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10th Cir. OKs Exclusion of 700 Pages of Nonconforming Docs

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on March 31, 2015 3:57 PM

Calling something a legal "technicality" is like calling a judge an "activist" or, in George Orwell's formulation, anyone a "fascist." The word doesn't mean anything except "I don't like that person." In the law, "technicality" just means "I lost."

The Tenth Circuit emphasized the importance of process, though, as it decided a district court in Kansas was correct in refusing to consider 700 pages of documents not filed in compliance with local rules.

Don't Forget to Number Your Paragraphs

Garmin wanted to test its new computerized cockpit display and control system in a home-built aircraft. It turned to Henry Bartle, a friend of a Garmin manager, to supply the home-built plane. Bartle bought the Garmin system, called the G900X (which is not the same as P90X), at a discount, installed it in his plane, and agreed to provide Garmin with access to it and its data.

Bartle took his step-daughter and her friends sightseeing in the experimental plane, but it lost power and crash-landed, injuring all the passengers. Bartle filed suit in California.

Bartle claimed that the plane was a "joint venture" with Garmin, and consequently, he should be covered by its insurance company. Garmin disagreed, and its insurance company, Lloyd's of London (among others), filed a suit for a declaratory judgment that Bartle wasn't insured by Garmin's policy.

The evidence to the contrary was pretty strong: Bartle submitted over 700 pages of evidence to support his claim that he and Garmin were engaged in a business relationship. Unfortunately, these pages didn't conform to the federal district court's local rule, which requires numbered paragraphs and particular references to the record to support factual assertions. Disregarding all of Bartle's exhibits, the court granted summary judgment to Garmin. For example, he "appeared to cite generally to over 400 pages of exhibits without specifically referring to any page number or fact within the massive number of submitted documents."

Bartle blamed ECF, insisting that the court's electronic filing system renumbers pages, making citations in his brief incorrect. Though sympathetic to the challenges presented by "increasingly computerized court submission and filing methods," the Tenth Circuit found that the district court didn't abuse its discretion in refusing to accept the documents. "The burden rests with the lawyers desiring to practice before a court to submit evidence in conformity with the rules of that court," the panel said.

Not a Slam Dunk, Anyway

Here's the punchline, though: Even if those 700 pages proved that Bartle and Garmin were in a joint venture, that still might not have been enough. Garmin's insurance policy covered affiliates and joint ventures, but those affiliates also had to be entities over which Garmin exerted control. There was no evidence that Garmin ever exerted financial control over his actions, or that he received any compensation for his affiliation with Garmin.

Bartle cited to more inadmissible evidence to prove his point, but the Tenth Circuit was clear: "In this case the merits cannot be separated from the process, and ultimately Mr. Bartle bore the responsibility to present evidence that would allow a rational trier of fact to find in his favor."

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