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McCarthy v. Fuller

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

March 19, 2014

KEVIN B. McCARTHY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
PATRICIA ANN FULLER, a/k/a SISTER JOSEPH THERESE, et al., Defendants.

ENTRY REGARDING RULE 50 MOTIONS AND OTHER MATTERS

WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, District Judge.

During the course of the trial of this matter, the Court granted in part the Counterclaim Defendants' motions for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a) and took the remainder of the parties' Rule 50 motions under advisement. Those motions are addressed below. In addition, the Court sets forth below more detailed reasons for several other rulings that were made during the course of the trial. Finally, the Court explains below its application of Indiana law to the punitive damages awarded by the jury.

Ruling Granting the Defendants' Motion to Reconsider

During the course of the trial, the Defendants filed a motion to reconsider (dkt. no. 797) asking the Court to reconsider its ruling excluding evidence of witness Duncan Bonnell's prior criminal conviction. On February 14, 2014, the Court heard argument from both the Plaintiffs and the Defendants on the motion. The Court orally granted the motion to reconsider, ruling that the evidence of the past criminal conviction would be admitted for impeachment purposes. The Court now provides the following written explanation for that ruling.

In preparation for trial, the parties designated portions of depositions to be admitted in lieu of live testimony. The Defendants designated a portion of Bonnell's deposition in which he admitted that he was convicted in 1996 of a class E felony in New York for misappropriating funds. He testified that he spent 28 months in prison and was released in 1998.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 609(a)(2) provides that evidence of a criminal conviction "must be admitted 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." As the Defendants correctly note, misappropriating insurance premiums involves an act of dishonesty by Bonnell. However, Rule 609(b) imposes a time limit on the use of such evidence:

This subdivision (b) applies if more than 10 years have passed since the witness's conviction or release from confinement for it, whichever is later. Evidence 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.

The Plaintiffs objected to the use of Bonnell's conviction pursuant to Rule 609(b), and the Court, noting that the Seventh Circuit has "said that impeachment outside the rule's ten-year time limit should be permitted only in rare and exceptional circumstances, " United States v. Rogers, 542 F.3d 197, 201 (7th Cir. 2008) (citations omitted), sustained that objection on January 15, 2014, (dkt. no. 764 at 4), ordering the Defendants to remove any reference to Bonnell's conviction from the deposition excerpts to be used at trial. It is that ruling that the Defendants moved to reconsider.

Upon reconsideration, and with the benefit of understanding, in the context of trial, the import of Bonnell's testimony, the Court agrees with the Defendants that the probative value of Bonnell's criminal conviction substantially outweighs any possible prejudice to the Plaintiffs from admitting the evidence. The Plaintiffs' purpose in admitting portions of Bonnell's deposition was solely to discredit the testimony of Defendant Hartman. Accordingly, Bonnell's credibility was critical, as the jury ultimately had to weigh Hartman's testimony against that of Bonnell. See United States v. Redditt, 381 F.3d 597, 601 (7th Cir. 2004) ("And when the judge actually ruled on the admissibility of the prior conviction, he properly noted that Redditt's credibility was a critical factor in the case in light of the complete contradiction between the defendant's testimony and the testimony of the government witness.' Consequently, the district court judge did not abuse his discretion when he determined that the probative value of the 1992 conviction outweighed any prejudicial effect."). Further, as the Defendants note, the risk of prejudicing the Plaintiffs with evidence of this criminal conviction is limited-the prejudice that results is no more than that which results when a witness is impeached via a different means. In fact, in addressing the motion to reconsider, the Plaintiffs did not argue that the prejudice of admitting the criminal conviction was great.

The Plaintiffs did argue that they did not receive adequate notice pursuant to Rule 609(b)(2), which requires that "the proponent give[] an adverse party reasonable written notice of the intent to use [the criminal conviction to impeach the witness] so that the party has a fair opportunity to contest its use." In this instance, the Court finds that this notice provision has been satisfied. The Plaintiffs did have "a fair opportunity to contest" the use of Bonnell's criminal conviction prior to his testimony being used at trial. This is all the rule requires.

Considering all of the circumstances, the Court determined that its initial ruling regarding the use of Bonnell's conviction for impeachment purposes was incorrect. Accordingly, the Court granted the Defendants' motion to ...


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