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Gallatin Fuels, Inc. v. Westchester Fire Insurance Co.

January 18, 2006

GALLATIN FUELS, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
WESTCHESTER FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambrose, Chief District Judge.

OPINION and ORDER OF COURT

The factual and procedural details of this case are well known to the parties, and I need not repeat them in detail here. In short, Plaintiff, Gallatin Fuels, Inc. ("Plaintiff" or "Gallatin"), seeks payment under an insurance policy issued by Defendant Westchester Fire Insurance Company ("Defendant" or "Westchester") to Mon View Mining Corporation ("Mon View") for mining equipment that was destroyed or rendered unrecoverable on April 8, 2002, when the mine in which it was being used returned to its natural water level when the power to the mine was shut off after Mon View failed to pay outstanding utility bills. Gallatin was named as a loss payee under the policy. Gallatin also alleges that Westchester's actions constituted bad faith in violation of Pennsylvania law.

Plaintiff offers the expert testimony of George Hoffman ("Hoffman") on the issue of bad faith. Pending is Defendant's Motion in Limine (Docket No. 139) seeking to exclude certain portions of Hoffman's proposed testimony, including opinions based on speculation and conclusions that Westchester acted in bad faith. The parties have represented that a hearing is not necessary on this issue. Thus, I base my decision on the parties' submissions and attachments thereto. See Oddi v. Ford Motor Co., 234 F.3d 136, 154-55 (3d Cir. 2000). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion in Limine is granted in part and denied in part.

I. ANALYSIS

A. DAUBERT STANDARD AND RULE 702

In Daubert, the Supreme Court held that:

[f]aced with a proffer of expert scientific testimony, ... the trial court judge must determine at the outset ... whether the expert is proposing to testify to (1) scientific knowledge that (2) will assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue. This entails a preliminary 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.

Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. 509 U.S. 579, 592-93 (1993). More recently, in Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 141 (1999), the Supreme Court clarified any confusion regarding the intended reach of the Daubert decision, by declaring that the trial judge must perform this "basic gatekeeping obligation" to all expert matters, not just "scientific" matters. In the Third Circuit, the trial court's role as a "gatekeeper" announced in Daubert requires proof that: (1) the proffered witness is qualified as an expert; (2) the expert must testify about matters requiring scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge; and (3) the expert's testimony must "fit" the facts of the case. In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 35 F.3d 717, 741-42 (3d Cir. 1994). Thus, pursuant to Daubert, the gatekeeping function requires the court to ensure that the expert testimony is both reliable and relevant. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 589; Kumho Tire Co., 526 U.S. at 147.

As to the first requirement - qualification - the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has "eschewed imposing overly rigorous requirements of expertise and [has] been satisfied with more general qualifications." Paoli, 35 F.3d at 741. "Rule 702's liberal policy of admissibility extends to the substantive as well as the formal qualification of experts." Id. Thus, an expert can qualify based on a broad range of knowledge, skills, training and experience.

The second inquiry focuses on methodology. The inquiry into methodology is designed to ensure that an expert's opinions are based upon "'methods and procedures of science' rather than on subjective belief or unsupported speculation." Id. at 742. Factors used to assess reliability include whether: (1) the theory or technique can be tested; (2) the theory or technique has been peer reviewed; (3) there is a high rate of known or potential error; (4) there are standards of control; (5) the theory is "generally accepted"; (6) there is a sufficient relationship between the technique and methods which have been established to be reliable; (7) the expert's qualifications are sufficient; and (8) the method has been put to non-judicial uses. See Magistrini v. One Hour Martinizing Dry Cleaning, 180 F. Supp. 2d 584, 594 (D.N.J. 2002), aff'd, 68 F. App'x 356 (3d Cir. 2003). "Some courts also consider additional factors relevant in determining reliability, including: (i) whether the expert's proposed testimony grows naturally and directly out of research the expert has conducted independent of the litigation . . . ; (ii) whether the expert has unjustifiably extrapolated from an accepted premise to an unfounded conclusion. . . ; (iii) whether the expert has adequately accounted for alternative explanations . . . ; (iv) whether the expert is being as careful as he would be in his professional work outside of the litigation context . . . ; and (v) whether the field of expertise asserted by the expert is known to reach reliable results for the type of opinion proffered by the expert . . . ." Id. at 594-95 (citations omitted).

Although this list of factors is lengthy, not each factor will be relevant to every reliability analysis. The "test of reliability is 'flexible.'" Kumho, 526 U.S. at 141. According to the Supreme Court, "Daubert's list of specific factors neither necessarily nor exclusively applies to all experts." Id. The relevance of the Daubert factors depends "on the nature of the issue, the expert's particular expertise, and the subject of his testimony." Id. at 150 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Finally, Daubert and Rule 702 require that the expert's testimony "fit" the facts of the case. "'Fit' requires that the proffered testimony must in fact assist the jury, by providing it with relevant information, necessary to a reasoned decision of the case." Magistrini, 180 F. Supp. 2d at 595 (citing Paoli, 35 F.3d at 743).

B. HOFFMAN'S OPINIONS

According to his expert report, Hoffman has significant experience as an insurance claims adjuster and has testified approximately fifty times as a claims adjuster at deposition or at trial. Hoffman has not testified previously as an expert witness. Hoffman Report at 1-2 (Docket No. 141, Ex. A). Defendant does not challenge Hoffman's qualifications as a bad faith expert. Rather, Defendant seeks to exclude portions Hoffman's testimony at trial on the grounds that Hoffman has expressed inadmissible opinions concerning the coverage available to Gallatin under the policy; has provided subjective interpretations of Westchester's actions and intent; and provided ultimate conclusions that Westchester has acted in bad faith. Def.'s Mot. at 1-2. Defendant argues that Hoffman's testimony must be limited to that ...


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