United States District Court, D. Maine
RYAN D. BURNETT, Plaintiff,
OCEAN PROPERTIES, LTD. and AMERIPORT, LLC, Defendant.
ORDER ON MOTION IN LIMINE REGARDING THE PARTIES'
A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit, Ocean
Properties Ltd. and Ameriport, LLC (Ocean Properties) move in
limine to prohibit Ryan Burnett from introducing at trial, or
otherwise mentioning in the presence of the jury, evidence or
information regarding the wealth or size of a party or
contrasting the relative economic standing of the parties.
The Court will allow the Plaintiffs to present evidence of
the number of employees working at the Defendants, but it is
unclear about what forum the parties prefer to resolve this
mixed question of law and fact. Regarding evidence of the
wealth of the Defendants, the Court intends to bifurcate the
questions of liability and compensatory damages and the
question of punitive damages. Evidence of wealth is not
admissible during the first phase, and the Court will later
address whether evidence of wealth is admissible during the
punitive damages phase upon further briefing from counsel.
THE POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES
Ocean Properties' Motion
Properties argues that “the relative wealth or sizes of
the parties are not relevant or admissible because the
information does not tend to prove or disprove any material
fact in dispute in this case.” Defs.' Mot. in
Limine Regarding the Parties' Economic Standing at 2
(ECF No. 108) (Defs.' Mot). It contends that
even if relevant, such evidence should be excluded under
Federal Rule of Evidence 403, because its probative value is
“outweighed by the danger of prejudice, confusion of
the issues, misleading the jury, or by consideration of undue
delay, waste of time, of needless presentation of cumulative
evidence.” Id. Finally, Ocean Properties
contends that any argument that Mr. Burnett makes regarding
the relevance of financial condition to punitive damages
should be rejected “because Plaintiff's claims for
punitive damages are barred as set forth in Defendants'
contemporaneously-filed motion in limine.” Id.
Ryan Burnett's Response
Burnett opposes the motion, noting first that the motion
“ignores the fact that this case falls under the Maine
Human Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act,
both of which contain specific damages caps related to the
size of a company” (citing 5 M.R.S. §
4613(2)(B)(8)(e)(iv) ($500, 000 for employers with more than
500 employees); 43 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(D) ($300, 000
for employers with more than 500 employees). Pl.'s
Resp. to Defs.' Motion in Limine Regarding the
Parties' Economic Standing at 1 (ECF No. 116)
(Pl.'s Opp'n). Mr. Burnett also contends
that punitive damages are allowed under both the MHRA and the
ADA “if the complaining party demonstrates that the
respondent engaged in a discriminatory practice . . . with
malice or reckless indifference to the rights of an aggrieved
individual protected by this Act.” Id. (citing
5 M.R.S. § 4613(2)(B)(8)(c); see also 42 U.S.C.
Burnett goes on to argue that “the size of the company.
. . is essential to establish the applicable cap [in an
employment case], even though that information is not passed
on to the jury”, as a proxy for ability to pay.
Id. Mr. Burnett clarifies that he “does not
intend to make any arguments to the jury about the relative
economic standing of the parties, but instead intends to
establish the large size of the company, ” which he
contends is relevant not only to the damages cap, but also to
whether the company had knowledge of federal law, an element
of punitive damages. Id.
Number of Employees
Evidence of the number of employees of the Defendants is
critical to establishing the applicable statutory cap.
Typically, whether a defendant fits within one of the
statutory caps is not presented to the jury but separately to
the judge to impose the statutory limitations on damages. It
is also often stipulated to by the parties, since there is
usually no reason to disagree about a seemingly simple
numerical question of fact.
however, there seems to be a disagreement as to how to count
the employees and the number of employees attributable to
each Defendant. In light of this disagreement, there are at
least a couple of alternatives. The parties may wish to sever
the employment numbers issue and present it separately to the
Court after the verdict. This approach makes sense if numbers
are not in controversy and the focus is on the legal
significance of the numbers. Furthermore, if the jury were to
issue a verdict of less than the statutory caps, there would
be no need to resolve the numbers question. Finally, the
Court could resolve the cap issue in the fullness of time
after trial with guidance from counsel.
possibility is to present the numbers question to the jury.
If the parties elect to proceed in this fashion (which the
Court assumes is their right), the Court will require
proposed jury instructions from the parties to make certain
that the jury is able to understand what it is being asked to
do. In addition, upon request, the Court will instruct the
jury that it must not consider the number of the
Defendants' employees in arriving at its verdict on
either liability or compensatory damages.