Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

The Families Advocate, LLC v. Sanford Clinic North

United States District Court, D. North Dakota

March 31, 2019

THE FAMILIES ADVOCATE, LLC, an Arizona Limited Liability Corporation, as Conservator of D.M., a Minor; and SARINA BONNO and JULIAN MORENO, Individually PLAINTIFFS
v.
SANFORD CLINIC NORTH d/b/a SANFORD CLINIC JAMESTOWN; SARAH SCHATZ, M.D.; and LUTHERAN CHARITY ASSOCIATION d/b/a JAMESTOWN REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Currently before the Court is the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) (Doc. 136) of the Honorable Alice R. Senechal, United States Magistrate Judge for the District of North Dakota, filed in this case on February 11, 2019, concerning a Motion to Exclude Certain Testimony of Dr. Stan V. Smith (Doc. 57) filed by Defendants Sanford Clinic North d/b/a Sanford Clinic Jamestown and Sarah Schatz, M.D. (“the Sanford Defendants”) and a Motion to Exclude Testimony of Stan V. Smith, Ph.D. (Doc. 60) filed by Defendant Lutheran Charity Association d/b/a Jamestown Regional Medical Center (“JRMC”). The Magistrate Judge heard oral argument on the motions on December 18, 2018. In her R&R, she recommends granting the motions and excluding from trial Dr. Smith's proposed testimony concerning: (1) the amount needed to compensate D.M. for the reduction in value of his life as a result of certain neurological injuries he suffered at or around the time of his birth, (2) the amount needed to compensate D.M.'s parents for the loss of consortium with D.M., and (3) the amount needed to compensate D.M.'s parents for the loss of D.M.'s “household/family services.”

         Plaintiffs filed timely and specific objections to the R&R on February 25, 2019 (Doc. 141), and the Sanford Defendants and JRMC each filed a Response to those Objections (Docs. 148, 149) on March 4, 2019. Now that the matter is ripe, the Court has conducted a de novo review as to all proposed findings and recommendations to which Plaintiffs have raised specific objections. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). As explained below, all objections are OVERRULED, and the R&R is ADOPTED IN FULL.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendants' motions in limine seek to exclude from trial certain expert testimony offered by an economist named Dr. Stan V. Smith on the subject of hedonic damages. Hedonic damages attempt to compensate a victim for the loss of the pleasure of being alive; and/or in the case of a minor victim, hedonic damages attempt to compensate the minor victim's parents or guardians for the loss of the pleasure of the minor's society and companionship. (Doc. 136 at 2). Defendants do not dispute that Dr. Smith is a well-qualified expert in the areas of economics and finance. However, they contend that his computation of hedonic damages rests on an assumed value of life that is arbitrary and unreliable, and that his opinions (or “examples”) as to the amount of hedonic damages will be unhelpful, confusing, misleading, and/or a waste of the jury's time, all to the Defendants' unfair prejudice. Lastly, Defendants argue that Dr. Smith's proposed computation of certain categories of hedonic damages is inconsistent with North Dakota's law on damages.

         Two of Dr. Smith's expert reports are discussed in Defendants' motions. In the first report, Defendants challenge the admissibility of Dr. Smith's opinions and testimony concerning his calculation of the reduction in value of D.M.'s life (also known as loss of enjoyment of life) resulting from certain neurological injuries D.M. suffered at or around the time of birth. Defendants also contest Dr. Smith's calculation of the value of the loss to D.M.'s parents of the “society or relationship” D.M. would have provided them, but for his injury. With respect to Dr. Smith's second report, Defendants challenge the admissibility of his opinions regarding the value of the parents' loss of D.M.'s “household services, ” which include the value of D.M.'s advice, counsel, guidance, and instruction to his parents, as well as the loss of his “accompaniment services.”

         After reviewing the applicable legal standards and analyzing Dr. Smith's reports and the parties' briefing, Magistrate Judge Senechal concluded as follows:

[P]laintiffs have not shown Dr. Smith's testimony meets the relevance and reliability standards the Eighth Circuit described in Johnson and Polski. Additionally, there is a significant question as to whether Dr. Smith's opinions are consistent with North Dakota Century Code section 30-03.2-04's (sic) definition of recoverable damages.

(Doc. 136 at 25). She therefore recommended granting Defendants' motions and excluding from trial Dr. Smith's testimony on the reduction in value (“RVL”) of D.M.'s life, the value of the loss to D.M.'s parents of his society and relationship, and the value of the loss to D.M.'s parents of his household/family services.

         Plaintiffs have made four objections to the R&R (Doc. 141). First, they contend that it was error for the Magistrate Judge to conclude that Dr. Smith used little data to connect his methodology to the facts of the case. Plaintiffs appear to argue in their first objection that the Federal Rules of Evidence do not require them to present any underlying facts or data to support Dr. Smith's opinions-though they admit such underlying facts or data do exist and were presented to the Magistrate Judge for her consideration. As for the second objection, Plaintiffs contend the Magistrate Judge erred in recommending the exclusion of Dr. Smith's testimony as to his calculation of the reduction in value (“RVL”) of D.M.'s life and the value of the loss to D.M.'s parents of his household/family services. Plaintiffs' third objection is that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that Dr. Smith's testimony in these contested areas would lead to juror confusion. Plaintiffs' fourth objection is that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that Dr. Smith's calculation of damages in these contested areas is unreliable. The Court will consider each of these objections in turn.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Defendants' motions in limine ask the Court to invoke its “gate-keeping function” to ensure that an expert's opinion is “supported by the kind of scientific theory, practical knowledge and experience, or empirical research and testing that permit assessment ‘of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and of whether that reasoning or methodology properly can be applied to the facts in issue.'” Robertson v. Norton Co., 148 F.3d 905, 907 (8th Cir.1998) (quoting Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 592-93 (1993)). Whether to exclude or allow expert testimony is committed to the district court's sound discretion, subject to the Federal Rules of Evidence, including Rule 702. Johnson v. Mead Johnson & Co., LLC, 754 F.3d 557, 561 (8th Cir. 2014).

         Rule 702 states:

         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.

         The Eighth Circuit has “boiled down” these requirements into a three-part test:

First, evidence based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge must be useful to the finder of fact in deciding the ultimate issue of fact. This is the basic rule of relevancy. Second, the proposed witness must be qualified to assist the finder of fact. Third, the proposed evidence must be reliable or trustworthy in an evidentiary sense, so that, if the finder of fact accepts it as true, it provides the assistance the finder of fact requires.

Johnson, 754 F.3d at 561 (quoting Polski v. Quigley Corp., 538 F.3d 836, 839 (8th Cir. 2008)).

         When making this sort of inquiry-which is often referred to as a Daubert challenge, see Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm, Inc., 509 U.S. at 592-93-the Court's objective “is to 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.” Kumho Tire Co.,Ltd. v. Carmichael,526 U.S. 137, 152 (1999). The proponent of expert testimony bears the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the requirements set forth in Daubert and its progeny are satisfied; however, if a close case presents itself, “[c]ourts should resolve doubts regarding the usefulness of an expert's testimony in favor of admissibility.” See Marmo v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., 457 F.3d 748, 757-58 (8th Cir. 2006). ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.