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Rogers v. Quality Carriers, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

July 11, 2017

BENJAMIN ROGERS, individually and as personal representative of THE ESTATE OF ASHLEY ROGERS, Plaintiff,
v.
QUALITY CARRIERS, INC., and KIMBERLY THIETJE, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          RUDY LOZANO, Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court on the: (1) Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, filed by Defendants, Quality Carriers, Inc. and Kimberly Thietje, on February 8, 2017 (DE #101); (2) Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, filed by Plaintiff, Benjamin Rogers, as personal representative of the estate of Ashley Rogers, and individually, on February 28, 2017 (DE #105); (3) Motion to Exclude Opinion Testimony of Nick Tumbas, Trooper Elwood, and Dr. E. Allen Griggs, filed by Defendants, Quality Carriers, Inc. and Kimberly Thietje, on March 2, 2017 (DE #109); and (4) Belated Motion for Oral Argument Pursuant to Local Rule 7.5, filed by Defendants, Quality Carriers, Inc. and Kimberly Thietje, on June 26, 2017 (DE #124).

         For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (DE #101) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. It is GRANTED as to the claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages, which are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. It is DENIED as to causation. Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (DE #105) is DENIED. The Motion to Exclude Opinion Testimony (DE #109) is DENIED. The Motion for Oral Argument (DE #124) is also DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed this wrongful death suit against Defendant, Quality Carriers, Inc. (“Quality Carriers”) and its employee, Kimberly Thietje (“Thietje”), in state court in 2014. Defendants removed the case to this Court on March 10, 2015. The case stems from a car crash in December 2013, on southbound I-65, which killed Ashley Rogers (“Rogers”). The Jeep driven by Rogers was struck multiple times, by multiple vehicles, including being struck by the tractor-trailer driven by Thietje. The parties have put forth different versions of how the accident occurred, and where Ashley Rogers was during the impacts.

         On February 9, 2017, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff failed to produce sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact that Thietje's wrongful act or omission was the responsible cause of Rogers' death. (DE #101.) Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on March 1, 2017 (DE #107), and Defendants filed a reply (DE #110).

         On February 28, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment arguing no genuine issues of material fact exist so that a jury could find that Rogers was struck by an unknown non-party. (DE #105.) Defendants filed a response on March 28, 2017 (DE #112), and Plaintiff filed a reply on April 10, 2017 (DE #113).

         On March 2, 2017, Defendants filed the instant motion to exclude opinion testimony of Plaintiff's experts, Nick Tumbas, Trooper Elwood, and Dr. E. Allen Griggs. (DE #109.) Plaintiff filed an opposition on March 16, 2017. (DE #111.)

         Finally, Defendants filed a motion for oral argument on June 26, 2017. (DE #124.) Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on June 26, 2017. (DE #125).

         As such, all four motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for adjudication.

         DISCUSSION

         Motion for Oral Argument

         At the outset, the Court will address Defendants' Motion for Oral Argument as to the motion to exclude testimony and motion for summary judgment. (DE #124.) Pursuant to Local Rule 7-5., the Court may “grant or deny a request for oral argument or an evidentiary hearing in its discretion.” N.D. Ind. L.R. 7-5. (c)(1). Here, the parties' memoranda have sufficiently apprised the Court of the issues at hand, and the Court does not believe that oral argument is necessary. Therefore, the Court denies Defendants' Motion for Oral Argument (DE #124), and turns to the merits of the motions.

         Motion to Exclude Opinion Testimony of Nick Tumbas, Trooper Elwood, and Dr. E. Allen Griggs

         While Defendants entitle this motion as one to exclude “opinion testimony, ” they cite to Federal Rule of Evidence Rule 702, and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), in applying the legal standard for the admissibility of expert testimony. Additionally, the two main cases they rely upon, Owens v. Ford Motor Co., 297 F.Supp.2d 1099, 1105 (S.D. Ind. 2003), and Clark v. Takata Corp., 192 F.3d 750 (7th Cir. 1999), both analyze the admissibility of expert testimony under Rule 702 and the guiding principles in Daubert.

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which governs expert testimony, provides 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 a product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

F.R.E. 702. In addition, in Daubert, the Supreme Court fashioned a two-prong test of admissibility for evidence based on the “scientific knowledge” mentioned in Rule 702. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592. To be admissible, evidence must be both relevant and reliable. Id. at 589; see also Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152 (1999) (noting the objective of court's gatekeeping requirement is to ensure reliability and relevancy of expert testimony).

         Under the reliability prong, scientific evidence must be reliable in the sense that the expert's testimony must present genuine scientific knowledge. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-93; Deimer v. Cincinnati Sub-Zero Prods. Inc., 58 F.3d 341, 344 (7th Cir. 1995). Generally, the expert witness must employ in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the witness's field. Kumho, 526 U.S. at 152. Specifically, a court may, but is not required to, consider a nonexclusive list of four factors in assessing reliability: (1) whether the expert's theories and techniques can be verified by the scientific method through testing; (2) whether the theories and techniques have been subjected to peer review and publication; (3) whether the theories and techniques have been evaluated for their potential rate of error; and (4) whether the theories and techniques have been generally accepted by the relevant scientific community. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593-94.

         Under the relevance prong, the testimony must assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence in the sense that it is relevant to or “fits” the facts of the case. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 591; Smith v. Ford Motor Co., 215 F.3d 713, 718 (7th Cir. 2000). In other words, the testimony must be such that the jury can apply it in a meaningful way to the facts at hand. This “fit” analysis essentially represents an inquiry similar to if not indistinguishable from the basic evidentiary inquiries into whether evidence is relevant and, if so, whether its probative value is nonetheless substantially outweighed by, among others, the danger of unfair prejudice and jury confusion. See Daubert, 509 U.S. at 595; Ayers v. Robinson, 887 F.Supp. 1049, 1058-59 (N.D. Ill. 1995).

         Here, Defendants move to strike the testimony of three witnesses - Nick Tumbas, Trooper Danielle Elwood, and Dr. E. Allen Griggs. Ultimately, it comes down to this: Plaintiff's theory of the case is that Rogers was either inside or near her vehicle when Thietje's truck struck Rogers' Jeep. On the other hand, Defendants' theory of the case is that Rogers was struck as a pedestrian by a vehicle other than Thietje's. Thus, Defendants are trying to bar Plaintiff's experts from opining that Rogers was near or inside her vehicle at the ...


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