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Washington Frontier League Baseball, LLC v. Zimmerman

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

June 26, 2018

WASHINGTON FRONTIER LEAGUE BASEBALL, LLC, and STUART A. WILLIAMS, Plaintiffs,
v.
MICHAEL E. ZIMMERMAN, MKE BASEBALL, LLC, MKE SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT, LLC, W. CHRIS HANNERS, and BRYAN WICKLINE, Defendants. FRONTIER PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL, INC., Nominal Defendant.

          ORDER ON PENDING MOTIONS

          Tanya Walton, Judge

         Currently pending before the Court are a number of pre-trial motions filed by Plaintiffs Washington Frontier League Baseball, LLC (the “Washington Club”), and Stuart A. Williams (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) and Defendants Michael E. Zimmerman (“Zimmerman”), MKE Baseball, LLC, and MKE Sports & Entertainment, LLC (collectively, “Zimmerman Defendants”). In preparation for trial, the Court addresses these motions as follows.

         A. Separation of Witnesses (Filing No. 283 and No. 280)

         The Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Separation of Witnesses (Filing No. 283), and the Zimmerman Defendants also filed a similar “Notice, ” requesting separation of witnesses (Filing No. 280). The Court GRANTS the Motion. The parties are to instruct their witnesses to report to Room #346 of the Indianapolis courthouse during trial. The parties also are to instruct their witnesses to not discuss their testimony with others either before or after it is given.

         B. Motion for Leave to File Notice of Defenses (Filing No. 281)

         The Zimmerman Defendants filed a Motion for Leave to File Notice of Defenses and request permission to file a belated statement of defenses (Filing No. 281). The case management plan directed the parties to file a statement of claims or a statement of defenses that they intend to prove at trial (Filing No. 127 at 4). These statements were due within fourteen days of the close of non-expert discovery, which was September 13, 2017. The Zimmerman Defendants neglected to timely file a statement of affirmative defenses.

         The Zimmerman Defendants apologized for failing to timely file a statement of defenses and assured the Court that the failure was inadvertent and unintentional. They ask that “the filing be allowed and no sanction be issued.” (Filing No. 282 at 1.) They explain that at the time the statement of defenses was due, the parties were engaged in extensive summary judgment briefing. Because of the complexity and amount of work required for the summary judgment briefing, counsel inadvertently failed to file a statement of defenses. Counsel explains that, in his time practicing law, he has never encountered a filing related to a notice of defenses, and in this case, he has not missed any other filing deadlines. After learning of his oversight, counsel promptly prepared a notice of defenses, which “track[s] the anticipated jury instructions in the case as well as the Zimmerman Defendants' answer to the complaint.” Id. at 2.

         The Court concludes that it is in the interest of justice to permit the Zimmerman Defendants to file their belated statement of defenses so that they may comply with the requirements of the case management plan. Importantly, the defenses listed in the Zimmerman Defendants' Notice are not a surprise to the Plaintiffs, as these arguments have been advanced throughout the litigation, and they were asserted in the Zimmerman Defendants' Answer. The Court determines that Plaintiffs will not be prejudiced by the late filing; therefore, Zimmerman Defendants' Motion for Leave to File Notice of Defenses (Filing No. 281), is granted and the Notice of Defenses (Filing No. 282-1) is deemed filed as of the date of this Order.

         C. Motion for Leave to Withdraw (Filing No. 276)

         Counsel for Nominal Defendant Frontier Professional Baseball, Inc. (“Frontier League”) filed a Motion for Leave to Withdraw, requesting permission to withdraw their appearance on behalf of Frontier League (Filing No. 276). Counsel asserts, “In light of the Court's Order Approving Proposed Settlement of Derivative Action and Entry on Response to Order to Show Cause [], the participation of counsel for . . . Frontier League . . . in this case is no longer necessary.” (Filing No. 276 at 1.) Counsel additionally asserts, “Moreover, a situation has arisen such that continued representation of the Frontier League by the undersigned in this case in the circumstances has been rendered impossible.” Id.

         The Plaintiffs oppose the Motion for Leave to Withdraw, explaining that they are in the process of preparing a motion for sanctions under 29 U.S.C. § 1927, which allows for monetary sanctions against an attorney who unreasonably and vexatiously multiplies the proceedings. The Plaintiffs assert that the Court should defer ruling on the Motion for Leave to Withdraw until after the sanctions issue is resolved.

         Without additional information from Frontier League's counsel regarding the “situation” that renders ongoing representation impossible, and in light of the anticipated § 1927 motion as well as the fact that dismissal paperwork has not yet been filed following the Court's approval of the settlement agreement, the Court is declines to rule on this motion at this time. The Court takes the Motion for Leave to Withdraw under advisement. Plaintiffs have ten (10) days from the date of this Entry in which to file any motion for sanctions under 29 U.S.C. § 1927. If no such motion is filed, the Court will promptly rule on (and likely grant) the pending Motion to Withdraw.

         D. Zimmerman Defendants' Motion in Limine (Filing No. 258)

         The Zimmerman Defendants filed a Motion in Limine, seeking to exclude certain evidence from trial (Filing No. 258). They seek to exclude testimony of “de facto ownership” between Chris Hanners (“Hanners”) and Zimmerman, damage testimony related to “valuation of a lost opportunity” and a travel team, and a claim for “punitive damages”. The Zimmerman Defendants assert that evidence concerning these three matters are “based on incorrect assumptions making them irrelevant pursuant to FRE 401 (test for relevant evidence) and excludable pursuant to FRE 403 (unfairly prejudicial, confusing or misleading).” (Filing No. 259 at 1-2.)

         As the parties have correctly acknowledged, the Court has “broad discretion in ruling on evidentiary questions during trial or before on motions in limine.” Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). The Court excludes evidence on a motion in limine only if the evidence clearly is not admissible for any purpose. See Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Technologies, Inc., 831 F.Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D. Ill. 1993). Unless evidence meets this exacting standard, evidentiary rulings must be deferred until trial so questions of foundation, relevancy, and prejudice may be resolved in context. Id. at 1400-01. Moreover, denial of a motion in limine does not necessarily mean that all evidence contemplated by the motion is admissible; rather, it only means that, at the pre-trial stage, the Court is unable to determine whether the evidence should be excluded. Id. at 1401.

         1. De facto ownership evidence

         The Zimmerman Defendants seek exclusion of evidence or argument concerning Zimmerman being a “de facto owner” of Hanners' Rock River Valley Baseball Club before Zimmerman actually became an officer of the club. They point out that the Court previously limited the conspiracy claim in an earlier Order:

         To conclude, the claim for breach of fiduciary duties against the Zimmerman Defendants is dismissed, and the claim for civil conspiracy to breach fiduciary duties remains pending but is limited to the time period before the Zimmerman Defendants became officers of a Frontier League member team. At that point in time, fiduciary duties to Frontier League would have arisen, and the claim then should have been resolved through the procedures mandated by Frontier League's by-laws. (Filing No. 116 at 17-18). The Zimmerman Defendants assert that the Plaintiffs' use of “de facto ownership” arguments would go against the plain meaning of the doctrine, insert a ...


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