United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
SHONTENA K. ELLIOTT, INDIVIDUALLY and as PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE ON BEHALF OF THE WRONGFUL DEATH BENEFICIARIES OF JONATHAN SCOTT KEEN PLAINTIFFS
MANAGEMENT & TRAINING CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS
MICHAEL P. MILLS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is plaintiff Shontena K. Elliott's
Motion to Strike . Defendant Management &
Training Corporation ("MTC") filed a response in
opposition, to which Elliott filed a reply. The Court has
reviewed these submissions and is prepared to rule.
forth in previous orders, this action involves the tragic
death of Jonathan Scott Keen. On June 16, 2015, Keen
committed suicide by hanging himself with his prison jumpsuit
while incarcerated at the Marshall County Correctional
Facility in Marshall County, Mississippi ("MCCF").
MTC is responsible for the operation of MCCF. This action was
brought by Elliott, Keen's mother, on behalf of
Keen's wrongful death beneficiaries. Elliott has alleged
various federal and state law claims against MTC.
present motion concerns MTC's proffered expert, Stephen
Huffman. Elliott contends that Huffman's
proposed expert testimony is inadmissible and, thus, that he
should not be permitted to testify. Having reviewed the
arguments made by both parties, in conjunction with relevant
case law and authorities, the Court finds that the motion
should be granted in part.
Standard for Expert Testimony
Court has previously recognized its duty "to screen a
proffered expert's testimony to determine
admissibility." Childs v. Entergy Miss., Inc.,
2009 WL 2508128, *2 (N.D. Miss. Aug. 13, 2009). "Expert
testimony is not admissible unless the expert is qualified
and the opinion is scientifically valid and methodologically
sound." Miller v. Genie Indus., Inc., 2012 WL
161408, at *4 (N.D. Miss. Jan. 19, 2012) (citing Daubert
v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 592-93, 113
S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993)).
an expert's qualifications, "[d]istrict courts 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) (citing FED. R. EviD.
702)."A proposed expert does not have to be
'highly qualified in order to testify about a given
issue. Differences in expertise bear chiefly on the weight to
be assigned to the testimony by the trier of fact, not its
admissibility.'" Bryant, 78 F.Supp.3d at
631 (quoting Huss v. Gayden, 571 F.3d 442, 452 (5th
Cir. 2009)). Moreover, "[a] lack of personal experience
. . . should not ordinarily disqualify an expert, so long as
the expert is qualified based on some other factor provided
by Rule 702: 'knowledge, skill, experience, training,
or education.'" U.S. v. Wen
ChyuLiu, 716 F.3d 159, 168 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting FED.
R. EviD. 702) (emphasis in original). The Court also notes
that the proponent of expert testimony bears the burden to
establish the witness's qualifications by a preponderance
of the evidence. U.S. v. Griffith, 118 F.3d 318, 322
(5th Cir. 1997).
to the substance of the expert's proposed testimony,
"the overarching concern is whether or not it is
relevant and reliable." Smith v. Goodyear Tire &
Rubber Co., 495 F.3d 224, 227 (5th Cir. 2007). Regarding
relevance, the testimony must "assist the trier of fact
to understand the evidence or determine a fact in
issue[.]" Childs, 2009 WL 2508128, at *2. The
relevance requirement is satisfied "where there is a
sufficient relationship between the subject of the proffered
testimony and the facts of the case, so that the testimony
aids the fact finder in resolving a disputed issue."
Id. (additional citations omitted). As to
reliability, "[a] party seeking to introduce expert
testimony must show '(1) the testimony is based upon
sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of
reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has
applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of
the case.'" Smith, 495 F.3d at 227 (citing
Fed.R.Evid. 702). "Proposed testimony must be supported
by appropriate validation- i.e., 'good grounds, '
based on what is known. In short, the requirement that an
expert's testimony pertains to 'scientific
knowledge' establishes a standard of evidentiary
reliability." Reed v. Flares, 2010 WL 5051474,
at *2 (N.D. Miss. Dec. 3, 2010) (quoting Daubert,
509 U.S. at 590).
Court must also "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." Id. (quoting
Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152, 119
S.Ct. 1167, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999)) (additional citations
omitted). Additionally, "[t]he party offering the expert
testimony bears the burden of proving that the testimony is
admissible." Miller, 2012 WL 161408, at *4
(citing Smith, 495 F.3d at 227).
expert report, Huffman provides the following conclusions:
Based on the limited discovery information, this report
reflects issues I believe were not responsible for the
suicide death of offender Keen and not holding the staff and
facility negligent for his death. Violations did occur
leading up to the incident by staff, but these were not
responsible for the offender's death. In my
professional opinion and based upon my professional
experience, I believe offender Keen's actions resulted in
an unfortunate and unintended death act of suicide. . .
It is unfortunate offender Keen died from his actions, but /
believe he had no intentions of committing suicide.
I believe he was demonstrating another attempt to gain
attention in order to be removed from his assigned housing
unit. He had destroyed the sprinkler head in resulting in
[sic] flooding his cell and knew the staff would be coming to
clean up the cell possibly resulting in his removal from the
unit. I can speak from experience when offenders want to
commit suicide they will plan it when it is convenient to do
so. They will wait until the property restriction is
cancelled and between rounds by staff. I also believe if the
Health Assurance staff, especially Mr. Vance and Dr.
Lancaster believed offender Keen was suicidal they should
have completed a follow-up and placed offender Keen on one of
the Suicide Risk Levels.
(emphasis added). In her motion, Elliott argues that Huffman
should not be permitted to testify as to Keen's state of
mind-specifically, whether or not he intended to commit
suicide. Elliott contends that this is outside the realm of
admissible expert testimony. Additionally, she avers that
Huffman's expertise in the area of criminal justice does
not qualify him to discuss an individual's state of mind.
states that "Huffman claim[s] that [Keen] was displaying
attention seeking behavior when he cut himself on numerous
occasions. [He] also opine[s] that [Keen] did not intend to
kill himself on June 16, 2015. Instead, [he] claim[s] that
Mr. Keen's death was unintentional or accidental."
Elliott avers that Huffman's opinion as to whether or not
Keen intended to commit suicide exceeds the scope of
acceptable expert testimony. In its response, MTC
"concedes that Stephen Huffman is not qualified to offer
any medical diagnosis of Jonathan Scott Keen. To the extent
that his ...