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George andrako, et al v. United States Steel Corporation

March 9, 2011

GEORGE ANDRAKO, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambrose, Senior 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, Plaintiffs brought this collective action against their employer, Defendant United States Steel Corporation ("U.S. Steel" or "Defendant"), under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. Currently, Plaintiffs*fn1 seek compensation for time spent walking to and from their workstations after donning and before doffing (i.e., putting on and taking off) certain protective gear at a Clairton, Pennsylvania coke manufacturing plant owned and operated by U.S. Steel ("Clairton Coke Plant").

Plaintiffs offer the expert testimony of Bopaya Bidanda, Ph.D ("Bidanda"), an industrial engineering professor at the University of Pittsburgh, with respect to standard walking times from locker rooms to batteries at the Clairton Coke Plant. Pending is Defendant‟s Motion to Strike Opinions and Testimony of Bopaya Bidanda, Ph.D (Docket No. 503) based on Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) and its progeny. I held a hearing on the motion on September 13, 2010, and the parties submitted both pre- and post-hearing briefs and exhibits. (Docket Nos. 504, 506, 513, 514). After carefully considering the submissions of the parties and the evidence presented at the hearing, the motion is granted for purposes of the Defendant‟s pending Motion to Decertify only as set forth more fully below.

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. 509 U.S. at 592-93. Subsequently, 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 Abasic gatekeeping obligation@ to all expert matters, not just Ascientific@ matters. In the Third Circuit, the trial court=s role as a Agatekeeper@ 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 Afit@ 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 Aeschewed imposing overly rigorous requirements of expertise and [has] been satisfied with more general qualifications.@ Paoli, 35 F.3d at 741. ARule 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 A>methods and procedures of science= rather than on subjective belief or unsupported speculation; the expert must have >good grounds= for his or her belief.@ Id. at 742. Factors used to assess reliability may 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 or controls; (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); see also Cuffari v. S-B Power Tool Co., 80 F. App‟x 749, 751 (3d Cir. 2003) ("In short, trial courts should determine whether the expert=s conclusion is based on valid reasoning and reliable methodology.").

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 Afit@ 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. The Daubert Motion

Bidanda‟s proposed expert testimony serves two purposes. First, in his initial expert report dated February 25, 2010, Bidanda used direct measurements and a predetermined motion time system, MOST [which stands for "Maynard Operation Sequence Technique"], to estimate average walking times from the three locker rooms to the five coke oven batteries at the Clairton Coke Plant. Second, Bidanda opined at the end of his initial report and in a March 22, 2010, supplemental letter that the next logical step would be to establish the time workers spent in the plant and compare it to the amount paid to each worker. He also stated that U.S. Steel‟s payroll data "may easily be converted into a computer readable format" allowing such a calculation to be made. In a declaration dated July 20, 2010 -- well after the close of expert discovery and Bidanda‟s deposition -- Bidanda purports to have determined and applied a methodology for analyzing which of the Named and Opt-In Plaintiffs have uncompensated pre- or post-shift time and, if so, the amount of uncompensated walking time. *fn2

Defendant argues that I should exclude Bidanda‟s proposed expert testimony in its entirety at the decertification stage under Daubert and its progeny. Specifically, Defendant argues that Bidanda‟s opinions do not satisfy Daubert‟s "fit" requirement and/or that the opinions are unreliable because Bidanda‟s data and methodology were flawed and incomplete. Plaintiffs disagree that Bidanda‟s testimony is either irrelevant or unreliable and argue that the testimony should be admitted at the decertification stage for the limited purpose of showing that predetermined walking times can be applied to remedy Defendant‟s violations of the FLSA and that this case can and should still proceed as a collective action. After careful consideration of the hearing testimony, the parties‟ written submissions, and the other evidence of record, I agree that Dr. Bidanda‟s proposed expert testimony should be stricken for purposes of deciding Defendant‟s Motion for Decertification (Docket No. 493).

As an initial matter, I share Defendant‟s concerns regarding the reliability of Bidanda‟s methodology. Like Defendant, I do not find any reason to question the MOST system per se, but Bidanda‟s application of that system in this case raises significant doubts. Among other things, Bidanda admits that he made an "unfortunate error" in his report by "accidently" equating one second to 25.4 Time Measurement Units ("TMU"s) when, in fact, the correct value is 27.8 TMUs. See Transcript (Docket No. 512) at 41.*fn3 Bidanda also unilaterally increased the TMU multiplier upward from 15 TMUs (the Method-Time Management ("MTM") value for unobstructed walking) to 20 TMUs. Id. at 40. Although MOST is based on MTM data, and the relevant MTM data card indicated that the multiplier might bump up to 17 if the walking is obstructed or the individual is carrying significant weight, Bidanda nevertheless "made a judgment" to use the number 20 "based on the kind of safety clothes and the kind of boots people were wearing." Id. at 39-42; see also id. at 44 (testifying that he bumped the number to 20 "because I thought that was the appropriate thing to do"); id. at 52 (opining that one cannot walk in full stride in the required flame-retardant safety clothes and boots); id. at 64.*fn4 As opposed to the published and apparently ...

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