425 P.3d 669 (Mont. 2018), DA 17-0681, Daley v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company

Docket Nº:DA 17-0681
Citation:425 P.3d 669, 392 Mont. 311, 2018 MT 197
Opinion Judge:Jim Rice, Justice
Party Name:Kenneth DALEY, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. BURLINGTON NORTHERN SANTA FE RAILWAY COMPANY, a Delaware for Profit Corporation; Great Northern Railway Company, a Foreign for Profit Corporation, and Does A-Z inclusive, Defendants and Appellees.
Attorney:For Appellant: John F. Lacey, Ethan Aubrey Welder, McGarvey, Heberling, Sullivan & Lacey, P.C., Kalispell, Montana, James T. Towe, Kimberly L. Towe, Toe & Fitzpatrick, PLLC, Missoula, Montana For Appellees: Chad M. Knight, Anthony M. Nicastro, Nadia H. Patrick, Steven T. Williams, Knight Nicastro...
Judge Panel:We concur: LAURIE McKINNON, J., BETH BAKER, J., INGRID GUSTAFSON, J. Dirk Sandefur, Justice
Case Date:August 14, 2018
Court:Supreme Court of Montana

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425 P.3d 669 (Mont. 2018)

392 Mont. 311, 2018 MT 197

Kenneth DALEY, Plaintiff and Appellant,

v.

BURLINGTON NORTHERN SANTA FE RAILWAY COMPANY, a Delaware for Profit Corporation; Great Northern Railway Company, a Foreign for Profit Corporation, and Does A-Z inclusive, Defendants and Appellees.

No. DA 17-0681

Supreme Court of Montana

August 14, 2018

Submitted on Briefs: May 23, 2018

Rehearing Denied: September 18, 2018

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DV-05-882(C), Honorable Heidi Ulbricht, Presiding Judge

For Appellant: John F. Lacey, Ethan Aubrey Welder, McGarvey, Heberling, Sullivan & Lacey, P.C., Kalispell, Montana, James T. Towe, Kimberly L. Towe, Toe & Fitzpatrick, PLLC, Missoula, Montana

For Appellees: Chad M. Knight, Anthony M. Nicastro, Nadia H. Patrick, Steven T. Williams, Knight Nicastro, LLC, Boulder, Colorado

OPINION

Jim Rice, Justice

[392 Mont. 312][¶ 1] Plaintiff Kenneth Daley (Daley) appeals from the jury verdict in favor of Defendant

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Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company ("BN"), entered in the Eleventh Judicial District Court, Flathead County. We address the following issues raised by Daley:

  1. Did the District Court abuse its discretion by excluding evidence at trial?

2. Was Daley denied a fair trial due to BN’s trial misconduct?

3. Was Daley denied a fair trial due to BN’s discovery misconduct?

We affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

[¶ 2] Daley brought this case against BN under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) and the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA). Daley worked at the Somers rail tie treatment plant operated by BN’s predecessor from 1967 until it closed in 1986, and alleged injury from exposure to asbestos during his work there. The case was heavily litigated, with many pretrial motions. In July 2017, after a seven-day trial, a jury determined that BN had not violated the standard of care [392 Mont. 313] under FELA and had not violated the LIA. After trial, Daley moved the Court to enter default judgment against BN for asserted litigation misconduct, which was deemed denied. Daley appeals. Additional facts as necessary will be provided herein.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶ 3] The parties agree that issues raised by Daley are reviewed for abuse of discretion. "We review a district court’s evidentiary rulings for an abuse of discretion. The district court has broad discretion in determining the admissibility of evidence." Puccinelli v. Puccinelli, 2012 MT 46, ¶ 12, 364 Mont. 235, 272 P.3d 117. A district court’s determination to impose sanctions for litigation misconduct is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Spotted Horse v. BNSF Ry. Co., 2015 MT 148, ¶ 15, 379 Mont. 314, 350 P.3d 52 (citations omitted). We review a district court’s decisions regarding discovery for abuse of discretion. In re Estate of Harmon, 2011 MT 84A, ¶ 52, 360 Mont. 150, 253 P.3d 821 (amended; citations omitted). "[W]e generally defer to the district court because it is in the best position to determine both whether the party in question has disregarded the opponent’s rights, and which sanctions are most appropriate." Spotted Horse, ¶ 15 (citations omitted); accord Harmon, ¶ 52 (citations omitted). Similarly, "[a] district court has broad discretion when instructing a jury, which the appellate court reviews for abuse of discretion. We review the instructions as a whole to determine whether they fully and fairly instruct the jury on the applicable law. Reversible error occurs only when the instructions prejudice the defendant’s substantial rights." State v. Sanchez, 2017 MT 192, ¶ 7, 388 Mont. 262, 399 P.3d 886 (internal citations omitted). An abuse of discretion occurs if the district court acts arbitrarily without the employment of conscientious judgment, or exceeds the bounds of reason resulting in substantial injustice. State v. Sage, 2010 MT 156, ¶ 21, 357 Mont. 99, 235 P.3d 1284 (citations omitted).

DISCUSSION

[¶ 4] 1. Did the District Court abuse its discretion by excluding evidence at trial?

[¶ 5] Daley challenges many of the District Court’s trial evidentiary rulings, which we analyze individually below. Foundationally, relevant evidence is "evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable," including evidence "bearing upon the credibility of a witness," M. R. Evid. 401, and is generally admissible, M. R. Evid. 402. [392 Mont. 314] Relevant evidence may be excluded "if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence." M. R. Evid. 403. Evidence of other acts is not admissible to prove character "in order to show action in conformity therewith," however, may be admitted for other purposes, including knowledge. M. R. Evid. 404(b). Evidence "of habit or of routine practice" is generally admissible to prove conduct in conformity therewith. M. R. Evid. 406(b).

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[¶ 6] Applying these principles, we have determined that "[e]vidence of other accidents is not admissible to show negligence." Faulconbridge v. State, 2006 MT 198, ¶ 30, 333 Mont. 186, 142 P.3d 777 (citations omitted). However, such evidence may be admitted "to show the existence of a danger or defect and notice or knowledge thereof" if the other accidents are "substantially similar to" and "not too remote from the accident in question." Faulconbridge, ¶ 30 (citations omitted).

[¶ 7] Daley’s arguments broadly assert that BN obtained favorable rulings to its requests to exclude evidence, and then made arguments that would have been contradicted by the excluded evidence. "[T]he authority to grant or deny a motion in limine rests in the inherent power of the court to admit or exclude evidence and to take such precautions as are necessary to afford a fair trial for all parties." State v. Ankeny, 2010 MT 224, ¶ 38, 358 Mont. 32, 243 P.3d 391 (citations omitted). We have held that, when one party "opens the door" by broaching a topic that has been excluded, the trial court does not abuse its discretion by permitting the other party to offer evidence to correct a false impression. State v. Guill, 2010 MT 69, ¶ 39, 355 Mont. 490, 228 P.3d 1152 (citations omitted). "District courts have broad discretion to determine the extent to which a party may respond once the other party opens the door." Guill, ¶ 39 (citations omitted).

BN’s 2004 10-K Report.

[¶ 8] BN’s 2004 Form 10-K, a report required by the Securities and Exchange Commission for distribution to shareholders, stated in part: The company is party to a number of personal injury claims by employees who worked around asbestos. The heaviest exposure for [BN] employees was due to work conducted in an around the use of steam locomotive engines that were phased out between the years of 1950 and 1967. However, other types of exposure, including exposure from locomotive component parts and building materials, continued after 1967, until substantially eliminated by 1985.

[392 Mont. 315][¶ 9] The District Court granted BN’s motion in limine to exclude the argument that BN had placed "profits over safety," reasoning that BN’s profits were irrelevant to its standard of care under FELA to provide a "reasonably safe" workplace. The Form 10-K was referenced in the Court’s order as evidence that could be offered in support of the prohibited "profits over safety" argument.

[¶ 10] As Daley’s Counsel was preparing to give his opening statement, Defense Counsel noticed an enlargement of the Form 10-K and asked for a sidebar conference, objecting that the Form had been excluded by the Court’s order, and that it referenced other personal injury claims not substantially similar to Daley’s. Daley responded that the order had merely precluded arguments about "profits over safety," and did not exclude the Form 10-K altogether. The District Court barred Daley’s use of the Form in his opening, reasoning it was excluded by the order and that only stipulated exhibits should be used in opening statements, and denied a later attempt by Daley’s Counsel to offer it.

[¶ 11] Daley argues the Court erred because Form 10-K was not subject to the order, and was admissible under several hearsay exceptions. He argues BN, after getting the Form excluded, later argued that Daley had not been exposed to asbestos while working around locomotives, despite the general acknowledgement on Form 10-K of the existence of such claims, and that, therefore, "Daley was not allowed to present the truth, including [BN]’s admissions against interest." BN answers that the evidence was properly excluded on Rule 403 grounds, as the referenced claims on the Form were too remote, and that any alleged error was harmless because similar evidence about steam locomotives containing asbestos was presented by Daley’s experts during trial.

[¶ 12] Given that we review evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion, Puccinelli, ¶ 12, the District Court’s interpretation of its own evidentiary ruling would receive the same deferential review, and we are disinclined to second-guess the Court’s application of its prior ruling. Form 10-K was referenced within the Court’s "profits over safety" order,

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and the Court could have reasonably interpreted the order as excluding that document when the issue was revisited. Even if Form 10-K had not been previously referenced, the District Court could have later extended its ruling to the Form. Daley...

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9 practice notes
  • Wenger v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 021621 MTSC, DA 20-0067
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court of Montana
    • 16 February 2021
    ...Jarvenpaa v. Glacier Elec. Coop., 1998 MT 306, ¶ 12, 292 Mont. 118, 970 P.2d 84; see also Daley v. Burlington N. Santa Fe Ry., 2018 MT 197, ¶ 3, 392 Mont. 311, 425 P.3d 669 ("The district court has broad discretion in determining the admissibility of evidence.&......
  • 467 P.3d 545 (Mont. 2020), DA 19-0664, Nolan v. Billings Clinic
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court of Montana
    • 30 June 2020
    ...district courts have broad discretion when imposing Page 547 discovery sanctions); Daley v. BNSF Ry. Co., 2018 MT 197, ¶3, 392 Mont. 311, 425 P.3d 669 ("The district court has broad discretion in determining the admissibility of evidence."); Peterson v. St. Pau......
  • Bollinger v. Billings Clinic, 021219 MTSC, DA 18-0265
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court of Montana
    • 12 February 2019
    ...P.3d 1048. We review a district court's discovery rulings for abuse of discretion. Daley v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Ry., 2018 MT 197, ¶ 3, 392 Mont. 311, 425 P.3d DISCUSSION ¶28 I. Whether the District Court erred in upholding the Human Rights Bureau's decision......
  • In re Asbestos Litigation, 120718 MTSC, AC 17-0694
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court of Montana
    • 7 December 2018
    ...the door, and may be admissible consistent with the principles articulated in Daley v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Ry., 2018 MT 197, ¶¶16-19, 392 Mont. 311, 425 P.3d 669 and Faulconbridge v. State, 2006 MT 198, ¶¶30-31, 333 Mont. 186, 12 P.3d (3) IP's Motion i......
  • Free signup to view additional results
9 cases
  • Wenger v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 021621 MTSC, DA 20-0067
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court of Montana
    • 16 February 2021
    ...Jarvenpaa v. Glacier Elec. Coop., 1998 MT 306, ¶ 12, 292 Mont. 118, 970 P.2d 84; see also Daley v. Burlington N. Santa Fe Ry., 2018 MT 197, ¶ 3, 392 Mont. 311, 425 P.3d 669 ("The district court has broad discretion in determining the admissibility of evidence.&......
  • 467 P.3d 545 (Mont. 2020), DA 19-0664, Nolan v. Billings Clinic
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court of Montana
    • 30 June 2020
    ...district courts have broad discretion when imposing Page 547 discovery sanctions); Daley v. BNSF Ry. Co., 2018 MT 197, ¶3, 392 Mont. 311, 425 P.3d 669 ("The district court has broad discretion in determining the admissibility of evidence."); Peterson v. St. Pau......
  • Bollinger v. Billings Clinic, 021219 MTSC, DA 18-0265
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court of Montana
    • 12 February 2019
    ...P.3d 1048. We review a district court's discovery rulings for abuse of discretion. Daley v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Ry., 2018 MT 197, ¶ 3, 392 Mont. 311, 425 P.3d DISCUSSION ¶28 I. Whether the District Court erred in upholding the Human Rights Bureau's decision......
  • In re Asbestos Litigation, 120718 MTSC, AC 17-0694
    • United States
    • Montana Supreme Court of Montana
    • 7 December 2018
    ...the door, and may be admissible consistent with the principles articulated in Daley v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Ry., 2018 MT 197, ¶¶16-19, 392 Mont. 311, 425 P.3d 669 and Faulconbridge v. State, 2006 MT 198, ¶¶30-31, 333 Mont. 186, 12 P.3d (3) IP's Motion i......
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