Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Evidence — Admissibility Issues in Diversity Action Governed by Federal, Not State, Law “So Long As They Can Rationally Be Viewed As Procedural”

Mahmood v. Narciso, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 24945 (3d Cir. Dec. 17, 2013):

Sania Mahmood ("Mahmood" or "Appellant") appeals the judgment of the District Court 1 entering a jury verdict and denying a motion for a new trial. ***

On May 11, 2009, Mahmood filed a complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, naming Joseph Narciso Jr., Mayflower Transit, LLC, XYZ Corporation, and Vantage Blue Solutions, Inc. as Defendants (collectively, "Appellees" or "Defendants"). Defendants removed the matter to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey based on diversity of citizenship.

Magistrate Judge Arpert presided over the five day jury trial. Since the parties had stipulated to the liability of Defendants, the sole issue at trial was damages. The jury awarded Mahmood $25,000 in compensatory damages. Mahmood moved for a new trial. In her moving papers, Mahmood argued that the damages award: (1) did not reflect the extent of her injuries and is manifestly unjust; and (2) that the jury had information that may have impermissibly influenced its decision. Judge Arpert denied the motion.

Now Appellant argues that Judge Arpert made several errors at trial. First, he improperly excluded evidence regarding the mechanics of the accident; second, he improperly curtailed the expert testimony of Dr. Skolnick; and third, he denied a motion seeking a new trial based on a damages award that was manifestly unjust. None of these claims have merit.***

A. Exclusion of Evidence Concerning the "Mechanics of the Accident"

Appellant contends that the District Court abused its discretion and committed reversible error when it excluded evidence relating to the nature and severity of the automobile collision. (Appellant Br. 2.)

Footnote 3.     Appellant also argues that New Jersey law governing admission of evidence applies to this action by the application of the Erie doctrine. Federal courts in diversity cases are bound to apply federal rules "so long as they can rationally be viewed as procedural." Salas by Salas v. Wang, 846 F.2d 897, 906 (3d Cir. 1988). We find the evidentiary rulings here to be largely procedural, and therefore review the District Court's rulings under federal rules. Cf. In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 35 F.3d 717, 761 n. 31 (3d Cir. 1994) (declining to apply state procedural law reasoning that "Pennsylvania substantive law does not change  the federal standard for the admissibility of expert testimony").


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