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Seamon v. Remington Arms Co., LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

September 29, 2014

CYNTHIA SEAMON, individually, and as personal representative of the estate of KENNETH SEAMON, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
REMINGTON ARMS COMPANY, LLC, Defendant

Page 1199

For Cynthia Seamon, individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Kenneth Seamon, deceased, Plaintiff: Andrew S. Leroy, Timothy W. Monsees, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, Monsees & Mayer, P.C., Kansas City, MO; Benjamin Lee Locklar, LEAD ATTORNEY, Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, P.C., Montgomery, AL.

For Remington Arms Company, LLC, Defendant: Andrew A. Lothson, Dale G. Wills, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP, Chicago, IL; John Banks Sewell, III, Reid C Carpenter, William Harris Morrow, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Lightfoot Franklin & White LLC, Birmingham, AL.

Page 1200

[WO]

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

W. Keith Watkins, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Tragically, Kenneth Seamon died from a gunshot wound to the chest inflicted by his own Remington 700 rifle while he was hunting alone from a deer stand thirteen-feet high in a tree. The rifle was found on the ground beneath the unfortunate hunter, with a rope tied to the barrel, a spent shell in the chamber, and the safety " off" (in the " fire" position). The issue is what caused the rifle to fire. All the available evidence suggests nothing as to causation; the circumstances of Mr. Seamon's death defy reasoned explanation, and perhaps, logic. The facts test the thin line between speculation and reasonable inference. Plaintiff Cynthia Seamon fails to cross the evidentiary line into reasonable inference of causation, and her case must fail.

Plaintiff, individually and as the personal representative of her deceased husband's estate, brings this action against Defendant Remington Arms Company, LLC (" Remington" ). She alleges that her husband died as a result of a defect in a Remington Model 700 bolt-action rifle that caused the rifle to fire without a trigger pull. Before the court are three motions: (1) Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the basis of offensive collateral estoppel (Doc. # 31); (2) Remington's Motion to Exclude the Causation Opinion of Plaintiff's Liability Expert pursuant to Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993) (Doc. # 34); and (3) Remington's Motion for Summary Judgment on grounds that, if the expert testimony is excluded, summary judgment in favor of Remington is warranted (Doc. # 34). The parties have fully briefed the motions. (Docs. # 38, 40, 44.) After careful consideration of the arguments of counsel, the law, and the evidence, the court finds that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is due to be denied, that Remington's Daubert motion is due to be granted,[1] and that Remington's summary judgment motion is due to be granted.

I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

The court exercises diversity jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

Page 1201

The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue.

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

A. Summary Judgment Standard

To succeed on summary judgment, the movant must demonstrate " that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The court must view the evidence and the inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Jean-Baptiste v. Gutierrez, 627 F.3d 816, 820 (11th Cir. 2010).

The party moving for summary judgment " always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). This responsibility includes identifying the portions of the record illustrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. Or. a movant who does not have a trial burden of production can assert, without citing the record, that the nonmoving party " cannot produce admissible evidence to support" a material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 advisory committee's note (" Subdivision (c)(1)(B) recognizes that a party need not always point to specific record materials . . . . [A] party who does not have the trial burden of production may rely on a showing that a party who does have the trial burden cannot produce admissible evidence to carry its burden as to the fact." ). If the movant meets its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to establish -- with evidence beyond the pleadings -- that a genuine dispute material to each of its claims for relief exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. A genuine dispute of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces evidence allowing a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict in its favor. Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1279 (11th Cir. 2001).

B. Daubert Standard

The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert and its progeny. Rule 702 provides:

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.

In Daubert, the Supreme Court emphasized that Rule 702 assigns the trial court a gatekeeping role to " ensure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable." 509 U.S. at 589 & 597; see also Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 141, 119 S.Ct. 1167, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999) (" [T]he Federal Rules of Evidence 'assign to the trial judge the task of ensuring that an expert's testimony rests both on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand.'" (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596)). This gatekeeping responsibility is the same when the trial court is considering the admissibility of testimony based upon " 'technical' and 'other specialized knowledge.'" Kumho Tire,

Page 1202

526 U.S. at 141 (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 702).

In light of Daubert 's " gatekeeping requirement," the Eleventh Circuit requires district courts to engage in a " rigorous three-part inquiry" for assessing the admissibility of expert testimony under Rule 702:

Trial courts must consider whether: " (1) [T]he expert is qualified to testify competently regarding the matters he intends to address; (2) the methodology by which the expert reaches his conclusions is sufficiently reliable as determined by the sort of inquiry mandated in Daubert; and (3) the testimony assists the trier of fact, through the application of scientific, technical, or specialized expertise, to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue."

United States v. Frazier, 387 F.3d 1244, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting City of Tuscaloosa v. Harcros Chems., Inc., 158 F.3d 548, 562 (11th Cir. 1999)). These requirements are known as the " qualifications," " reliability," and " helpfulness" prongs. See id. " The burden of establishing qualification, reliability, and helpfulness rests on the proponent of the expert opinion," id., and the proponent must meet its burden by a preponderance of the evidence. Boca Raton Cmty. Hosp., Inc. v. Tenet Health Care Corp., 582 F.3d 1227, 1232 (11th Cir. 2009); see also Allison v. McGhan Med. Corp., 184 F.3d 1300, 1306 (11th Cir. 1999) (In addition, we note that " [t]he burden of laying the proper foundation for the admission of expert testimony is on the party offering the expert, and the admissibility must be shown by a preponderance of the evidence." (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592, n.10)).

As to qualifications, " experts may be qualified in various ways," including by scientific training, education, and experience. Frazier, 387 F.3d at 1260. When evaluating the reliability of scientific expert testimony, the trial judge must assess " whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and . . . whether that reasoning or methodology properly can be applied to the facts in issue." Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-93. Factors that may bear on the reliability of expert testimony include (1) whether the expert's theory can be and has been tested, (2) whether the theory has been subjected to peer review and publication, (3) whether the known or potential rate of error of the methodology is acceptable, and (4) whether the theory is generally accepted in the proper scientific community. McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d 1283, 1298 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593-94). These factors are not definitive, however. Other potentially relevant factors, depending upon the facts, include " whether the proposed expert ruled out other alternative explanations" and " whether the proposed expert sufficiently connected the proposed testimony with the facts of the case." Lauzon v. Senco Prods., Inc., 270 F.3d 681, 687 (8th Cir. 2001) (collecting cases). In short, trial courts retain " considerable leeway in deciding in a particular case how to go about determining whether particular expert testimony is reliable." Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 152. At the same time, trial courts must remain mindful that " Daubert does not require certainty; it requires only reliability." Hendrix ex rel. G.P. v. Evenflo Co., 609 F.3d 1183, 1198 n.10 (11th Cir. 2010). The focus of reliability " must be solely on principles and methodology, not on the conclusions they generate." Daubert, 509 U.S. at 595.

Finally, whether the expert testimony will assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or a fact in issue " goes primarily to relevance." Id. at 591.

Page 1203

" Expert testimony which does not relate to any issue in the case is not relevant and, ergo, non-helpful." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). " The 'basic standard of relevance . . . is a liberal one,' but if an expert opinion does not have a 'valid scientific connection to the pertinent inquiry[,]' it should be excluded because there is no 'fit.'" Boca Raton Cmty. Hosp., 582 F.3d at 1232 (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 591-92). Hence, under this third inquiry, " even if an expert's testimony [is] admissible under the first two prongs of the Daubert analysis, it may still be insufficient to create an issue of fact to overcome summary judgment." Gulf States Reorganization Group, Inc. v. Nucor Corp., 822 F.Supp.2d 1201, 1232 (N.D. Ala. 2011); see also Gen. Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 146, 118 S.Ct. 512, 139 L.Ed.2d 508 (1997) (District courts may reject expert testimony that is based on sound methodology when " there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered." ).

In the end, the court's gatekeeping role under Daubert " is not intended to supplant the adversary system or the role of the jury." Allison v. McGhan, 184 F.3d 1300, 1311 (11th Cir. 1999). Where the basis of expert testimony satisfies Rule 702, " [v]igorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible evidence." Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596.

III. BACKGROUND


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