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Tuscumbia City School System v. Pharmacia Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northwestern Division

February 12, 2015

TUSCUMBIA CITY SCHOOL SYSTEM, on behalf of itself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
PHARMACIA CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

C. LYNWOOD SMITH, Jr., District Judge.

This putative class action is before the court on defendant's motion to exclude the expert testimony of Dr. Shaun Crawford, Dr. Lois D. George, Matthew Hageman, Michael Heard, Dr. James Olson, and Robert Thompson.[1] Upon consideration of the briefs and evidentiary submissions, the court concludes that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

I. LEGAL STANDARDS

Analysis of the admissibility of expert testimony must begin with Federal Rule of Evidence 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 (2014).[2] The Eleventh Circuit requires district courts to "conduct an exacting analysis of the foundations of the expert opinions to ensure they meet the standards for admissibility under Rule 702." United States v. Abreu, 406 F.3d 1304, 1306 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting United States v. Frazier, 387 F.3d 1244, 1260 (11th Cir. 2004)) (internal quotation marks and emphasis omitted). The analysis has three parts: that is, district courts are required to assess whether

(1) the 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 [ v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993)]; 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) ( en banc ) (quoting City of Tuscaloosa v. Harcros Chemicals, Inc., 158 F.3d 542, 562 (11th Cir. 1998)) (alteration supplied); see also, e.g., Rink v. Cheminova, Inc., 400 F.3d 1286 (11th Cir. 2005) (same).

[T]he objective of that requirement is to ensure the reliability and relevancy of expert testimony. It is to make certain that an expert, whether basing testimony upon professional studies or personal experience, employs in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field.

Kumho Tire Company, Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152 (1999) (alteration supplied). "The inquiry... is a flexible one, " because "[m]any factors will bear on the inquiry, and... [there is no] definitive checklist or test." Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 593-94 (1993) (alterations supplied). Even so, factors that may be relevant for consideration include:

(1) whether the theory or technique "can be (and has been) tested, " (2) "whether the theory or technique has been subjected to peer review and publication, " (3) "in the case of a particular scientific technique, ... the known or potential rate of error, " and (4) whether the theory or technique is generally accepted by the relevant scientific community.

Hendrix ex rel. G.P. v. Evenflo Company, Inc., 609 F.3d 1183, 1194 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-94); see also Rink, 400 F.3d at 1292 (discussing the foregoing factors in the context of assessing an expert's particular scientific technique).

II. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff contends that the defendant was negligent and wanton (or reckless) in the design, manufacture, and marketing of electric ballasts for fluorescent light fixtures containing "the now-banned toxic chemicals known as Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs')." Plaintiff alleges that failing ballasts release PCBs into classrooms like those maintained by the plaintiff, and that "PCBs could cause systemic toxic injuries" to humans.[3] Plaintiff summarized the testimony it anticipates eliciting from the expert witnesses challenged by defendant as follows:

1. Dr. Shaun Crawford offers his opinion that he properly sampled both the outsides of the failed ballasts [removed from plaintiff's schools] and the oil from the capacitors.
2. Michael Heard and Matthew Hageman offer their opinion that the samples collected by Dr. Crawford show the presence of PCBs both inside and outside the ballasts.
3. Dr. James Olson offers his opinion that if PCBs have leaked from the ballasts, as shown by the other experts, they pose a serious health risk to anyone in Plaintiff's schools.
4. Robert Thompson provides for the Court a method of calculating damages both in Plaintiff's schools ...

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