Cairns v. Idaho Falls School District No. 91
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER. IT IS ORDERED that Defendant's Motion in Limine (Dkt. 49 ) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Granted with respect to evidence that Jarnagin and Sanders were married to other people during their relations hip. Denied in all other respects. Plaintiff's Motion in Limine (Dkt. 59 ) is GRANTED. Plaintiff shall provide notice of the deposition excerpts he intends to utilize for Jarnagin and Sanders prior to trial. Defendant's Motion in Limine (Dkt. 50 ) is DENIED. Signed by Judge B Lynn Winmill. (caused to be mailed to non Registered Participants at the addresses listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) by (kt)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF IDAHO
Case No. 4:18-cv-00564-BLW
IDAHO FALLS SCHOOL DISTRICT
Before the Court are Defendant’s Motions in Limine (Dkt. 49, 50) and
Plaintiff’s unopposed Motion in Limine (Dkt. 59). The motions are fully briefed
and at issue.
Trial in this matter is set for October 18, 2021. Plaintiff, William Cairns,
asserts claims for age discrimination in employment. In the first Motion in Limine,
the Defendant, the Idaho Falls School District No. 91, seeks to exclude evidence
regarding the romantic relationship between Aaron Jarnagin and Sarah Sanders.
Dkt. 49. In the second Motion in Limine, Cairns seeks to admit the deposition
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testimony of Jarnagin and Sanders at trial. Dkt. 59. In the third Motion in Limine,
the District seeks to exclude evidence regarding any statement that George Boland
made promising future employment to William Cairns. Dkt. 50.
There is no express authority for motions in limine in either the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure or the Federal Rules of Evidence. Nevertheless, these
motions are well recognized in practice and by case law. See, e.g., Ohler v. United
States, 529 U.S. 753, 758 (2000). They key function of a motion in limine is to
“exclude prejudicial evidence before the evidence is actually offered.” Luce v.
United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40 (1984). A ruling on a motion in limine is essentially
a preliminary ruling, which may be reconsidered in the context of trial. Id. at 41.
Motions in limine are beneficial tools that promote judicial efficiency by
presenting the Court with an opportunity “to rule in advance of trial on the
relevance of certain forecasted evidence ... without lengthy argument at, or
interruption of, the trial.” D.A. v. Meridian Joint Sch. Dist. No. 2, No. 1:11-CV00119-CWD, 2013 WL 12147769, at *2 (D. Idaho June 14, 2013) (quoting
Palmieri v. Defaria, 88 F.3d 136, 141 (2d Cir. 1996)). But these pretrial
evidentiary rulings are made before the court has seen or heard the challenged
evidence, and they restrict a party's presentation of their case. Id. Thus, “courts
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have recognized that motions in limine should be granted sparingly and only in
those instances when the evidence plainly is inadmissible on all potential grounds.”
Id. (cleaned up).
In resolving these motions, the Court is guided by Federal Rules of Evidence
401 and 403. The Court must evaluate whether the proposed evidence is relevant—
that is—whether the evidence has “any tendency to make a fact more or less
probable than it would be without the evidence” and whether “the fact is of
consequence in determining the action.” Fed. R. Evid. 401. Even if the evidence is
relevant, the Court may exclude it if “its probative value is substantially
outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice,
confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly
presenting cumulative evidence.” Fed. R. Evid. 403.
Evidence Regarding the Romantic Relationship between Aaron
Jarnagin and Sarah Sanders
During the timeframe that Cairns alleges age discrimination, Jarnagin was
the principal at Skyline High School, where Cairns worked as the athletic director.
Jarnagin reported directly to Sanders, who was the assistant superintendent in the
District 91 office. Throughout this period, Jarnagin and Sanders were in a romantic
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The District argues that evidence of the romantic relationship is not relevant
to Cairns’s claim of age discrimination. According to the District, the fact that
Jarnagin and Sanders had a personal relationship does not shed light on their
motivations or decisions and thus cannot help a jury determine the District’s
actions or intentions. The District further asserts that “evidence of a sexual
relationship is irrelevant in an age discrimination case,” Dkt. 49-1 at 3, relying on
another age discrimination case, Tumbling v. Merced Irrigation District. 262
F.R.D. 509 (E.D. Cal. 2009).
But this case is not like Tumbling. The Tumbling court determined that the
romantic relationship between the plaintiff’s supervisor and another employee was
not relevant because the plaintiff did not connect “any adverse employment action
or discrimination” to the romantic relationship. Id. at 515. Here, Cairns makes the
requisite connection. He contends that the relationship tends to show a
“discriminatory scheme”—namely that “because of their personal relationship,”
Jarnagin and Sanders “worked together to find a way to replace Cairns by changing
the job description for the athletic director position, contrary to state
requirements.” Dkt. 52 at 3-4. The Court agrees. The personal relationship between
Jarnagin and Sanders tends to make more probable Cairns’s claims that Jarnagin
and Sanders jointly developed a plan not to hire him because of his age. The
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relationship is relevant.
The District further argues that evidence of the romantic relationship should
be excluded because it is unduly prejudicial. Jarnagin and Sanders began their
relationship while still married to other people, though they have subsequently
divorced their spouses and married each other. The District contends that evidence
of this “extramarital affair” will harm Jarnagin’s and Sanders’s credibility and
encourage the jury to make an emotional decision, rather than an unbiased one. Dkt
49-1 at 7. Cairns concedes that evidence that the relationship was extramarital is
irrelevant and prejudicial, but otherwise says the evidence of their relationship
should come in.
The Court agrees with Cairns. The fact that the relationship began as an
extramarital affair might offend jurors’ traditional notions of sexual morality. See
United States v. Lawrence, 189 F.3d 838 (9th Cir. 1999) (holding that evidence of
an open marriage was prejudicial); Los Angeles Police Protective League, v. Gates,
907 F.2d 879 (9th Cir. 1990) (holding that evidence that a police officer engaged in
sexual relationships while on duty was prejudicial). But otherwise, for the reasons
discussed above, the Jarnagin and Sanders romantic relationship is relevant to
Cairns’s claims. The Court will therefore deny the District’s motion to entirely
exclude evidence of this relationship. However, the Court will, consistent will not
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permit counsel to offer evidence of the extra-marital nature of the relationship.
Deposition Testimony of Unavailable Witnesses Jarnagin and
Sanders at Trial
Jarnagin and Sanders now work more than 100 miles from the federal
courthouse in Pocatello. Dkt. 59-1 at 2. Consequently, under the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure, Cairns cannot subpoena their testimony. Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(c).
Because Jarnagin and Sanders are unavailable witnesses under both the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Court will allow
Cairns to use their deposition testimony at trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 32(a)(4)(B); Fed.
R. Ev. 804.
Evidence Regarding Any Statement that George Boland Made
Promising Future Employment to William Cairns
At age 60, Cairns officially retired from his position at the District, but
continued working under a one-year retired administrator contract. Dkt. 1 at ¶19.
Cairns alleges that he opted to retire and work under the annual contract based on
assurances from the District’s superintendent, George Boland, “that so long as he
was superintendent, Cairns would have a job, provided he did not mess up.” Id. at
¶18-19. Cairns’s discrimination claim arises from the District’s decision not to
renew that one-year contract and the allegation that that decision was based upon
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The District argues that evidence of Boland’s alleged promise of future
employment is not relevant to Cairns’s claim of age discrimination. Idaho law does
not authorize a Superintendent to enter into binding contracts—such as a promise
of future employment—on behalf of a School Board. Dkt. 50-1 at 3-5; see also
Brown v. Caldwell School Dist. No. 132, 127 Idaho 112 (1995). The District
contends that Cairns should have known that only the School Board could make
legally enforceable promises of future employment, particularly because of
Cairns’s background in school administration. Consequently, according to the
District, Cairns’s reliance on Boland’s alleged promise was unreasonable and
The District’s argument conflates the enforceability of the alleged promise
with its relevance to a claim of age discrimination. See Dkt. 69 at 5 (“Finding the
alleged statement made by the Superintendent relevant is tantamount to a finding
that his statement established a contractual obligation between the District and
Plaintiff in violation of Idaho law, and the specific terms of the written contract
between Plaintiff and the District, thereby transforming this action into a breach of
contract claim.”). But the single and narrow question at issue here is whether the
alleged promise is relevant under the Federal Rules of Evidence. Cairns
convincingly argues that the promise is relevant because it provides context for his
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decision to retire and continue working under annual contracts. The Court agrees. 1
The central factual issue in this case is whether the District’s decision not to
renew Cairns’s one-year retired administrator contract or consider him for other
positions was motivated by age discrimination. A jury should see the full picture of
that issue, including the alleged promise that led Cairns to change the nature of his
employment and enter into the contract. The alleged promise is relevant.
The District further argues that evidence of the alleged promise should be
excluded because it is unduly prejudicial. The bulk of the District’s argument is
that evidence of the alleged promise “serves to taint superintendent Boland’s
character.” Dkt. 50-1 at 7. But, as Cairns correctly points out, evidence of this
single alleged promise is not character evidence. See Fed. R. Ev. 404 (“[e]vidence
of a person’s character or character trait is not admissible to prove that on a
particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait”); Dkt
53 at 5 (“Cairns is not seeking to submit evidence of Boland having a pattern of
making promises he does not keep in order to bolster Cairns’s testimony that
Boland told Cairns that he would have a job as long as Boland was
Cairns also argues that evidence of the alleged promise is relevant to his damages. Defendant’s
reply brief (Dkt. 69) responds primarily to this argument. At this time, the Court does not rule on
the relevance of Boland’s alleged promise to Cairns’s damages or potential limitations of those
damages. As needed, the Court will consider the arguments made in this briefing alongside the
briefing on Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine (Dkt. 51), which more fully addresses the issue.
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The District additionally contends that evidence of the alleged promise is
prejudicial because it “may lead the jury to base its decision on this broken
promise, rather than evidence of age discrimination.” Dkt. 50-1 at 8. To support
this proposition, the District points to Janes v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. 279 F.3d 883
(9th Cir. 2002). In that case, the Ninth Circuit upheld a district court’s
determination that evidence that the plaintiff was previously fired for theft caused
undue prejudice which could not be cured through a jury instruction. Id. at 886.
But this case is not like Janes in two respects. First, theft is a more serious wrong
than a broken promise and is more likely to inflame a jury. Second, although the
Janes court found that a curative instruction was inadequate, here any prejudice to
the District can be cured through a jury instruction.
In examining the “unfair prejudice” required for exclusion under Rule 403,
the Court cannot say that the prejudice of evidence of a broken promise
substantially outweighs the probative value of the evidence discussed above. Any
prejudice can be cured through a jury instruction. Therefore, the Court will deny
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IT IS ORDERED that:
Defendant’s Motion in Limine (Dkt. 49) is GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part. Granted with respect to evidence that Jarnagin and
Sanders were married to other people during their relationship. Denied
in all other respects.
Plaintiff’s Motion in Limine (Dkt. 59) is GRANTED. Plaintiff shall
provide notice of the deposition excerpts he intends to utilize for
Jarnagin and Sanders prior to trial.
Defendant’s Motion in Limine (Dkt. 50) is DENIED.
DATED: October 6, 2021
B. Lynn Winmill
U.S. District Court Judge
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