence and Argument (ECF No. 140). The Court, having considered the motions, briefs, evidence, relevant law, and otherwise being fully advised, will grant Defendants' motion in limine and will grant in part and deny in part Relator's motion in limine.

         I. LAW

         Rule 401 states that evidence is relevant if “it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence” and “the fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Fed.R.Evid. 401. A court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence. Fed.R.Evid. 403. Rule 404(b) prohibits the admission of evidence of crimes, wrongs, or other acts to prove a person's character to show action that conforms to that character, but it allows evidence of other bad acts if admissible for other purposes, such as intent, knowledge, absence of mistake, or lack of accident. See Fed. R. Evid. 404(b).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Defendants' Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence or Argument Related to Massachusetts Settlement

         Defendant seeks to exclude any evidence or argument relating to settlements between Dental Dreams, LLC, a Massachusetts entity, and the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office (collectively, the “Massachusetts settlement”). Relator does not oppose the motion or requested order, subject to the one exception that Relator requests the Court allow evidence or argument “in the event that any of Defendants' witnesses give testimony or otherwise provide evidence in a matter that is inconsistent with the facts of the matter as explained in the Declaration of Laura McLane that accompanied the Motion.” Relator's Resp. 2, ECF No. 153. The Court finds that the Massachusetts settlement is not relevant to this case. Even if the evidence had any minimal probative value, the value is substantially outweighed by the danger of undue prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, and wasting time. The Court will not permit inquiry by either party into the Massachusetts settlement under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, and therefore, there should be no basis for any possible impeachment value regarding the contents of Ms. McClane's Declaration. Accordingly, the Court will grant Defendant's motion in limine in its entirety and preclude evidence and argument regarding the Massachusetts settlement.

         B. Relator's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence and Argument

         Relator seeks to exclude evidence of the following: (1) his prior employment history, (2) his subsequent employment history, and (3) the New Mexico Department of Workforce Services' “Determination of No. Probable Cause” Letter (hereinafter “No Probable Cause Letter”). Defendants argue that the No. Probable Cause Letter is admissible under the public records exception to hearsay set forth in Rule 803(8). Additionally, they assert that Relator's prior and subsequent employment history are relevant to Relator's damages.

         To determine whether Rule 404(b) evidence is admissible, courts should consider four factors:

(1) the evidence must be offered for a proper purpose; (2) the evidence must be relevant; (3) the trial court must make a Rule 403 determination of whether the probative value of the similar acts is substantially outweighed by its potential for unfair prejudice; and (4) pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 105, the trial court shall, upon request, instruct the jury that evidence of similar acts is to be considered only for the proper purpose for which it was admitted.

United States v. Zamora, 222 F.3d 756, 762 (10th Cir. 2000).

         A portion of Relator's employment history was provided to the Court in the summary judgment record. See Def.'s Ex. 11, ECF No. 112-11. Relator seeks damages for, among other things, “emotional distress and lost past and future compensation and benefits.” Verified Am. Compl. ¶ 330, ECF No. 52. The Court finds that Relator's subsequent employment history is relevant to the issue of mitigation of his damages. The evidence is thus offered for a proper purpose and relevant to issues at trial, so the first two factors set forth in Zamora have been satisfied. The Court finds that the danger of unfair prejudice is outweighed by the probative value of the mitigation evidence, and can be cured by appropriate jury instructions, if requested. The Court will therefore deny Relator's motion in limine to exclude evidence of his subsequent employment history. This ruling does not prevent the parties from raising objections to specific evidence at trial. Cf. Randolph v. ADT Sec. Services, Inc., Civ. No. DKC 09-1790, 2012 WL 4480259, at *1 (D. Md. July 23, 2012) (unpublished) (holding that plaintiffs' subsequent employment history is relevant to damages plaintiffs incurred because of allegedly unlawful termination, and thus, denying plaintiffs' motions to exclude “any and all” evidence relating to their financial condition and employment history after termination).

         As for Relator's prior employment history, the Court finds it is relevant to the issue of his damages, both his earning capacity and the extent of his emotional distress damages. Cf. Montoya v. Sheldon, 898 F.Supp.2d 1259, 1273 (D.N.M. 2012) (“Montoya's prior arrests are relevant to the issue of his emotional distress damages, because the amount of times and the manner in which M. Montoya had been arrested up to the arrest, if he is claiming emotional distress only to that time, or the amount of arrests up until the present if he claims his emotional damages are ongoing, makes more or less probable the Defendants' arrest emotionally distressed him.”); Martin v. Cottrell Contracting Corp., No. 7:00-CV-114-F(1), 2000 WL 331277232, at *1 (E.D. N.C. Sept. 13, 2000) (finding merit to defendant's argument that “the Plaintiff's ‘employment history, employability (or difficulty retaining employment), job performance (including poor performance), advancement (or lack thereof), and earnings history are all relevant to his pre-injury earning capacity'”). The evidence is thus offered for a proper purpose and relevant to issues at trial, so the first two factors have been satisfied. The probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by its potential for unfair prejudice, and a jury instruction may be provided, upon request, to instruct the jury that the evidence is to be considered only for the proper purpose for which it is admitted. The Court will therefore deny Relator's motion to exclude generally his prior and subsequent employment history.

         This ruling, however, is without prejudice. Should evidence be admitted that will result in mini-trials of the reasons for why Relator left employment at each of the places, such evidence has the potential for confusing the issues, creating undue delay, and wasting time. At this stage, however, it is unclear what specific evidence Defendants intend to present at trial. Consequently, while generally permitting evidence of prior and ...


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