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Howell v. Earl

United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division

June 10, 2014

MARION I. HOWELL, and FRANCIS L. HOWELL, Plaintiffs,
v.
TRAVIS EARL, individually and as agent of Gallatin County Sheriff's Department, State of Montana, et al. Defendants.

ORDER

JEREMIAH C. LYNCH, Magistrate Judge.

Defendants State of Montana, Michael Walrath, James Sulages, and Justin Braun (State Defendants) move to exclude the expert opinion testimony from Plaintiffs Francis and Marion Howell's expert witness, Robert F. La Pier, that is set forth in La Pier's expert report dated December 19, 2013. Additionally, the State Defendants move to preclude the Howells from presenting evidence of specific elements of damages that they did not disclose during discovery. The remaining Defendants join in the State Defendants' motion. The Court will, therefore, address the motion as presented by all Defendants.

I. Expert Witness - La Pier

The admissibility of expert opinion testimony is governed by Fed.R.Evid. 702 which provides that:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Fed. R. Evid. 702.

For expert opinion testimony to be admissible under Rule 702 the district court must ensure that it is both relevant and reliable. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993). Expert testimony is subject to exclusion if it falls short of meeting either requirement. Stilwell v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 482 F.3d 1187, 1192 (9th Cir. 2007). The proponent of the expert's testimony bears the burden of establishing that the testimony is admissible. Lust v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 89 F.3d 594, 598 (9th Cir. 1996). Rulings on the admissibility of expert testimony under Rule 702 are within the sound discretion of the trial court. General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 141-42 (1997).

A. Insufficient Facts and Data

Defendants challenge the reliability of La Pier's expert witness report and testimony on the ground that he apparently reviewed very limited information, as identified in his December 19, 2013 report, prior to his preparation of the report. They assert his opinions are flawed and unreliable because they are rendered without a comprehensive review of all the facts in this case, and in ignorance of evidentiary materials that are contrary to the Howells' version of the facts. Therefore, Defendants contend La Pier's opinions are not "based on sufficient facts or data" as required under Fed.R.Evid. 702(b).

The requirement that expert testimony be based on "sufficient facts or data" "requires [the court to engage in] an analysis of the sufficiency of underlying facts or data that is quantitative rather than qualitative." United States v. W.R. Grace, 455 F.Supp.2d 1148, 1152 (D. Mont. 2006). The requirement "is not intended to authorize a trial court to exclude an expert's testimony on the ground that the court believes one version of the facts and not the other." Id.

Here, to the extent La Pier's opinions may not take into account all of the relevant facts as Defendants argue, that asserted deficiency only provides grounds for a vigorous cross-examination of La Pier's testimony, not grounds for its exclusion.

B. Irrelevant Testimony

Defendants move to exclude La Pier's testimony with respect to Defendants' (1) alleged violations of Marion's Miranda rights, and (2) alleged wrongful conduct during the discovery process in the criminal case prosecuted against Marion. The Court's Findings and Recommendation entered May 30, 2014, recommends that Marion's Miranda claims be dismissed. (Doc. 118 at 28-29.) And the Court concludes that no viable legal claim exists with respect to Defendants' alleged conduct during the criminal discovery process. Since those legal claims no longer remain in this case, "[e]xpert testimony which does ...


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