Denial of Motion in Limine Without Prejudice Requires Renewal of Objection at Trial

Yates v. Pinellas Hematology & Oncology, P.A., 2021 US. App. LEXIS 38556 (11th Cir. Dec. 29, 2021), involved claims that the defendant medical provider violated the False Claims Act by materially altering some of its submissions to Medicare. After a jury found the defendant liable and awarded damages and penalties in excess of $1.1 million, the defendant appealed. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, finding sufficient evidence to support the verdict and rejecting the defendant’s claim that the jury’s award violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive fines.

The Eleventh Circuit also rejected the defendant’s challenge to the admission into evidence of a spreadsheet prepared by the qui tam plaintiff. The defendant had filed a pretrial motion in limine to preclude admission of the exhibit, and the district court denied that motion without prejudice. When the plaintiff moved during the trial to admit the exhibit, the defendant failed to object. To preserve the objection, however, the defendant had to make a timely objection after the district court ruled “definitively on the record.” The district court’s denial of the motion in limine without prejudice was not “definitive,” and thus the motion in limine was insufficient to preserve the objection.

Generally, when a party fails to preserve an objection, the court reviews the relevant evidentiary ruling for plain error. That review is discretionary, however. Yates argued in her appellate brief that the defendant had not preserved its objection to the exhibit. In response, the defendant argued that it had preserved the objection, but did not advance an argument that admission of the evidence was plain error. “As Pinellas has not argued that the admission of Exhibit 24 rose to the level of plain error,” the court decided, “we decline to construct that argument for Pinellas and then rule on it. We therefore affirm the district court’s admission of Exhibit 24.”

It is worth noting that the Supreme Court of Georgia likewise declined to address an unpreserved objection in Williams v Harvey, 311 Ga. 439 (2021): “we hereby overrule Mullins [v. Thompson, 274 Ga. 366 (2001)] and its progeny to the extent that they permit appellate courts to consider error based on unobjected-to argument at trial in civil cases.”

Posted by Valerie Sanders.

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