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Harris v. Cooper Marine & Timberlands Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

May 8, 2014

DAVID HARRIS, Plaintiff,


SHARION AYCOCK, District Judge.

Defendant Cooper Marine & Timberlands Corporation has filed a Motion to Strike and Exclude Portions of the Expert Testimony of Captain John Timmel [54] and a Motion for Summary Judgment [56] in this case.

After reviewing the briefs, case law, and authorities cited, the Court finds as follows:

Factual and Procedural Background

On September 29 or 30, 2011, [1] Plaintiff David Harris and three passengers were traveling southbound on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway ("Tenn-Tom") in Plaintiff's recreational vessel the M/V Moonstruck. The Moonstruck was following another recreational vessel, the M/V Branch'N Out. On the same date, the M/Y Chippewa, a tow owned by Defendant Cooper Marine & Timberlands Corporation, was pushing eight barges in a northbound direction.

After clearing the Tom Bevill Locks, the Branch'N Out made arrangements with Chippewa Captain David Joiner to pass port-to-port. Joiner testified that based on his prior local knowledge, he ran the Chippewa close to the red buoy side of Mile 317 due to shallow water on the green side. The Branch'N Out passed the Chippewa port-to-port without incident. The Moonstruck, piloted by Terri Pruitt, proceeded southbound on the green buoy side of the Tenn-Tom and passed without incident. However, shortly after clearing the stern of the Chippewa, the Moonstruck capsized.

Plaintiff filed this claim asserting that as the Moonstruck and the Chippewa passed each other, the Captain of the Chippewa engaged full horsepower thereby creating a "large and dangerous wake" that affected the Moonstruck. According to the Complaint, the Chippewa's increase in speed pulled water out from under the Moonstruck, causing it to capsize and sink. Plaintiff and his passengers were able to escape the capsized vessel and boarded the Chippewa. Plaintiff contends that Captain David Joiner apologized for pulling the water out from under the Moonstruck.

Plaintiff claims Defendant was negligent in failing to exercise the standard of care necessary, negligently inflicted emotional distress, and violated maritime statutes regarding the standard of care owed on navigable waters.

Plaintiff designated Captain John Timmel as an expert in safe tugboat operations and yachting practices. Defendant seeks to strike several opinions Timmel made as to causation in this case based on his report, supplement, and deposition. Defendant further requests summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiff can show no genuine dispute of material fact on his claims.

Motion to Strike Expert's Opinions

The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. , 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993), and the post-Daubert amendments to Federal Rule of Evidence 702. See Guy v. Crown Equip. Corp. , 394 F.3d 320, 325 (5th Cir. 2004). That Rule now states the following:

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.

The purpose of Rule 702 is to guide the district court's gatekeeping function. See Guy , 394 F.3d at 325. Before allowing a witness to testify as an expert, a court "must be assured that the proffered witness is qualified to testify by virtue of his knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.'" Wilson v. Woods , 163 F.3d 935, 937 (5th Cir. 1999) (quoting FED. R. EVID. 702). Further, the fact that a proposed witness is an expert in one area does not qualify him to testify as an expert in all related areas. See id. at 938. Therefore, "[a] district court should refuse to allow an expert witness to testify if it finds that the witness is not qualified to testify in a particular field or on a given subject." Id . at 937 (citation omitted).

A court's gatekeeping function also involves ensuring that "the expert uses reliable methods to reach his opinions, " and that those opinions are "relevant to the facts of the case." Guy , 394 F.3d at 325. "Reliability is determined by assessing whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid. Relevance depends upon whether that reasoning or methodology properly can be applied to the facts in issue." Knight v. Kirby Inland Marine Inc. , 482 F.3d 347, 352 (5th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks, citations, and brackets omitted); see also United States v. Fields , 483 F.3d 313, 342 (5th Cir. 2007). The party offering ...

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