Fleck et al v. General Motors, L.L.C.
OPINION AND ORDER re: (182 in 1:14-cv-08176-JMF, 1643 in 1:14-md-02543-JMF) MOTION in Limine No. 18 re: Omnibus Motion to Exclude Irrelevant, Pejorative, and Unfairly Prejudicial Remarks filed by General Motors LLC, (178 in 1:14-cv-0 8176-JMF, 1639 in 1:14-md-02543-JMF) MOTION in Limine No. 16 re: Motion to Exclude Information Pertaining to Ignition Switches Other than the Delta Ignition Switch filed by General Motors LLC, (1641 in 1:14-md-02543-JMF, 180 in 1:14-cv -08176-JMF) MOTION in Limine No. 17 re: Motion to Exclude Evidence Questioning the Adequacy of the Recall Remedies Provided filed by General Motors LLC: For the foregoing reasons, New GM's Sixteenth Motion in Limine is DENIED, its Seventeenth Motion in Limine is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and its Eighteenth Motion in Limine is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. More specifically, Plaintiff is not categorically precluded from introducing evidence concerning no n-Delta ignition switches; may not raise evidence relating to the sufficiency of recall repairs performed on other vehicles, but is not precluded from introducing other evidence relating to the adequacy of New GM's recall remedies. Finally, a s explained above, Plaintiff is prohibited from raising certain categories of evidence challenged in New GM's Eighteenth Motion in Limine. The Clerk of Court is directed to terminate 14-MD-2543, Docket Nos. 1639, 1641, and 1643; and 14-CV-8176, Docket Nos. 178, 180, and 182. (Signed by Judge Jesse M. Furman on 12/7/2015) Filed In Associated Cases: 1:14-md-02543-JMF, 1:14-cv-08176-JMF(tn)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
GENERAL MOTORS LLC IGNITION SWITCH LITIGATION
OPINION AND ORDER
This Document Relates To:
Fleck, et al. v. General Motors LLC, 14-CV-8176
JESSE M. FURMAN, United States District Judge:
[Regarding New GM’s Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Motions in Limine]
The first bellwether trial in this multidistrict litigation (“MDL”), brought by Plaintiff
Robert S. Scheuer and familiarity with which is presumed, is scheduled to begin on January 11,
2016. (See Docket No. 1694). The parties have filed twenty-eight motions in limine, many of
which the Court has already decided. This Opinion addresses three more of New GM’s motions
that are now fully submitted:
its Sixteenth Motion, which seeks to exclude “any evidence of or reference to”
ignition switches other than the “Delta” ignition switch, which was the ignition
switch installed in Plaintiff’s 2003 Saturn Ion and several other GM model year cars
(the “Delta Switch”) (see Mem. Law Supp. New GM’s Mot. In Limine No. 16
(Docket No. 1640) (“New GM’s Sixteenth Mem.”) 3, 8);
its Seventeenth Motion, which seeks to preclude Plaintiff from introducing evidence
questioning the adequacy of the ignition-switch recall remedies, including the
availability of parts, the availability of loaner vehicles, and the sufficiency of recall
repairs performed on other vehicles (see Mem. Law Supp. New GM’s Mot. In Limine
No. 17 (Docket No. 1642) (“New GM’s Seventeenth Mem.”) 1); and
its Eighteenth Motion, which seeks exclusion of twenty-three diverse categories of
evidence and argument. (See Mem. Law Supp. New GM’s Mot. In Limine No. 18
(Docket No. 1644) (“New GM’s Eighteenth Mem.”) 1).
For the reasons stated below, New GM’s Sixteenth Motion is DENIED, its Seventeenth Motion
is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and its Eighteenth Motion is GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part. 1
A. New GM’s Sixteenth Motion in Limine
New GM’s Sixteenth Motion in Limine — which seeks categorically to preclude
evidence and argument concerning all ignition switches other than the Delta Switch — is easily
rejected. Although New GM argues that preclusion is warranted based on “differences” between
the Delta Switch and non-Delta switches (New GM’s Sixteenth Mem. 5), New GM itself has
admitted elsewhere that at least some non-Delta switches were “the same” as the Delta Switch.
For example, in a chronology attached to an April 11, 2014 letter to the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), New GM discussed the events that led it to exclude
the “2003-2007 model year Saturn Ion, 2006-2007 model year Chevrolet HHR and Pontiac
Solstice, and 2007 model year Saturn sky vehicles” from the initial recall. (Pl.’s Response
Opp’n New GM’s Mot. In Limine No. 16 (Docket No. 1721) (“Pl.’s Sixteenth Opp’n”) Ex. A, at
32). New GM stated that those vehicles — some of which employed the Delta Switch and some
of which employed the “Kappa Switch” (see New GM’s Sixteenth Mem. 3) — “were equipped
with the same ignition switch installed in the 2005-2007 model year Chevrolet Cobalt and 2007
model year Pontiac G5 vehicles . . . .” (Id. Ex. A, at 32 (emphasis added)). Similarly, in the
Many of the evidentiary issues to be decided in these motions may be affected — or even
mooted — by later motions in limine, Daubert motions, or dispositive motions (all of which have
now been filed, and will be fully briefed by December 21, 2015). (See Order No. 85, Docket No.
1694). Needless to say, the Court's rulings are subject to modification — or even reconsideration
— as appropriate in light of the parties' motions that are not yet decided (or fully briefed).
Statement of Facts to which New GM agreed in its Deferred Prosecution Agreement (“DPA”)
with the Department of Justice, New GM admits that “[t]he model year cars which may have
been equipped with the Defective Switch” include not only Delta system car models, but also
non-Delta system car models — namely, the Sky and Solstice models. See Compl., United
States v. $900,000,000 in U.S. Currency, No. 15-CV-7342 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 17, 2015), Docket
No. 1, Ex A. (“DPA”), Ex. C ¶ 4. The DPA defines “Defective Switch” as “a low-torque
ignition switch installed in many of the vehicles identified [in the DPA], which, under certain
circumstances, may move out of the ‘Run’ position,” id., a definition that mirrors the language
New GM used in every recall — whether for Delta or non-Delta model cars. (See Pl.’s Sixteenth
Opp’n 3; id., Ex. A, at 1 (chart excerpting the relevant language used in each recall)).
In short, New GM itself has treated the Delta Switch and at least some other ignition
switches — at a minimum, the Kappa Switch — as “the same.” It follows that some evidence
concerning other ignition switches is plainly relevant to Plaintiff’s claims as it tends to prove,
among other things, New GM’s notice of the alleged defect and is relevant to various factors the
jury may consider in deciding whether to impose punitive damages. Further, on the present
record, the Court cannot find as a categorical matter that the probative value of the evidence is
outweighed, let alone substantially so, by the dangers of unfair prejudice, jury confusion, and
waste of time. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. New GM may be able to make the case for excluding
specific evidence relating to other ignition switches — for example, on the ground that there is
an insufficient factual basis to conclude that a particular switch is the same or similar to the Delta
Switch or on the grounds of cumulativeness or waste of time — but its current motion requests
an across-the-board ruling excluding evidence of all ignition switches other than the Delta
Switch. In light of New GM’s own statements, there is no merit to that request. Accordingly, it
is DENIED without prejudice to objection to specific evidence of other ignition switches.
B. New GM’s Seventeenth Motion in Limine
Next, New GM’s Seventeenth Motion in Limine seeks to preclude Plaintiff from
introducing evidence questioning the adequacy of ignition switch recall remedies, including the
availability of parts, the availability of loaner vehicles, and the sufficiency of recall repairs
performed on other vehicles. (New GM’s Seventeenth Mem. 1). New GM does not seek to
exclude evidence regarding the sufficiency of the recall notification. (See id. at 1 n.1; New
GM’s Reply Supp. Mot. In Limine No. 17 (Docket No. 1779) (“New GM’s Seventeenth Reply”)
1 n.3). For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted with respect to evidence relating to the
sufficiency of recall repairs performed on other vehicles, but denied with respect to other
evidence relating to recall remedies.
The Court begins with evidence relating to recall repairs performed on other vehicles.
The parties agree that Plaintiff received New GM’s recall notice in April 2014 and attempted to
get his 2003 Saturn Ion repaired at a dealership. (See Pls.’ Mem. Law Opp’n New GM’s Mot. In
Limine No. 17 (Docket No. 1722) (“Pl.’s Seventeenth Opp’n”) 3). But the parties also agree that
the recall repairs were never completed because the dealership claimed that the parts needed to
complete the repair were on back order. (See id.). Given that Plaintiff’s car never received the
proscribed repairs, New GM is on firm ground in arguing that any evidence relating to the
sufficiency of the recall repairs themselves is irrelevant. (See New GM’s Seventeenth Mem. 4-5;
New GM’s Seventeenth Reply 1-2). Indeed, Plaintiff does not explain how the adequacy of
repairs performed on other vehicles — or lack thereof — could be relevant. It is conceivable that
the evidence might be relevant to the question of punitive damages, as Oklahoma law calls for
consideration of whether a tortfeasor acted with “reckless disregard for the rights of others.”
Robinson v. Sunshine Homes, Inc., 291 P.3d 628, 638 (Okla. Ct. App. 2012); see also Okla. Stat.
tit. 23, § 9.1(A) (1995) (listing the factors a jury may consider in imposing punitive damages);
Okla. Uniform Jury Instructions (Civil) § 5.9 (same). But any probative value with respect to
punitive damages is slight and is substantially outweighed by the dangers of unfair prejudice,
confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, and wasting time. Fed. R. Evid. 403; see
also Phillip Morris USA v. Williams, 549 U.S. 346, 355 (2007) (noting that, while juries may
consider harm to people other than the plaintiff in evaluating the “reprehensibility” of a
defendant’s conduct for purposes of punitive damages, “the Due Process Clause requires States
to provide assurance that juries are not asking the wrong question, i.e., seeking, not simply to
determine reprehensibility, but also to punish for harm caused strangers”). In particular,
introducing evidence regarding the adequacy of repairs performed would likely involve
complicated and contested technical issues that could easily devolve into a sideshow trial within
the larger trial. Plaintiff is therefore precluded from introducing evidence relating to the
sufficiency or adequacy of the recall repairs performed on other vehicles.
New GM’s arguments for categorically excluding all other evidence relating to the
adequacy of the recall remedies — including evidence regarding the availability of loaner
vehicles and repair parts — are less persuasive. New GM argues first that such evidence should
be excluded as irrelevant (New GM’s Seventeenth Mem. 4-5), but given that Plaintiff received
the company’s recall notice and attempted to have the recall repairs performed on his car, the
adequacy of New GM’s efforts to effectuate its recall remedies plainly could — depending on
his testimony and other evidence at trial — be relevant to the issue of causation. (For instance, if
Plaintiff were to testify that he did not bring his car to the dealer for repairs because he was told
that it would take a long time to complete the repairs and was not told about the availability of a
loaner vehicle, the adequacy — or inadequacy — of New GM’s recall remedies would plainly
be relevant to causation.) Further, assuming that Plaintiff’s punitive damages claims remain in
the case, evidence that New GM failed, despite being on notice of the defect, to take steps to be
prepared for the necessary recalls (by, for example, ordering sufficient parts) would be relevant
to whether the company showed “reckless disregard for the rights of others.” Robinson, 291
P.3d at 638. New GM also argues that the evidence should be excluded under Rule 403 of the
Federal Rules of Evidence (New GM’s Seventeenth Mem. 8-9), but — for similar reasons — the
Court is not in a position now to perform the relevant balancing analysis, as the inquiry will
depend on what evidence Plaintiff offers at trial and for what purpose. See, e.g., United States v.
Rastelli, 653 F. Supp. 1034, 1053 (E.D.N.Y. 1986) (“It is generally recognized in this Circuit
that a court cannot adequately assess either the probative value or the potential prejudice of the
statements at a pre-trial stage of the proceedings.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Finally, there is no merit to New GM’s contention that evidence relating to the recall
remedies should be excluded because any inquiry into the adequacy of recall remedies is
preempted by NHTSA’s exclusive jurisdiction. (New GM’s Seventeenth Mem. 5-8). In support
of that argument, New GM relies on the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, which “is concerned
with promoting proper relationships between the courts and administrative agencies charged with
particular regulatory duties,” Nader v. Allegheny Airlines, Inc., 426 U.S. 290, 303 (1976)
(internal quotation marks omitted), and provides that a court should decline to exercise
jurisdiction over a claim “whenever enforcement of the claim requires the resolution of issues
which, under a regulatory scheme, have been placed within the special competence of an
administrative body,” Ellis v. Tribune Television Co., 443 F.3d 71, 81 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal
quotation marks omitted). But, as it did in its Eighth Motion in Limine (see Mem Law Supp.
New GM’s Mot. In Limine No. 8 (Docket No. 1615) 3-4), New GM confuses a potential basis
for dismissal with a basis for excluding evidence. New GM is welcome to argue on summary
judgment — as it has (see Mem. Supp. New GM’s Mot. Summ. Judg. (Docket No. 1811) 19-22;
see also New GM’s Seventeenth Reply 4-5) — that some or all of Plaintiff’s claims or requests
for relief are precluded by the doctrine of primary jurisdiction (or otherwise preempted by
federal law). The doctrine is not, however, a valid basis to exclude evidence that is otherwise
admissible with respect to Plaintiff’s claims.
In short, New GM’s Seventeenth Motion in Limine is granted with respect to evidence of
recall repairs performed on other vehicles, but otherwise denied without prejudice to renewed
objections to specific evidence at trial.
C. New GM’s Eighteenth Motion in Limine
New GM’s Eighteenth Motion in Limine is titled an “Omnibus Motion to Exclude
Irrelevant, Pejorative, and Unfairly Prejudicial Remarks,” but goes well beyond that to request
exclusion of twenty-three diverse categories of evidence. All in all, the motion is not an
especially productive use of the in limine process, as it is little more than a laundry list of
disparate items, most of which probably did not need to be raised at all (or could have been
raised informally with Plaintiff and, if necessary, memorialized on the record at or before trial
rather than burdening the Court with motion practice) and some of which should probably have
been the subject of their own motions, with more substantive and focused briefing devoted to
them. In the former category, for example, New GM seeks to preclude evidence and argument
that it is hard to imagine Plaintiff would ever have even tried to offer — including, for instance,
“[i]nflammatory remarks suggesting that any current or former New GM employee, lawyer or
agent is a criminal, murderer, or should be criminally charged or sentenced to jail or prison”
(New GM’s Eighteenth Mem. 4 (category nine)) and “[a]ny suggestion that any employment
decisions were motivated by race” (id. (category sixteen)). In a similarly unhelpful vein, New
GM tautologically asks the Court to preclude some broad categories of “hearsay” (e.g., id.
(categories ten and thirteen)). It goes without saying that the Court will not allow either side to
admit evidence at trial that is prohibited by the Federal Rules of Evidence; but whether an out-ofcourt statement is admissible or inadmissible depends on the particulars, including context and
the purpose for which it is offered.
In part for these reasons, Plaintiff invites the Court to deny New GM’s motion in its
entirety. (Pl.’s Mem. Law Opp’n New GM’s Mot. In Limine No. 18 (“Pl.’s Eighteenth Mem.”)
1-3). As tempting as it is, the Court declines the invitation as both sides have briefed the issues
and comment is warranted on at least some of the categories. The Court sees no reason,
however, to address the twelve categories that Plaintiff does not address (namely, categories two,
five, six, seven, eight, nine, sixteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-two, and twentythree), as the Court assumes from Plaintiff’s silence that he does not intend to offer evidence or
argument that would fall in any of those categories. (If that is not the case, Plaintiff shall advise
the Court and New GM sufficiently in advance to allow the Court to address the issue.) Instead,
the Court offers the following comments and rulings on the eleven categories to which Plaintiff
indicates some opposition.
• Category 1: “Improper remarks or comments regarding law firms or lawyers
representing New GM, including: (i) the number of law firms or attorneys that have
represented New GM in this case or any other matter; (ii) the size of the law firms in
which New GM’s counsel practice; (iii) the fees charged by New GM’s lawyers or law
firms; and (iv) prior or current matters on which such law firms or attorneys have or are
representing New GM (or had represented Old GM prior to 2009); (v) prior or current
clients of New GM’s law firms or attorneys, including but not limited to any references to
representations of Toyota, Takata, BP, and Volkswagen; and (vi) the residence of any
New GM attorney.”
Most, if not all, remarks or comments that fall within Category 1 would be
demonstrably improper and will not be permitted. Plaintiff objects on the grounds that
the category could be construed “to cover matters involving any similar incidents related
to the defective ignition switch” and to “extend to litigation conduct by New GM’s
attorneys” (Pl.’s Eighteenth Opp’n 3), both of which are the subject of other motion in
limine practice (see Mem. Law Supp. New GM’s Mot. In Limine No. 10 (Docket No.
1619); Mem. Law Supp. New GM’s Mot. In Limine No. 11 (Docket No. 1630)).
Similarly, he expresses concern “to the extent that” the category “precludes discussion of
the knowledge of New GM attorneys related to the ignition switch defect,” which is
“relevant to Plaintiff’s failure to warn theory, his deceit claim, and to the availability of
punitive damages.” (Pl.’s Eighteenth Opp’n 3). In the Court’s view, however, Category
1 does not extend to any of those areas, but merely seeks to preclude Plaintiff from
making comments about topics such as the number of lawyers that have worked on behalf
of New GM or the amount of legal fees the company has spent, which would be patently
objectionable as irrelevant and prejudicial. To the extent that Category 1 does extend to
the areas flagged by Plaintiff, the Court’s rulings on the applicable motions in limine
would govern. And it goes without saying that if a New GM lawyer’s knowledge of the
defect is relevant to Plaintiff’s claims, he will be permitted to introduce it.
• Category 3: “Any statements or arguments which encourage or attempt to place the
jurors in the place of the plaintiff or his family members or friends.”
The parties appear to be in agreement that any such statements or arguments with
respect to damages would be improper, and the motion is thus granted to that extent —
but only to that extent. (See New GM’s Reply Supp. Mot. In Limine No. 18 (Docket No.
1780) (“New GM’s Eighteenth Reply”) 2; Pl.’s Eighteenth Opp’n 3).
• Categories 4 and 18: “Any references, statements, or arguments that the jury should
send New GM a message.”; and “Comments on New GM’s ability to pay any judgment,
including whether or not it is covered by insurance.”
New GM appears to concede that whether these categories are objectionable turns
on whether Plaintiff is permitted to seek punitive damages, which is the subject of its
pending summary judgment motion. (New GM’s Eighteenth Reply 2-3). As punitive
damages are currently in the case, the motion is denied as to these categories. If Plaintiff
is precluded from seeking punitive damages, it is hard to see why references or comments
falling within either category would be permissible — and the Court assumes that
Plaintiff would not seek to offer them. If Plaintiff is precluded from seeking punitive
damages, Plaintiff shall advise the Court and New GM if he believes otherwise before
offering any such evidence or argument.
• Categories 10 and 13: “References, remarks regarding, or reliance on hearsay
statements in newspapers, internet websites or blogs, magazines, books, or other
publications.”; and “Any hearsay statements by doctors or other healthcare
professionals regarding plaintiff’s injuries and the cause of such injuries.”
As discussed above, there is little gained by ruling on these requests in advance of
trial. If Plaintiff offers hearsay, and it does not fall within an exception to the prohibition
on hearsay, the Court will not admit it. On the other hand, an out-of-court statement that
might be hearsay if offered for the truth of the matter asserted might be admissible for
another purpose, see, e.g., Tennessee v. Street, 471 U.S. 409, 413 (1985) , or may fall
within an exception to the prohibition on hearsay, see Fed. R. Evid. 803-04. A motion in
limine is helpful if it addresses the admissibility of specific evidence in advance of trial,
especially if the question of admissibility is complex or hotly contested. It does little to
advance the ball if all the Court is asked to do is rule that inadmissible evidence will not
be admitted. Accordingly, New GM’s motion with respect to Categories 10 and 13 is
denied without prejudice to renewal at trial.
• Category 11: “References to the “bellwether” process, including the fact that this case
is one of the bellwether trials, as well as any references to who selected or “picked” this
case for trial.”
The Court agrees with New GM that the “bellwether” process — including how
and who selected Plaintiff’s case for trial — is irrelevant. Beyond that, whether and to
what extent Plaintiff may introduce evidence of “other similar incidents” is the subject of
separate motion practice and will be ruled upon in due course. (See Mem. Law Supp.
New GM’s Mot. In Limine No. 11).
• Category 12: “References to a 1973 memo authored by a former Old GM employee,
The Court is skeptical — for various reasons, including but not limited to
relevance and the Bankruptcy Court’s November 9, 2015 ruling, (see Case No. 09-50026
Docket No. 13533) — about the admissibility of a memorandum authored by an Old GM
employee thirty years before the car at issue in this case was even manufactured. That
said, New GM’s briefing is patently inadequate to justify ruling on the issue in advance
of trial. Its opening brief includes no discussion of the memorandum, let alone legal
argument about its admissibility — it merely includes the one sentence quoted above,
without additional explanation. Further, to the Court’s knowledge, New GM did not even
submit a copy of the memorandum to the Court to aid in its review. And although New
GM devoted a whopping four sentences to the issue in its reply, that discussion is hardly
sufficient either — and Plaintiff has obviously not had an opportunity to respond.
Accordingly, the motion is denied with respect to Category 12 without prejudice to
renewal at trial.
• Category 14: “Testimony regarding other alleged defects in the plaintiff’s vehicle or
any other Old or New GM vehicle that are not alleged to be causally related to the
accident or plaintiff’s injuries.”
Once again, the parties do not appear to have a dispute. Plaintiff appears to object
only “[t]o the extent that” the category “is meant to encompass all evidence” of cars “that
contained the deadly ignition switch defect” (Pl.’s Eighteenth Opp’n 8-9), which is the
subject of New GM’s Sixteenth Motion in Limine, addressed above. In its reply,
however, New GM clarifies that “the purpose of this category is to exclude evidence or
argument regarding other alleged vehicle defects (e.g., claimed roof defects) that have
nothing to do with this case.” (New GM’s Eighteenth Reply 4). The Court agrees that
such evidence and argument would be irrelevant — and does not understand Plaintiff to
• Category 15: “Evidence or argument regarding Old or New GM advertisements absent
an offer of proof outside the presence of the jury that plaintiff actually saw and relied on
This is another category that should probably have been the subject of its own
motion. In any event, New GM’s reply makes clear that whether the category is
admissible or not turns, at least in part, on arguments made in its summary judgment
motion. (See New GM’s Eighteenth Reply 5). Accordingly, the Court defers ruling on
the issue until after it resolves New GM’s motion for summary judgment.
• Category 20: “Arguments or remarks regarding any party’s failure to call any
particular witness available equally to all parties herein through the subpoena process.”
The Court can and will address this category through appropriate instructions to
the jury at trial and, if necessary, in advance of the parties’ summations.
In short, New GM’s Eighteenth Motion in Limine — unnecessary and inappropriate
though much of it is — is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, as discussed above.
For the foregoing reasons, New GM’s Sixteenth Motion in Limine is DENIED, its
Seventeenth Motion in Limine is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and its Eighteenth
Motion in Limine is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. More specifically, Plaintiff is not
categorically precluded from introducing evidence concerning non-Delta ignition switches; may
not raise evidence relating to the sufficiency of recall repairs performed on other vehicles, but is
not precluded from introducing other evidence relating to the adequacy of New GM’s recall
remedies. Finally, as explained above, Plaintiff is prohibited from raising certain categories of
evidence challenged in New GM’s Eighteenth Motion in Limine.
The Clerk of Court is directed to terminate 14-MD-2543, Docket Nos. 1639, 1641, and
1643; and 14-CV-8176, Docket Nos. 178, 180, and 182.
Dated: December 7, 2015
New York, New York
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