This blog post will describe the difference between pre-trial case dispositive motions and motions that impact the admissibility of evidence at trial. I recounted in a previous post that (1) motions to dismiss and (2) motions for summary judgment are case dispositive motions. That means that if either party ultimately wins the motion, the claim or a portion of the claim is definitively won by the moving party unless the court grants leave to fix the identified issue. Motions in limine and Daubert motions, however, concern what evidence is admissible at trial.
Motions in Limine
Federal evidentiary rules require the court to conduct a jury trial so that inadmissible evidence is not suggested to the jury by any means.1 Policyholders and insurers often seek to clarify a trial’s evidentiary parameters by filing motions in limine. Motions in limine are requests made before or during trial “to exclude anticipated prejudicial evidence before the evidence is actually offered.”2 Motions in limine provide the judge an opportunity to stop prejudicial error from infecting the trial before it even begins. Federal courts often grant motions in limine when the introduction of certain evidence is clearly so improper that it would substantially impair a party’s ability to receive a fair trial. Preventing the jury from hearing this type of inadmissible evidence can save the court from being forced to declare a mistrial in the action. Nonetheless, judges have recognized that evidentiary decisions are often context-specific rulings that should generally be made during the actual trial.3 Therefore, courts will often defer ruling or deny without prejudice motions in limine and address the issue identified in the motion once a proper objection is raised at trial.
Daubert motions concern the admissibility of expert opinions at trial. Federal evidence rules permit experts qualified by their knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education to provide opinion testimony if:
(a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.4
Successful Daubert motions—which challenge an expert based on one or more of the criteria above—can dramatically impact a case. The courts possess inherent gatekeeping authority to prevent an expert from opining on ultimate issues. Thus, if an expert is barred from testifying, the party may face an inability to meet its evidentiary burden of proof. Therefore, although the party was permitted to proceed to trial, the bar of expert testimony may severely inhibit a party’s ability to win at trial.
This blog series has identified and explained the four most common motions filed in federal court: (1) the motion to dismiss, (2) the motion for summary judgment, (3) motions in limine, and (4) Daubert motions. The next phase of the series will address what policyholders can expect during trial and after trial.
1 Fed. R. Evid. 103(d).
2 Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40 n. 2 (1984).
3 See Robinson v. Linde Lift Truck, 2003 WL 25686836, at *1 (M.D. Fla. 2003).
4 Rule 702(a)-(d), Fed. R. Evid.