United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION IN
LIMINE [ECF NO. 431
V. PARKER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Eric Grant ("Plaintiff) filed this lawsuit alleging that
Defendant Johnson Electric North America, Inc.
("Defendant") breached its non-compete agreement,
whereby Defendant would compensate Plaintiff for a
non-compete period of twenty-four months. Presently before
the Court is Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to
preclude Defendant from introducing statements its former
human resources representative made to its senior engineering
manager, filed July 21, 2017. (ECF No. 43.) The motion has
been fully briefed. (ECF Nos. 45 & 46.) For the reasons
set out below, the Court grants Plaintiff's motion.
Factual and Procedural Background
began working for Defendant on October 1, 2013 as an Engineer
Expert ETM. (ECF No. 1 at Pg ID 2-3.) Plaintiff's
employment was subject to an employee agreement and a
non-compete agreement. According to Plaintiff, on June 27,
2014, Defendant entered into a new employment agreement with
additional job duties and responsibilities and increased pay.
(Id. at Pg ID 3.) Plaintiff alleges he was also
subject to a new non-compete agreement that was a part of
Defendant's Intellectual Property Management Platform
("IP Platform"), which Plaintiff was required to
use in order to submit, track, and manage Defendant's
intellectual property. (ECF No. 1 at Pg ID 3; ECF No. 45 at
Pg ID 1331.) In order to access the system, the user had to
"agree" to the terms on the pop-up screen. The new
non-compete agreement included a non-compete period of
twenty-four months, expanded the scope of prohibited
activities and increased the amount of damages for breach of
the agreement. (ECF No. 1 at Pg ID 3.) It also required
Defendant to provide Plaintiff with monthly compensation
during the twenty-four month period at an amount equal to
Plaintiffs average salary during the twenty-four months prior
to his termination. (Id.)
employment relationship with Defendant ended on February 1,
2016. (Id.) Although Plaintiff complied with the
terms of the non-compete agreement, Defendant has not made
any payments to Plaintiff and stated it does not intend to
make future payments. Plaintiff claims his average monthly
salary from February 2014 through February 2016 was $13,
159.39. (Id. atPgID4.) Plaintiff claims he is
entitled to $315, 825.36, which represents Plaintiff's
average salary of $13, 159.39 for a twenty-four month period,
for Defendant's breach and anticipatory breach of the
11, 2016, Plaintiff initiated this action. The parties filed
cross motions for summary judgment on May 8, 2017 and May 12,
2017, which remain pending before this Court. (ECF Nos. 34
& 35.) On July 21, 2017, Plaintiff filed this motion
seeking to preclude statements a former human resources
representative made to Defendant's senior engineering
manager regarding the enforceability of the non-compete
agreement. (ECF No. 43.)
courts have broad discretion over matters involving the
admissibility of evidence at trial. United States v.
Seago, 930 F.2d 482, 494 (6th Cir. 1991). Under the
Federal Rules of Evidence, "[e]vidence is relevant... if
it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than
it would be without the evidence; and ... the fact is of
consequence in determining the action." Fed.R.Evid. 401.
"Irrelevant evidence is not admissible."
Fed.R.Evid. 402. Further, relevant evidence may be excluded
"if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a
danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading
the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting
cumulative evidence." Fed.R.Evid. 403.
Federal Rules of Evidence prohibits hearsay unless
permissible in federal statute, other court rules proscribed
by the Supreme Court, or subject to hearsay exceptions.
Fed.R.Evid. 802. Hearsay is defined as an out-of-court
statement offered for the truth of the matter asserted.
See Fed. R. Evid. 801(c). A statement is not hearsay
if the declarant is subject to cross-examination or the
statement was made against the opposing party by a qualifying
individual. See Fed. R. Evid. 801(d).
Nelson, Defendant's Senior Engineering Manager, testified
during his deposition that Defendant's former human
resources representative, Ella Guidugli, who is also a
lawyer, stated to him that she believed the non-compete
agreement would be unenforceable under Michigan law. Ms.
Guidugli based her belief on the fact that the restrictions
imposed on the former employee were too broad and would not
satisfy Michigan's reasonableness standard. (ECF No. 43
at Pg ID 1316.) Plaintiff argues that Ms. Guidugli's
statement is hearsay because she is not listed as a witness
and made her statements out-of-court. Plaintiff believes
Defendant will use Ms. Guidugli's statement for the truth
of the matter asserted, bolstering its claim that the
non-compete agreement is unenforceable.
Plaintiff contends that Ms. Guidugli's statement is
contrary to Fed.R.Evid. 403 because it constitutes a legal
conclusion and invades the province of the jury. "Rule
403 requires that evidence be excluded, even if relevant, if
the jury will place undue weight on that evidence, to the
neglect of their duty to evaluate the trial evidence for
themselves." United States v. Awadallah, 401
F.Supp.2d 308, 318-19 (S.D.N.Y. May 31, 2005),
affirmed, 436 F.3d 125 (2d Cir. 2006). Because Ms.
Guidugli is a lawyer and was Defendant's human resource
professional, her statement would improperly influence the
jury. Fed.R.Evid. 701 permits lay opinion testimony when it
is rationally based on the witness's perception, helpful
to understanding the witness's testimony or determining a
fact in issue, and is not based on scientific, technical, or
other specialized knowledge within the scope of Rule 702.
However, the Sixth Circuit stated that "seldom will be
the case when lay opinion on an ultimate issue will meet the
test of being helpful to the trier of fact since the
jury's opinion is as good as the witness."
United States v. Phillips, 872 F.3d 803, 810 (6th
Cir. 2017). Here, the enforceability of a non-compete
agreement is an ultimate issue that is solely for the jury to
Defendant contends that it does not seek to admit Ms.
Guidugli's statement for the truth of the matter
asserted. Rather, Defendant alleges it seeks to admit the
statement to show why Mr. Nelson believed the letter was not
meant for Defendant's Michigan employees, specifically in
light of Ms. Guidugli not being aware of the letter.
Defendant also argues that Ms. Guidugli is not licensed in
Michigan and it has not argued that Ms. Guidugli is a legal
expert. Defendant suggests that if there is concern that the
jury will improperly defer to Ms. Guidugli's statement
then the Court can instruct the jury not to consider her
statement when determining if the non-compete agreement was
reasonable under Michigan law. Finally, Defendant asserts
that Plaintiff cannot show the prejudicial effect of the
proposed testimony substantially outweighs the probative
United States v. Nelson, the trial judge gave a
limiting instruction to the jury after each officer's
testimony reminding him or her that any evidence about the
suspect's description was not to be considered because it
was prejudicial and went to a key issue. 725 F.3d 615, 622
(6th Cir. 2013). The Sixth Circuit reversed the trial
court's decision, stating "[a] limiting instruction
is not always sufficient to cure the harm of highly
prejudicial information improperly admitted at trial."
Id. Defendant asserts "Johnson Electric did not
introduce Guidugli's comments to show that the Letter
was, in fact, unenforceable under MCL § 445.774a.
Instead, Johnson Electric wanted to show that Guidugli, like
Nelson, had not seen the Letter before and was quite
surprised to learn that the IP Platform presented the letter
to Nelson." (ECF No. 45 at Pg ID 1332.) Testimony
regarding Ms. Guidugli's reaction to the non-compete