The Judge ruled against the motion in limine you brought before trial. You didn’t raise that in a new trial motion. May you challenge the ruling on appeal? In Bhakta, the Minnesota Court of Appeals said, “no.” The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed. In a new decision in the case, the Minnesota Supreme Court said, “yes,” a motion in limine decision made before trial may be challenged on appeal, even though no new trial motion challenging it was made.
Two earlier Minnesota Supreme Court cases laid out the basic rules.
Sauter says that trial procedure, evidentiary rulings and jury instructions may be reviewed on appeal only if a motion for a new trial was made. The rationale: the district court should be given an opportunity to correct errors, perhaps obviating the need for an appeal. And perhaps developing the record more fully, so that it is available if an appeal goes forward. In another case, Alpha Realty, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that substantive legal questions decided by the district court may be reviewed on appeal whether or not a new trial motion was made.
A motion in limine decision makes an evidentiary ruling, so the Bhakta Court of Appeals reasoned that that kind of decision was covered by the Sauter rule, and not reviewable on appeal without a new trial motion. The Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that when a motion in limine is made before trial, the district court generally has the time for thoughtful decision-making. There is little additional benefit to be gained from a second review by the district court.
So, where do we stand now? No new trial motion is needed for review of motion in limine rulings made and decided before trial. The last sentence of the Bhakta analysis says, that, “[t]he Sauter rule continues to apply to motions brought or decided during trial.” In a footnote, the Court identified an issue to be determined: whether the Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure should be amended or clarified regarding when a motion for a new trial is required to present an issue for appellate review. The Court referred the question to the Court’s advisory committee on the appellate rules. So expect more discussion of this issue and perhaps proposed amendments to the appellate rules.