United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendants' Omnibus Motion in Limine [Doc.
No. 117], to which Plaintiff has responded [Doc. No. 134].
The Motion is fully briefed.
case involves claims and counterclaims between Plaintiff
Champakbhai Patel and Defendants Mahendra Kumar Patel and
I-35A Corp. Inc. arising from Plaintiff's investment in
hotel properties owned and managed by Defendants. Plaintiff
claims he was entitled to share in a distribution of proceeds
from sales of the properties; Defendants claim the proceeds
were used to repay outstanding loans and, in any event,
Plaintiff owed money to Defendants related to his original
investment and his misuse of corporate funds. The dispute
hinges in large part on undocumented loans allegedly obtained
by Defendants and incomplete business records. The case is
set for a nonjury trial on March 25, 2019.
seek pretrial rulings on the admissibility of two types of
evidence: 1) other lawsuits involving Defendant Patel or his
other companies; and 2) Defendant Patel's ownership
interests in other hotel properties. Defendants assert that
this evidence should be excluded under Rules 401 and 402,
Fed. R. Evid., as irrelevant to any trial issue or, if
relevant, should be excluded under Rule 403 as unduly
prejudicial or under Rule 404 as improper character evidence.
Defendants also move to exclude all evidence related to two
of Plaintiff's legal theories (breach of fiduciary duty
and conversion) and the issue of punitive damages, for the
asserted reason that these claims fail as a matter of
The Court agrees with Plaintiff, however, that this part of
Defendants' Motion constitutes an untimely dispositive
motion and should not be considered. Upon consideration of
the evidentiary issues properly raised by Defendants'
Motion, the Court makes the following determinations.
Standard of Decision
Court begins by noting the limited role that Defendants'
evidentiary objections play in a nonjury trial. Relevance is,
of course, the touchstone of admissibility. But according to
the Tenth Circuit, “excluding [prejudicial] evidence in
a bench trial under ‘Rule 403's weighing of
probative value against prejudice is improper.'”
United States v. Kienlen, 349 Fed.Appx. 349, 351
(10th Cir. 2009) (quoting Gulf States Utils. Co. v.
Ecodyne Corp., 635 F.2d 517, 519 (5th Cir.
1981), and citing Schultz v. Butcher, 24 F.3d 626,
632 (4th Cir. 1994) (“in the context of a bench trial,
evidence should not be excluded under 403 on the ground that
it is unfairly prejudicial”). There are practical
reasons for this rule:
Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, admissibility of
evidence is favored unless the probative value of the
evidence is so low as to warrant exclusion when prejudice is
a factor. Rule 403 was designed to keep evidence not germane
to any issue outside the purview of the jury's
consideration. For a bench trial, we are confident that the
district court can hear relevant evidence, weigh its
probative value and reject any improper inferences.
Schultz, 24 F.3d at 632. Thus, while a judge may
properly exclude relevant evidence under Rule 403 for
trial-related reasons - such as avoiding undue delay or a
waste of trial time - concerns of unfair prejudice or
confusion do not come into play, “for the trial judge
is presumed to be able to exclude improper inferences from
his or her own decisional analysis.” Bic Corp. v.
Far E. Source Corp., 23 Fed.Appx. 36, 39 (2d Cir. 2001);
see also Ambrose v. Roeckeman, 749 F.3d
615, 621 (7th Cir. 2014) (“‘When the judge sits
as the trier of fact, it is presumed that the judge will
understand the limited reason for the disclosure of the
underlying inadmissible information [under Rule 703] and will
not rely on that information for any improper
purpose.'”) (quoting Williams v. Illinois,
567 U.S. 50, 69 (2012) (plurality opinion)).
Plaintiff's Challenged Evidence
Other Litigation Involving Defendant Patel
shown by a proposed exhibit, Plaintiff intends to introduce
evidence of twelve other lawsuits in which Defendant Patel or
a company owned by him were parties. In response to
Defendants' Motion, however, Plaintiff admits that only
one lawsuit has any relevance to the claims and issues to be
decided. Plaintiff states he intends to use evidence of other
cases for impeachment purposes only, if Defendant Patel
denies involvement in other litigation during his trial
testimony. See Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 4-5. Plaintiff
thus concedes that, except for one lawsuit, the challenged
evidence is inadmissible during his case in chief.
allegedly pertinent litigation is a California case regarding
the breach of a commercial real estate lease for hotel space
in Los Angeles. Defendant Patel was sued by the lessors of
the property after he took an assignment of the lease, based
on his alleged failure to make timely rent payments and to
maintain the property. The case concerned events in 2004 and
2005, was decided by a bench trial in 2009, and resulted in a
judgment against Defendant Patel for damages of $893, 916,
prejudgment interest of $121, 411, attorney fees, and costs.
The judgment was affirmed on appeal. See Colony Bancorp
of Malibu, Inc. v. Patel, 138 Cal.Rptr.3d 839
theory of admissibility is that the Colony Bancorp
case involved “very similar” facts because
Defendant Patel's son, Sagar Kumar, was involved in
management of the hotel properties in both cases and Mr.
Kumar testified in the prior case regarding alleged
investments in and repairs to the property for which there
were no business records. See Pl.'s Resp. Br. at
3. Plaintiff compares the lack of supporting documentation in
Colony Bancorp to the alleged “phantom
loans” in this case. Id. Plaintiff also argues
that the Colony Bancorp case yields admissible Rule
404(b) evidence because Defendant Patel's prior claims of
undocumented loans to make renovations that were not actually
made, is “suspicious activity” that tends to show
“the exact same activity in the present case is not a
mistake or accident.” Id. at 4.
Court is not persuaded that there are sufficient factual
similarities between the two cases to warrant the admission
of evidence regarding the Colony Bancorp case in the
trial of this one. Plaintiff's argument demonstrates only
that Defendant Patel defended prior litigation regarding poor
hotel management with contentions for which he lacked
supporting documentation, and those contentions were rejected
by the trier of fact. In the Court's view, Plaintiff has
not sufficiently demonstrated that this tends to show a
material fact alleged in this case is “more or less
probable than it would be without the evidence.”
Fed.R.Evid. 401(a). As the Court understands the case,
Defendant Patel admits he lacks loan documentation and
business records to support his contentions. Whether the
alleged loans actually ...