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Inselman v. S & J Operating Co. - 44 F.3d 894 (10th Cir. 1995)

Rule:

Error may not be based on a ruling excluding evidence unless the substance of the evidence was made known to the court by offer of proof or was apparent from the context within which questions were asked

Facts:

Plaintiff land owners brought claims against defendant oil and gas company for negligence, nuisance, unjust enrichment, and trespass, contending that certain large bare spots with a white salty appearance on their property were caused by defendant's operation and maintenance of wells and pipelines. The case was tried to a jury which returned a verdict for defendant on all claims. Plaintiffs claimed error in the district court's refusal to permit them to elicit testimony from defendant's witness that the same working interest owners who were operating the leases covering plaintiffs' property had purchased the adjacent property because it, too, was polluted by defendant's activities. The district court ruled the evidence was not relevant because there had been no evidence that the adjacent property was polluted. Plaintiffs made an offer of proof concerning the adjacent property. The court affirmed the judgment of the trial court because the offer of proof was defective.

Issue:

Was the district court's ruling within its discretion?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the judgment of the district court in favor of defendant oil and gas company because plaintiff land owners' offer of proof was defective and there was no clear abuse of discretion.

Error may not be based on a ruling excluding evidence unless "the substance of the evidence was made known to the court by offer [of proof] or was apparent from the context within which questions were asked." Fed. R. Evid. 103(a)(2). The purpose of this rule is to allow the trial judge to make an informed evidentiary ruling, and to create an adequate record for appellate review to determine whether exclusion of the evidence was reversible error. 

The offer of proof made in this case is defective. Defense counsel stated the witness would not have presented the testimony plaintiffs asserted he would present. Plaintiffs should have examined the witness to establish that he would testify as they believed. It is impossible on this record for us to determine whether the excluded evidence would have been relevant or helpful to plaintiffs' case. Plaintiffs have not shown grounds for reversal.

 

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