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Bangs v. Follin

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

January 13, 2017

Robert Bangs
v.
Diana & Dawn Follin

          Edward C. Gill, Esq. Law Office of Edward C. Gill, & Associates.

          David C. Malatesta, Jr., Esq. Kent & McBride, P.C.

          Monica E. O'Neill, Esq. Four Penn Center.

         Counsel:

         This letter order addresses Plaintiff Robert Bangs' (hereinafter "Mr. Bangs'") recently filed motion in limine. By previous letter order, the Court ruled on other motions raised by the Defendants Diana and Dawn Follin (hereinafter "Follin Defendants").[1] Trial in this matter is scheduled to begin on January 23, 2017. It involves Mr. Bangs' claim that he fell through a hole in the residence that he previously rented from the Follin Defendants. The Follin Defendants claim that Mr. Bangs falsified his injury claim because of his need for money and because of legal and other disagreements with them.

         In preparation for trial, the parties shared proposed trial exhibits and disagreements persist. Mr. Bangs sought leave to file this additional motion in limine addressing certain common objections to the Follin Defendants' exhibits. His motion, however, also separately lists foundational and other objections to the majority of the Follin Defendants' forty-three trial exhibits.

         In this Order, the Court will address Mr. Bangs' primary objections that (1) evidence of poverty is not relevant or admissible to support an inference that Defendant manufactured a false claim against the Follin Defendants; (2) Delaware Rule of Evidence ("DRE") 404(b) poverty related evidence offered to show separate relevance such as motive, opportunity, preparation and plan is inadmissible; and (3) the expert reports are inadmissible. For the reasons discussed below, evidence of Mr. Bangs' economic means is inadmissible for any purpose. Furthermore, the expert reports are likewise inadmissible. However, the Court does not agree with Mr. Bangs' contention that evidence offered pursuant to DRE 404(b) cannot be relevant under any circumstances. The Court will reserve decision regarding that issue, as well as Mr. Bangs' other objections including relevance, DRE 403, foundation, discovery violations, and hearsay. More evidentiary context is necessary prior to the Court's decision on those issues.

         Evidence of Mr. Bangs' Poverty Offered to Show Motive to Falsify a Claim is Inadmissible

         After reviewing the motion, response, and the exhibits, the Court finds that evidence of Mr. Bangs' poverty offered for the purposes of proving his alleged motive to manufacture a claim is at most marginally relevant to any fact of consequence. Nevertheless, if there is any relevance to such evidence, it is inadmissible pursuant to DRE 403 because any such relevance would be substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice or confusing the issues. Furthermore, in considering evidence of economic means offered for a purpose advanced pursuant to DRE 404(b), DRE 403 also separately requires exclusion at trial of any such evidence .

         Courts generally recognize, in the context of criminal cases, that poverty is not admissible to show that a person is more likely to commit a crime because of need.[2]Likewise, evidence of poverty is no more relevant in the civil context to establish the likelihood that a person experiencing financial difficulties is somehow more likely to falsify a personal injury claim.[3] In balancing any marginal relevance in a civil claim, where money compensation for pain and suffering is the only recourse permitted, the Court finds an even greater risk of unfair prejudice and confusion of the issues than in the criminal context. Any arguably marginal relevance would be substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice to Mr. Bangs.

         Several of the exhibits offered by the Follin Defendants are clearly offered solely for this purpose and are accordingly barred from admission at trial. These include Defendant's Exhibit No. 4 which is a letter "To Whom it may concern" asking for charitable assistance, and Defendant's Exhibit No. 10 which is a notice of a social security hearing. These exhibits are offered only to establish Plaintiff's poverty and are therefore not admissible pursuant to DRE 403. Additionally, Follin Defendants' Exhibit No. 21 is alleged to be Mr. Bangs' letter to Catholic Charities requesting assistance and is likewise inadmissible for the same reason. Finally, Defendants' Exhibit No. 25, which includes liens and judgments due against Mr. Bangs, is also inadmissible.

         Furthermore, to the extent any of the other exhibits or other evidence are offered to establish poverty, even to prove a separate relevance contemplated by DRE 404(b), they are likewise inadmissible pursuant to DRE 403. There, any such purported relevance to an itemized separate purpose in DRE 404(b) would be substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice and confusion of the issues.

         The Court's decision here rests solely on the propriety of offering evidence regarding Mr. Bangs' economic means. Absent Mr. Bangs opening the door, such evidence will not be admissible at trial for any purpose. On the other hand, the Court reserves decision regarding the admissibility of any documents or testimony offered to prove the tenancy related legal disputes between the parties, and the course of the parties' relationship. Contrary to Mr. Bangs' argument, although character evidence is inadmissible in civil matters, DRE 404(b) permits such evidence for purposes other than character evidence in the civil context.[4] As such, many of the documents at issue may be relevant and admissible directly, or separately admissible for a DRE 404(b) purpose.

         Expert Reports ...


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