United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Northern Division
V. S. GRANADE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on the motion of Heartland Catfish
Company, Inc. (“Heartland”) to strike Mary Jane
Watson as an Expert (Doc. 99), opposition thereto by
Navigators Specialty Insurance Company
(“Navigators”) (Doc. 113), and Heartland's
reply (Doc. 120). For the reasons discussed below, the Court
finds that Ms. Watson's proposed testimony is irrelevant.
Accordingly, Heartland's motion to strike Watson as an
expert will be granted.
case arises from an underlying lawsuit brought by Heartland
against companies insured by Navigators: SmarterFuel
Incorporated and Smarter Fuel South, LLC (collectively
“SmarterFuel”). In the underlying lawsuit,
Heartland obtained a default judgment against SmarterFuel. In
the current action, Navigators intends to have Mary Jane
Watson testify as an expert regarding appraisals that were
submitted to support the default judgment in the underlying
action. Heartland seeks to strike Ms. Watson as an expert
under Alabama Code § 27-23-2 and Federal Rules of
Evidence 401, 402 and 702.
first cites Alabama Code § 27-23-2 as the basis for its
motion to strike. Section 27-23-2 provides that when a
corporation obtains a judgment against a party for damage to
property and that damage was insured at the time the right of
action arose, “the judgment creditor shall be entitled
to have the insurance money provided for in the contract of
insurance.” Ala. Code § 27-23-2. Section 27-23-2
also provides that if the judgment is not satisfied, the
judgment creditor may proceed directly against the insurer.
Id. However, the parties in this case appear to
agree that Pennsylvania law, rather than Alabama law, applies
substantively to the claims asserted in this
case. “Under the doctrine enunciated in
Erie and its progeny, ‘federal courts sitting
in diversity apply state substantive law and federal
procedural law.' ” Esfeld v. Costa Crociere,
S.P.A., 289 F.3d 1300, 1306 (11th Cir. 2002) (citations
omitted). “[F]or purposes of Erie,
Alabama's statute circumscribing the right of an injured
party to sue directly the alleged tortfeasor's insurer is
outcome determinative under Erie and is a
substantive law.” Canal Ins. Co. v. INA Trucking,
LLC, 2017 WL 1146984, at *5 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 10, 2017),
report and recommendation adopted, 2017 WL 1147772 (M.D. Ala.
Mar. 27, 2017) (citing Esfeld v. Costa Crociere,
S.P.S., 289 F.3d 1300, 1306 (11th Cir. 2002)). Even if
Alabama law were applicable to this case, § 27-23-2 does
not appear to provide any authority to strike Ms. Watson as
an expert witness. The statute simply provides a basis for a
direct claim against Navigators as the alleged insurer of the
Rules 401 and 402 require that evidence must be relevant to
be admissible. “To be relevant, evidence must have some
“tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of
consequence to the determination of the action more probable
or less probable than it would be without the
evidence.” United States v. Hall, 653 F.2d
1002, 1005 (5th Cir. 1981) (citing Fed.R.Evid. 401).
“Implicit in that definition are two distinct
requirements: (1) The evidence must be probative of the
proposition it is offered to prove, and (2) the proposition
to be proved must be one that is of consequence to the
determination of the action.” Id.
expert testimony to be admissible it must be both relevant
and reliable. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals
Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). “[A] district court
judge is to act as a ‘gatekeeper' for expert
testimony, only admitting such testimony after receiving
satisfactory evidence of its reliability.” Dhillon
v. Crown Controls Corporation, 269 F.3d 865, 869
(7th Cir. 2001); see also U.S. v. Majors,
196 F.3d 1206, 1215 (11th Cir. 1999). However,
“it is not the role of the district court to make
ultimate conclusions as to the persuasiveness of the
proffered evidence.” Quiet Technology DC-8, Inc. v.
Hurel-Dubois UK Ltd., 326 F.3d 1333, 1341 (11th Cir.
2003). “[A] district court's gatekeeper role under
Daubert is not intended to supplant the adversary
system or the role of the jury.” Id. (citing
Maiz v. Virani, 253 F.3d 641, 666 (11th Cir. 2001)).
“Quite the contrary, ‘[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.' ” Id. (quoting
Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596, 113 S.Ct. at 2798).
702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence 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
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and
methods to the facts of the case.
Fed. R. Evid. 702. The rule compels 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 omitted)). Accordingly,
under Rule 702, “this Court has an obligation to screen
expert testimony to ensure it stems from a reliable
methodology, sufficient factual basis, and reliable
application of the methodology to the facts.”
Whatley v. Merit Distribution Services, 166
F.Supp.2d 1350, 1353 (S.D. Ala. 2001) (citations omitted).
contends that Ms. Watson's opinions on the evidence that
supported the default judgment in the underlying action are
irrelevant because the correctness of the default judgment is
irrelevant to the issues before the Court in the instant
action. Navigators disagrees, asserting that Watson is not
being offered to attack the underlying default judgment but
to show that Heartland failed to meet its burden of proving
that the underlying judgment is covered by Navigators'
pollution policy. Navigators states that Watson will testify
that the appraisals submitted as evidence in the underlying
motion for default judgment cannot be used to show a
diminution in value caused by pollution or environmental
issues. According to Navigators, the 2014 appraisal submitted
to show a diminution in value only covered 20 acres of the
property in question and was compared to a 2008 appraisal
that determined the fair market value of 120 acres.
Additionally, Navigators ...