United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
SMD SOFTWARE, INC., a North Carolina corporation; and SITELINK SOFTWARE, LLC, a North Carolina limited liability company, Plaintiffs,
EMOVE, INC., a Nevada corporation; and WEB TEAM ASSOCIATES, a Nevada corporation, Defendants.
LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, District Judge.
This matter comes before the court on plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration of this court's ruling excluding references by their expert, Dr. Didow, to potentially applicable legal standards (DE 402). Defendants have responded and the matter is ripe for ruling. For reasons given below, plaintiffs' motion is DENIED. Where, however, there appears to be some confusion as to the scope of the court's order, the court takes this opportunity to clarify its ruling.
A. Standard of Review
"The purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.... Motions to reconsider are not proper where the motion merely asks the court to rethink what the Court had already thought through rightly or wrongly." DIRECTV, INC. v. Hart , 366 F.Supp.2d 315, 317 (E.D. N.C. 2004). A motion to reconsider is appropriate where
the Court has patently misunderstood a party, or has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the Court by the parties, or has made an error not of reasoning but of apprehension. A further basis for a motion to reconsider would be a controlling or significant change in the law or facts since the submission of the issue to the Court.
Above the Belt, Inc. v. Mel Bohannan Roofing, Inc. , 99 F.R.D. 99, 101 (E.D. Va. 1983); see also Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Willetts , 882 F.Supp.2d 859, 867 (E.D. N.C. 2012) (motions to reconsider are limited to the purpose of allowing the court to "correct manifest errors of law or fact or to consider newly discovered evidence, " and not to simply ask the court to re-evaluate its decision).
In this case, plaintiffs seek reconsideration of the court's ruling that Dr. Didow may not discuss applicable legal standards. Plaintiffs understood the court to rule that Dr. Didow was precluded from referring to the Lanham Act altogether. The court did not so rule, and clarifies its ruling below.
As noted by the court in its original order, the Fourth Circuit has instructed that "opinion testimony that states a legal standard or draws a legal conclusion by applying law to the facts is generally inadmissible." United States v. McIver , 470 F.3d 550, 561-62 (4th Cir. 2006). Stated another way, "opinions which would merely tell the jury what result to reach" are inadmissible. Fed.R.Evid. 704 advisory committee note. The Fourth Circuit has expounded further, stating:
Federal Rule of Evidence 702 permits an expert to give opinions on scientific matters, technical matters, or matters involving other specialized knowledge so long as the testimony " will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue" (emphasis added).The touchstone of the rule is whether the testimony will assist the jury. Focusing on that criterion, we have held that it does not help the jury for an expert to give testimony that "states a legal standard or draws a legal conclusion by applying law to the facts, " McIver, 470 F.3d at 562, because it "supplies the jury with no information other than the witness's view of how the verdict should read, " Weinstein's Federal Evidence § 704.04[a] (2d ed.2003). Determining when legal conclusions would be helpful to the jury must also take into account the role that the judge has in instructing the jury on the law. We have noted, for example, that when a witness gives an opinion about the meaning of a specialized legal term, the witness is giving a legal conclusion that is better handled by the judge and, coming from the witness, will be of little assistance to the jury.
United States v. Offill , 666 F.3d 168, 175 (4th Cir. 2011). "Expert testimony that merely states a legal conclusion is less likely to assist the jury in its determination." United States v. Barile , 286 F.3d 749, 760 (4th Cir. 2002). "However, the line is not always clear between impermissible testimony about what the law is and permissible expert testimony about standard industry practice." Ji v. Bose Corp. , 538 F.Supp.2d 354, 359 (D. Mass. 2008).
Although the court enjoys broad discretion when determining the admissibility of expert testimony, "the court must balance this discretion with the concerns of Rule 403 to ensure that the probative value of the proffered testimony is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury.'" Bouygues Telecom, S.A. v. Tekelec , 472 F.Supp.2d 722, 725 (E.D. N.C. 2007) (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 403).
In this case, the court held that Dr. Didow would not be allowed to testify as to potentially applicable legal standards, such as a method of calculating damages under the Lanham Act that has been used in another circuit, or a statement that the Marketing Research Association warns that "cases of comparative advertising that explicitly mention the competitor often result in a presumption of irreparable injury." See Didow ...