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Gonzalez v. Adt LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

February 20, 2019

MARIA GONZALEZ, Individually and as the Natural Guardian of NELSON ROMERO, a Minor, and SALMA GONZALEZ, Plaintiffs,



         The tragic facts underlying this case involve a home invasion and brutal assault on plaintiffs Maria Gonzalez, her 10-year-old son Nelson Romero, and 16-year-old daughter Salma Gonzalez, who claim that ADT alarm company bears responsibility for the occurrence. ADT LLC, the sole remaining defendant, has filed two motions in limine seeking the exclusion of expert witnesses designated by the plaintiffs.

         Under Fed.R.Evid. 702, witnesses qualified by “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education” are sometimes able to offer opinion testimony. The four additional requirements for such testimony are that:

(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.

Id. Rule 703 broadens the permissible bases of an expert's opinion testimony: “An expert may base an opinion on facts or data in the case that the expert has been made aware of or personally observed. If experts in the particular field would reasonably rely on those kinds of facts or data in forming an opinion on the subject, they need not be admissible for the opinion to be admitted.”

         Dr. Sean Conrin, Psychiatrist

         ADT challenges the anticipated testimony of Sean Conrin, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at University of Illinois Hospital at Chicago. Based on Dr. Conrin's review of factual material about the home invasion, as well as records of the plaintiffs' medical treatment afterward, Conrin's expert report expresses several opinions, including these. The events were traumatic and are associated with psychiatric consequences for all three plaintiffs. Maria developed post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder, which were linked to her subsequent suicide attempt. Salma also developed symptoms meeting the criteria for PTSD and major depressive disorder. A full assessment and diagnosis are not available for Nelson but severe negative impacts cannot be ruled out. All three plaintiffs are likely to “continue to be negatively impacted and require ongoing medical care.” [DE 124-1 at 3; see also DE 124-1 at 7.]

         ADT's challenge to Dr. Conrin's report centers on the undisputed fact that Dr. Conrin did not personally interview or evaluate the plaintiffs. ADT contends that this means Dr. Conrin's testimony “does not follow a discernable [sic] scientific methodology and is not the product of scientific analysis.” [DE 124 at 4.] ADT has obtained the report of a licensed clinical psychologist, David N. Lombard, Ph.D., critiquing Dr. Conrin's report.[1] Lombard concludes that Conrin cannot ethically diagnose any of the plaintiffs without having performed his own independent evaluation, and notes that Conrin did not “interview the treating providers to confirm any of the data” relayed in their records. [DE 124-3 at 4.] With regard to Salma in particular, Lombard is critical of Conrin's conclusions that her symptoms are sufficiently severe to support diagnoses of PTSD and major depressive disorder, when her treating provider did not make those diagnoses. [Id.] ADT characterizes Conrin's report and opinions as failing to meet the standard of care for psychiatric evaluation, and therefore unreliable and inadmissible.

         In response, plaintiffs argue that “ADT seeks to hold Dr. Conrin to the professional standards required for a diagnosing, treating psychologist in a clinical setting, as opposed to an independent medical examiner performing a medical records review.” [DE 130 at 4.] Rather than for his own diagnoses, “Dr. Conrin was retained to provide his opinions with respect to the diagnoses of Major Depressive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that were diagnosed by Plaintiffs' mental health providers, [and] to provide expert testimony regarding the nature, causes, and effects of these conditions.” [Id. at 4-5.] Commentators observe that “[t]he main effect of Rule 703 is to permit experts to rely on evidence that would otherwise be excluded as inadmissible hearsay.” The New Wigmore, A Treatise on Evidence: Expert Evidence, §4.6 (2d ed. 2018). “Doctors, for example, may rely on the reports of other medical professionals.” Id. This is reflected in the Advisory Committee Notes for Rule 703, which consider a physician's diagnosis, relying on “information from numerous sources and of considerable variety” to be supported by “[h]is validation, expertly performed and subject to cross-examination, ” which “ought to suffice for judicial purposes.” The Seventh Circuit has affirmed what the rules advisory notes and commentators have observed: “Medical professionals have long been expected to rely on the opinions of other medical professionals in forming their opinions.” Walker v. Soo Line R. Co., 208 F.3d 581, 588 (7th Cir. 2000).

         Dr. Conrin's deposition testimony expressed his awareness of the limits of his opinions. When asked if he is “ethically permitted to diagnose somebody with a disorder if you have not seen them in person, ” he responded, “No. But I can - not as an initial one. I can agree with others' diagnoses. I can review a case and have an opinion on it.” [DE 124-2 at 4.] To that extent, I find Dr. Conrin's opinions about the psychiatric treatment history of the three plaintiffs following the home invasion to be reliable and admissible expert testimony under Rules 702 and 703. Dr. Conrin's report also contains general material describing and explaining the conditions of PTSD and major depressive disorder, without specific reference to the plaintiffs. ADT does not challenge this portion of Dr. Conrin's report.

         The aspect of Dr. Conrin's report that I find more troubling is his proffered opinion that all three plaintiffs should be expected to “continue to experience negative, and potentially long term, impacts on their health” and “require ongoing medical care.” [DE 124-1 at 7, 3.] This opinion appears to be based in part on his expert knowledge of the “known impacts of similar trauma, in general” and “known research regarding long-term outcomes.” [Id. at 3, 7.] But the basis for applying such a conclusion to these plaintiffs as patients is not provided in Dr. ...

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