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Cougill v. Prospect Mortgage, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

January 31, 2014

ALLISON COUGILL, Plaintiff,
v.
PROSPECT MORTGAGE, LLC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES C. CACHERIS, District Judge.

This action involves a dispute as to whether Plaintiff Allison Cougill ("Plaintiff") is entitled to damages from her former employer, Prospect Mortgage, LLC ("Prospect" or "Defendant"), under the Fair Labor Standard Act ("FLSA"). Plaintiff alleges that Prospect improperly withheld minimum wage and overtime pay in violation of the FLSA. Plaintiff has now filed several motions in limine seeking to exclude certain arguments and evidence at trial. [Dkts. 32, 35, 38.] The Court will address each motion in turn.

I. Background

The facts of this case are recounted in the Court's Memorandum Opinion dated January 14, 2014, familiarity with which is presumed. In brief, Plaintiff worked as a mortgage loan officer at Prospect from October 29, 2007, until October 3, 2011. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 5; Joint Statement of Facts ¶ 5.) Following her termination, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit alleging that Prospect wrongfully classified her as an exempt employee under the FLSA, resulting in lost minimum wage and overtime compensation. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23-33.)

On December 19, 2013, Defendant moved for summary judgment on grounds that Plaintiff is exempt from the FLSA's overtime and minimum wage requirements under the statute's "outside sales exemption." (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 1; Def.'s Mem. in Supp. at 7.) The Court denied Defendant's motion, concluding that the record was sufficiently "uncertain" to conclude that the exemption applied as a matter of law. (Mem. Op. Jan. 14, 2014 at 11.)

In preparation for trial, the parties have agreed on a number of uncontested facts. It is undisputed that Defendant did not pay Plaintiff an hourly wage or hourly overtime for weeks in which she worked more than forty hours. (Joint Statement of Facts ¶ 24.) It is also uncontested that Defendant did not track Plaintiff's hours. ( Id. at ¶ 25.) Accordingly, the issues remaining for trial are limited.

II. Standard of Review

The Federal Rules of Evidence do not specifically provide for motions in limine; however, their use has evolved under the federal courts' inherent authority to manage trials. See Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n.4 (1984). The purpose of a motion in limine is to allow a court to rule on evidentiary issues in advance of trial in order to avoid delay, ensure an even-handed and expeditious trial, and focus the issues the jury will consider. See United States v. Brawner, 173 F.3d 966, 970 (6th Cir. 1999) ("The Federal Rules of Evidence, the Federal Rules of Criminal and Civil Procedure and interpretive rulings of the Supreme Court... all encourage, and in some cases require, parties and the court to utilize extensive pretrial procedures-including motions in limine -in order to narrow the issues remaining for trial and to minimize disruptions at trial."). The decision to grant or deny a motion in limine is within the district court's discretion. See Barker v. State Farm Auto. Mut. Ins. Co., No. 2:07-cv-00966, 2009 WL 1010547, at *4 (S.D. W.Va. Apr. 15, 2009). Such motions serve important gatekeeping functions by allowing the trial judge to eliminate from consideration evidence that should not be presented to the jury. See Jonasson v. Lutheran Child and Family Servs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997).

A court considering a motion in limine may reserve judgment until trial so that the motion is placed in the appropriate factual context. See Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. v. L.E. Myers Co. Grp., 937 F.Supp. 276, 287 (S.D.N.Y. 1996). Further, the court's ruling regarding such a motion is "subject to change when the case unfolds, particularly if the actual testimony differs from what was contained in the... proffer." Luce, 469 U.S. at 41.

III. Analysis

A. Motion in Limine Regarding Plaintiff's Employment Contract

Plaintiff first asks the Court to preclude Defendant from arguing that her employment contract constitutes a waiver of her right to recover under the FLSA. (Mot. in Limine to Exclude Contract at 1.) In Plaintiff's own words:

Defendant will likely attempt to argue at trial that Plaintiff's "agreement" to the terms and conditions of employment with Prospect, namely that she was paid by commissions and was not entitled to overtime or minimum wages because she was classified as exempt outside salespersons, constitutes a waiver to recover overtime pay or minimum wages in this case. Because this argument has no basis in the law and would substantially prejudice ...

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