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Cooper v. Meritor, Inc.

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

February 11, 2019

BRENDA J. COOPER, et al. PLAINTIFFS
v.
MERITOR, INC., et al. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          DEBRA M. BROWN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court in these consolidated cases are Meritor, Inc., Rockwell Automation Inc., and The Boeing Company's motions to exclude the opinions and testimony of Dixie Clay and Joe Parker. Doc. #540; Doc. #544.

         I Background

         These consolidated cases involve claims for property damage arising from decades of operation of a manufacturing facility (“Facility”) in Grenada, Mississippi, by Meritor, Inc., the Boeing Company, Rockwell Automation, Inc., and Textron, Inc. The plaintiffs, all property owners or former property owners of land in Grenada's Eastern Heights subdivision (“Subdivision”), assert that the defendants negligently operated the Facility and that such negligence resulted in the contamination of the Subdivision. The plaintiffs' amended complaint, which asserts claims for fraud, civil conspiracy, negligence, nuisance, and infliction of emotional distress, seeks recovery for numerous damages including diminution of property values. Doc. #43 at ¶ 76.

         During discovery, the plaintiffs produced the expert reports of two appraisers, Dixie Clay and Joe Parker, who opined on the unimpaired and actual values of the plaintiffs' properties. Meritor, Boeing, and Rockwell (“Meritor Defendants”) moved to exclude the testimony and opinions of each in limine. Doc. #540; Doc. #544. Textron joined both motions. Doc. #580; Doc. #581. Both motions have been fully briefed.

         II Standard

         Federal Rule of Evidence 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 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.

         A “district court has wide latitude when navigating the expert-qualification process.” Williams v. Manitowoc Cranes, L.L.C., 896 F.3d 607, 625 (5th Cir. 2018). “As long as there are sufficient indicia that an individual will provide a reliable opinion on a subject, a district court may qualify that individual as an expert.” Id. (quotation marks omitted).

         Under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), a district court has a “special obligation … to ensure that any and all scientific testimony is not only relevant, but reliable.” Bear Ranch, L.L.C. v. Heartbrand Beef, Inc., 885 F.3d 794, 802 (5th Cir. 2018) (internal alterations and quotation marks omitted). “To establish reliability under Daubert, an expert bears the burden of furnishing some objective, independent validation of his methodology.” Brown v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., 705 F.3d 531, 536 (5th Cir. 2013) (internal alterations and quotation marks omitted).

         When evaluating reliability, Daubert dictates that trial courts should consider: (1) “the extent to which a given technique can be tested;” (2) “whether the technique is subject to peer review and publication; (3) “any known potential rate of error, the existence and maintenance of standards governing operation of the technique; and (4) “whether the method has been generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.” Hathaway v. Bazany, 507 F.3d 312, 318 (5th Cir. 2007). The Daubert factors “are not mandatory or exclusive.” Id. Rather, the district court should consider whether the enumerated factors “are appropriate, use them as a starting point, and then ascertain if other factors should be considered.” Id. (citing Black v. Food Lion, 171 F.3d 308, 311- 12 (5th Cir. 1999)).

         In addition to the specific factors enumerated in Daubert, the Advisory Committee's Note to the 2000 Amendment to Rule 702 states that the following five “factors remain relevant to the determination of the reliability of expert testimony:”

(1) Whether experts are proposing to testify about matters growing naturally and directly out of research they have conducted independent of the litigation, or whether they have developed their opinions expressly for purposes of testifying.
(2) Whether the expert has unjustifiably extrapolated from an accepted premise to an ...

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