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Braggs v. Dunn

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

July 13, 2017

EDWARD BRAGGS, Plaintiffs,
v.
JEFFERSON S. DUNN, in his official capacity as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections,, Defendants.

          DAUBERT OPINION AS TO PHASE 2A EIGHTH AMENDMENT CLAIM

          MYRON H. THOMPSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The plaintiffs in this phase of this class-action lawsuit are seriously mentally ill state prisoners and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP). The defendants are officials of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC)--Commissioner Jefferson Dunn and Associate Commissioner of Health Services Ruth Naglich--who are sued in only their official capacities.

         In Phase 2A of the case, the plaintiffs claim that the defendants have failed to provide constitutionally adequate mental-health care to ADOC prisoners with serious mental-health needs, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments (as enforced through 42 U.S.C. § 1983).[1] The court has jurisdiction of the claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question) and § 1343(a)(3) (civil rights).

         Beginning in December 2016, the court presided over a two-month bench trial concerning this claim. At trial, the parties presented evidence from five expert witnesses, some of whom the parties had objected to prior to trial. The parties did not object to any of the experts' qualifications, but the plaintiffs asserted objections under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), to portions of Dr. Raymond Patterson's testimony and to the methodology underlying Robert Ayers's opinion, and the defendants asserted Daubert objections against Dr. Kathryn Burns's and Eldon Vail's methodologies. The court recently issued an opinion finding that the plaintiffs prevailed on their Eighth Amendment claim in the Phase 2A trial. Braggs v. Dunn, __F.Supp.3d__, 2017 WL 2773833, 2:14cv601-MHT (M.D. Ala. June 27, 2017) (Thompson, J.). In tandem with that opinion, the court entered an order overruling all Daubert objections and promised that an opinion explaining why would follow later. This is the promised Daubert opinion.

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Well before the trial, the court entered a Phase 2 scheduling order setting forth its requirements for the parties should they wish to bring Daubert challenges. The court made clear that, if the parties wished the court to consider any Daubert challenges at trial, “including any unresolved challenges previously raised by either party in litigation on dispositive and class certification motions, ” they had to address those Daubert challenges in their trial briefs detailing proposed findings of facts and conclusions of law, and that, “[a]bsent exceptional circumstances, ” separate Daubert motions would not be entertained. Phase 2 Pretrial and Motion Deadlines Order (doc. no. 529) at 4-5; see also New Phase 2A Scheduling Order (doc. no. 748) at 4 (affirming deadlines in doc. no. 529).

         Both sides challenged expert testimony under Daubert. In their opposition to the plaintiffs' motion for class certification, the defendants challenged Dr. Burns's methodology under Daubert and stated that Vail was not qualified under Daubert and Federal Rule of Evidence 702 because he did not visit every ADOC facility. The plaintiffs asserted Daubert challenges to the testimony of Ayers and the methodology of Dr. Patterson's audits in their summary judgment briefing.[2]

         The court overruled the defendants' Daubert objection against Burns in the class-certification opinion, but did not find it necessary to resolve the remaining Daubert objections before trial. Braggs v. Dunn, 317 F.R.D. 634, 645-49 (M.D. Ala. 2016) (Thompson, J.).

         The plaintiffs reasserted their Daubert challenges in their pre-trial brief, as required by the court in order to raise their objections at trial. The defendants stated in their pre-trial brief: “The State believes that restating its position on the admissibility of the expert witnesses is unnecessary here and relies upon the extensive briefing already submitted on these issues.” Defs.' Pre-Trial Br. (doc. no. 992) at 196 n.893.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Evidence govern the admissibility of expert testimony. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). 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 ...

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