Enright v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co.

Decision Date12 March 1998
Docket NumberNo. 1:91-CV-108.,1:91-CV-108.
Citation2 F.Supp.2d 1072
PartiesJames M. ENRIGHT, Plaintiff and Counter-Defendant, v. AUTO-OWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant and Counter-Claimant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana

Craig J. Bobay, Carolyn M. Trier, Hunt and Suedhoff, Fort Wayne, IN, Charles T. Jennings, Carmel, IN, Brian L. England, Hunt Suedhoff, Borror, & Eilbacher, Fort Wayne, IN, for Auto-Owners Ins. Co.

PRETRIAL SCHEDULING ORDER

WILLIAM C. LEE, Chief Judge.

The court has determined that in order to ensure the interests of justice and to most effectively utilize the court's resources, it is imperative that certain time restrictions be put in place prior to the trial of this cause. The court appreciates that it would be useful to the parties to be advised of these time limits well in advance of trial so that they may plan their presentations accordingly and most effectively. Accordingly, for the reasons discussed below, the court hereby enters this Pretrial Scheduling Order sua sponte.

DISCUSSION

The trial of this action is currently scheduled to commence on June 8, 1998, more than seven years after the case was filed. As this court explained in one of several previous Orders entered in this case, this lawsuit has a tortured history. The case has dragged on for years, having been complicated by stays in the proceedings (including a lengthy stay to await the outcome of state criminal proceedings related to the house fire that led to this bad-faith claim), countless discovery disputes, a bankruptcy by the Plaintiff, and, most significantly, the general machinations of the parties. The court's file in this case presently consists of 19 volumes and more than 500 docket entries. There have been literally dozens of discovery disputes and various motions by both sides. The court is currently working to resolve nearly three dozen motions in limine, three motions for sanctions (one filed by the Plaintiff and two by the Defendant), and four motions for partial summary judgment. And yet this is not, as one might assume from the statistics just mentioned, a complex piece of litigation. The entire case stems from a house fire that occurred at Enright's residence in Hamilton, Indiana. Suspecting that the fire was arson and that Enright himself set it, Auto-Owners denied coverage. This bad-faith suit resulted from that denial. But the parties have managed to turn this seemingly straightforward case into one of massive proportion. This court, like all other district courts, is not unfamiliar with large and complex cases. In fact, another recent insurance case filed in this court, Indiana Gas Company, Inc., et al. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Company et al., involved more than two dozen volumes of files and over 560 docket entries. However, that case involved numerous complex issues of insurance and environmental law, and involved more than two dozen parties. Despite that, the case was resolved in approximately two years. It is absurd that the present bad faith case has been litigated in such a manner as to generate an equivalent amount of paper as was generated in a highly complex insurance coverage dispute. And, despite their protestations to the contrary (as illustrated in part by the cross-motions for sanctions), the court is convinced that both parties to this action bear responsibility for turning this case into the most over-litigated, overly contentious case on this court's docket in the last 17 years. Having stated that, the court is not unmindful of the fact that there is possibly much at stake in this action. Enright is seeking compensatory as well as punitive damages and so Auto-Owners could conceivably face a very large judgment. On the other hand, of course, Enright could walk away with absolutely nothing after more than seven years of litigation. This court stands ready and willing to try this case so that a jury can, once and for all, and one way or the other, put this lawsuit out of its misery. Still, the court has no intention of allowing the parties to conduct themselves at trial in the same contentious and inefficient manner they have exhibited up to this point. Allowing the trial of this case to drag on for an inordinate period (the parties estimated that trial would take two weeks) would be a disservice to the litigants, the jurors, and the taxpayers, and would result an unnecessary drain on the resources of the court. Again, this is simply not a complex case. As a result, the court hereby directs that the parties will be permitted a total of 15 hours per side in which to try this case. This 15-hour time limit will include opening and closing statements, direct examination, and cross-examination. The parties are, of course, free to present as many of their witnesses and any other evidence they deem necessary within the time permitted. Also, the 30-hour total time limit will not apply to recesses, court-initiated bench conferences or any interruptions of trial time for any court business.

The placing of time limits on litigants at trial is not often done (generally because it is not necessary), although it is far from unprecedented. Virtually all federal courts that have dealt with the issue recognize that time limits are sometimes a necessary and effective tool to help expedite trials by forcing the parties to crystallize their arguments, avoid the introduction of cumulative evidence, and present their cases to the jury in a clear and concise manner. The Seventh Circuit has explained that "`it has never been supposed that a party has an absolute right to force upon an unwilling tribunal an unending and superfluous mass of testimony limited only by his own judgment and whim .... The rule should merely declare the trial court empowered to enforce a limit when in its discretion the situation justifies this.'" MCI Communications v. American Tel. & Tel. Co., 708 F.2d 1081, 1171 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 891, 104 S.Ct. 234, 78 L.Ed.2d 226 (1983) (quoting 6 Wigmore, Evidence § 1907 (Chadbourne Rev.1976)). Addressing such time restrictions, the Seventh Circuit concluded that "[t]his approach is not, per se, an abuse of discretion." Id. Rather, the Seventh Circuit acknowledged that such limitations may indeed be appropriate, "provided that witnesses are not excluded on the basis of mere numbers." Id. The court explained that "[t]he circumstances of each individual case must be weighed by the trial judge, who is in the best position to determine how long it may reasonably take to try the case." Id. at 1172. By imposing the 30-hour time limit in this case, the court does not seek to arbitrarily limit the number of witnesses the parties may present. Rather, the goal is to induce the parties to elicit testimony through well-planned and thoughtful direct and cross-examination, and to avoid calling witnesses whose testimony is merely cumulative. Streamlining the presentation of their cases should not be an undue burden for either side. Both Plaintiff's counsel and defense counsel are intimately familiar with the facts, issues and evidence to be debated at trial, having litigated this case so thoroughly (or, in the court's opinion, having over-litigated it so dramatically) over many years. Despite the massive amount of discovery that has been conducted, this case, as the court has now stated several times, is not very complex. Both sides seek to call expert witnesses to testify as to their theories about the cause and origin of the fire and the handling of the subsequent investigations of that fire.1 The testimony of the Plaintiff and the testimony of various officers or employees of Auto-Owners will obviously be crucial. The court has no intention of micro-managing the parties' cases. Each side is free to present however many witnesses they deem necessary. It is for the parties, and not the court, to make the determination about which witnesses are truly necessary and, in addition, how much of each witness' testimony is necessary. The goal of imposing time limits in this case is to prevent the parties from attempting to "pile on" cumulative testimony and other evidence. It would not seem necessary, for example, for Auto-Owners to call a parade of fact and expert witnesses to establish that it had evidence that the fire was deliberately set. As one district judge noted in an order imposing time limits in a case, his court "was once subjected to the calling of ten firemen in an arson prosecution to prove a house burned down." United States v. Reaves, 636 F.Supp. 1575, 1576 (E.D.Ky.1986). This is precisely the type of approach to the presentation of evidence that this present Order is intended to prevent.

In MCI Communications, the Seventh Circuit upheld a challenge to the district court, which had imposed a 26-day time limit for the presentation of each party's case-in-chief. Prior to the imposition of the court's time restrictions, Defendant AT & T had predicted that the case, which was a major antitrust suit, would take eight to nine months to try. Nonetheless, the Seventh Circuit held that the district court's time limit was not unreasonable under the circumstances, let alone a denial of due process.

The Seventh Circuit is certainly not alone in recognizing the validity of time restrictions in both civil and criminal trials. For example, the Third Circuit addressed the issue in Duquesne Light Company v. Westinghouse Electric Corporation, 66 F.3d 604 (3rd Cir. 1995). That court wrote:

Although the procedural rules governing federal civil litigation do not explicitly authorize a district court to set time limits for a trial, a district court has inherent power "to control cases before it," provided it exercises the power "`in a manner that is in harmony with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.'" G. Heileman...

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