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Grossklaus Kucirek v. Jared

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 29, 2019

CARLA DANIELLE GROSSKLAUS KUCIREK, Personal Representative for the Estate and Heirs of Theresa Ann Grossklaus deceased, Plaintiff,



         Two motions in limine are pending before the Court: Defendants' Motion in Limine (Dkt. 50) and Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence, Testimony, Reference or Argument. (Dkt. 51.) On March 21, 2019, the Court heard oral argument on the motions. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion and will also grant in part and deny in part Plaintiff's motion.


         This case centers around a highway collision between a pickup truck and a bicyclist that left the bicyclist dead at the scene of the accident. On July 18, 2014, Theresa Grossklaus was riding a bicycle east on U.S. Highway 12 near Orofino, Idaho. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 10; Dkt. 25 at 1.) At the same time, on-duty Clearwater County Deputy Sheriff Mitchell B. Jared was driving east on the highway in an unmarked patrol vehicle-a Dodge Ram pickup truck. (Dkt. 10 ¶ 11.) Deputy Jared's truck hit the bicycle from behind, and Grossklaus's body was propelled from the bicycle and struck by Deputy Jared's still-moving truck. Id. at ¶ 20. Grossklaus was pronounced dead at the scene due to injuries sustained from blunt force trauma to her head, torso, and extremities. Id.; Dkt. 32-3 at 2.

         The cause of Ms. Grossklaus' death, blunt force trauma, is not at issue. However, the question of whether she caused or contributed to the accident that resulted in her death is central to the claims and defenses in this case. The following facts relate to that issue and to the parties' motions in limine.

         The collision occurred at approximately 10:13 a.m. on a day with clear visibility and dry roadway conditions. (Dkt. 26 at 2.) According to the record before the Court, there are multiple eye witnesses who reported seeing Ms. Grossklaus on the highway the day of the collision.[2] (Dkt. 55 at 4.) Two of eye witnesses saw and passed Ms. Grossklaus on the roadway prior to the collision. The first of these eye witnesses reported passing Ms. Grossklaus on the bicycle sometime prior to the collision. (Dkt. 61-1.) He stated that Ms. Grossklaus was swerving into the middle lane of traffic, approximately 8 to 10 feet from the road's shoulder and in front of cars Id. Another eye witness, traveling on a motorcycle, passed Ms. Grossklaus minutes before the collision and stated that she was weaving in and out of the traffic lane. (Dkt. 52 at 17.)

         Several other eyewitnesses were driving behind Deputy Jared's truck. One of these eyewitnesses was traveling approximately 150 feet behind Deputy Jared's truck.[3] This driver stated that she saw Ms. Grossklaus on the bicycle just prior to the collision and that Ms. Grossklaus was riding the bicycle on or near the road's white fog line at that time. This witness saw the collision occur from behind Deputy Jared. The second of these witnesses was driving 300 feet behind Deputy Jared's truck (and thus, also behind the first of these eye witnesses). (Dkt. 52 at 29-30.) The driver stated that he saw Ms. Grossklaus riding near the fog line but did not witness the collision because he looked away just before impact. Id. According to the record before the Court, Deputy Jared did not see Ms. Grossklaus until the moment just before impact or at the moment of impact. (Dkt. 55 at 4.)

         Plaintiff retained an accident reconstructionist who opined that Deputy Jared's vehicle was traveling at a speed of 52 miles per hour, plus or minus 5.2 miles per hour at impact. (Dkt. 29 at 2.3.) The posted speed limit for the section of Highway 12 where the collision occurred was 50 miles per hour. Plaintiff's expert determined also Ms. Grossklaus was riding the bicycle within 1.1 feet from the roadway's fog line at the time of impact. Id. She was wearing a bicycle helmet. (Dkt. 32-5 at 2.) However, the precise location Ms. Grossklaus was riding on the roadway at the time of impact is a contested fact to be determined by the jury in this case.

         Three officers from the Idaho State Police were dispatched to the site of the collision. (Dkt. 32-3 at 2.) The Clearwater County chief deputy and Orofino police sergeant also arrived on scene. Id. Ms. Grossklaus's body was taken into custody by the Clearwater County Coroner, William Rambeau. Mr. Rambeau produced a report, the contents of which will be discussed in further detail below as it relates in part to Plaintiff's motion in limine.


         On July 15, 2016, Carla Danielle Grossklaus Kucirek, the personal representative for the estate and heirs of Theresa Ann Grossklaus, filed a complaint in the District Court of the Second Judicial District of Idaho. Amended on December 23, 2016, Plaintiff's complaint asserts three claims: first, that Ms. Grossklaus's death was the result of Deputy Jared's negligence, carelessness, reckless, and grossly negligent conduct; second, that as employers of Deputy Jared, Defendants Clearwater County, Clearwater County Sheriff's Department, and the Clearwater County Sheriff, failed and neglected to ensure Deputy Jared was properly trained; and third, Defendants' careless and negligent actions and omissions violated Ms. Grossklaus's constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983.

         Defendants removed this case to the Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1441. (Dkt. 1.) On January 10, 2018, Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. 24), which the Court granted in part and denied in part. (Dkt. 43.) The Court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the Section 1983 claim asserted against Deputy Jared, noting, however, the potential for sufficient evidence to be presented at trial to revive the claim. (See Dkt. 43 at 14 n. 3.) The Court also granted the motion as to the Monell claims asserted against Clearwater County, Clearwater County Sheriff's Department, and the Clearwater County Sheriff. Id. at 15. Finally, the Court granted the motion as to the state law negligent hiring claims as well as the claims against Deputy Jared's wife, Julie. A. Jared. The Court denied Defendants' motion as to the state law negligence claims asserted against Deputy Jared. Id. at 16-22. The pending motions in limine relate to the presentation of evidence regarding the negligence claims presently set for a jury trial beginning April 23, 2019.


         A. Motions in Limine

         There is no express authority for motions in limine in either the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or the Federal Rules of Evidence. Nevertheless, these motions are well recognized in practice and by case law. See, e.g., Ohler v. United States, 529 U.S. 753, 758 (2000). The key function of a motion in limine is to “exclude prejudicial evidence before the evidence is actually offered.” Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 40 (1984).

         Generally, motions in limine excluding broad categories of evidence are disfavored-as such issues are more fairly dealt with during trial as the admissibility of evidence arises. Sperberg v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Co., 519 F.2d 708, 712 (6th Cir. 1975). Additionally, it is sometimes necessary to defer ruling until trial when a better estimate of the impact of the evidence on the jury can be made by the trial judge. Crawford v. City of Bakersfield, 2016 WL 5870209, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 6, 2016).

         B. Burdens of Proof for Claims and Defenses

         Plaintiff's claims against Deputy Jared center on establishing his negligence, which requires meeting the burden of proof on each of the following elements: (1) Deputy Jared was negligent; (2) Ms. Grossklaus was injured; (3) Deputy Jared's negligence was a proximate cause of the injury to Ms. Grossklaus; and (4) the elements of damage and the amounts thereof. IDJI The Court anticipates Defendants' primary defense will be that Ms. Grossklaus was contributorily negligent. On this defense, the Defendants have the burden of proof on the following propositions: (1) Ms. Grossklaus was negligent; and (2) Ms. Grossklaus's negligence was a proximate cause of her own injuries.

         Negligence is “the failure to use ordinary care in the management of one's property or person.” IDJI 2.20. Where “ordinary care means the care a reasonably careful person would use under circumstances similar to those shown by the evidence.” Id. Negligence may consist of “the failure to do something which a reasonably careful person would do” or doing “something a reasonable careful person would not do under circumstances similar to those shown by the evidence.” It is for the jury to decide how a reasonably careful person would act under the circumstances shown by the evidence. Each party involved in an occurrence has a duty, both before and at the time of the occurrence, “to use ordinary care for the safety of both themselves and each other.” IDJI 2.00.2.

         Proximate cause can be described as the cause, which:

[I]n natural or probable sequence, produced the injury, the loss or the damage complained of. It need not be the only cause. It is sufficient if it is a substantial factor in bringing about the injury, loss or damage. It is not a proximate cause if the injury, loss or damage likely would have occurred anyway. There may be one or more proximate causes of an injury. When the negligent conduct of two or more persons or entities contributes concurrently as substantial factors in bringing about an injury, the conduct of each may be a proximate cause of the injury regardless of the extent to which each contributes to the injury.

IDJI 2.30.1

         With these evidentiary burdens in mind, the Court will analyze the merits of the parties' motions in limine.


         A. Defendants' Motion in Limine

         Defendants' motion in limine has seven parts. In the seventh part, Defendants argue Plaintiff's expert witnesses' testimony should be limited to the opinions within the content of their reports, citing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B)(1). Plaintiff does not contest this portion of the motion and agrees Plaintiff's experts' testimony will be so limited. As such, the Court will discuss only the first six parts of Defendants' motion below.

         1. Carla Kucirek's Testimony

         Defendants ask the Court to preclude Carla Kucirek, the personal representative of the estate of Theresa Grossklaus and a daughter of Theresa Grossklaus, from testifying concerning medications her mother had or had not taken on the day of and days prior to the collision, on July 18, 2014. Defendants assert Ms. Kucirek “lacks the requisite scientific qualifications to offer an opinion on the issue.” (Dkt. 50 at 2.) They argue also that Ms. Kucirek lacks first-hand knowledge that would be required for her to testify as a fact witness on this issue.

         In response, Plaintiff argues Defendants have provided no support for their argument that scientific qualifications are necessary for Ms. Kucirek to have knowledge of what medications were prescribed to her mother, what her mother's habits with respect to taking her medications were, and the amount of her mother's medication that remained following the collision at issue. (Dkt. 57 at 2.) Plaintiff argues these facts fit within the personal knowledge requirement of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

         Although not cited directly, the Court infers that Plaintiff's argument references Federal Rule of Evidence 602, which states that “[a] witness may testify to a matter only if evidence is introduced sufficient to support a finding that the witness has personal knowledge of the matter.” Fed.R.Evid. 602. Notably, “[e]vidence to prove personal knowledge may consist of the witness's own testimony. Id. In other words, “[a] witness has personal knowledge only when testifying about events perceived through physical senses or when testifying about opinions rationally based on personal observation and experience. California Found. for Indep. Living Centers v. Cty. of Sacramento, 142 F.Supp.3d 1035, 1045 (E.D. Cal. 2015) (citing United States v. Durham, 464 F.3d 976, 982 (9th Cir. 2006). Lay witness testimony is helpful when it assists the jury in determining a fact in issue. Fed.R.Evid. 701(b). However, lay witness testimony is unhelpful and thus inadmissible when it is “mere speculation” or when it “usurps the jury's function” by telling the finder of fact what result to reach. United States v. Freeman, 498 F.3d 893, 905 (9th Cir. 2007); see J. Weinstein & M. Berger, Weinstein's Evidence § 701.03[2] (2d ed. 2014).

         As discussed further below in regard to Plaintiff's motion in limine, evidence regarding Ms. Grossklaus's mental health status may be probative of whether she was biking safely when the collision occurred. During the course of trial, should facts concerning what medication or medications Ms. Grossklaus had taken the day of the collision or on the days leading up to the collision become relevant, the Court finds that Ms. Kucirek may, with proper foundation, testify as a lay witness about her first hand observations of what type of medications were in her mother's apartment immediately after the collision and her first hand observations of how much of the medications remained untaken.

         Defendants also seek to exclude Ms. Kucirek's testimony concerning a conversation she had with an Idaho State Police (ISP) forensic scientist who allegedly informed her that Ms. Grossklaus's blood was not tested for the presence of certain of the medications she was prescribed. Defendants assert Ms. Kucirek's testimony regarding this conversation is hearsay. Plaintiff did not respond to this argument in her response. The Court agrees with Defendants, however, that Ms. Kucirek's testimony about what the ISP forensic scientist told her is likely inadmissible hearsay. Therefore, Defendant's motion is granted in this respect.

         2. Dr. Ogden's Opinions

         Defendants argue the Court should preclude one of Plaintiff's experts, Jerry S. Ogden, Ph.D., P.E., from offering opinions related to the state of mind of Deputy Jared just prior to the collision, as well as to his opinion related to the legal permissions Ms. Grossklaus had to ride the bicycle at the location of the collision. In response, Plaintiff argues Defendants fail to challenge either the facts relied upon by Dr. Ogden or the methodology he used to reach his opinions.

         Defendants challenge the following specific opinions provided by Dr. Ogden in his expert report:

It can be stated to within a reasonable degree of engineering probability that the position of the right-side wheels of the Dodge at or very near the edge of the roadway at impact clearly indicates the Dodge driver had not considered the presence of the bicycle ...

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