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Hartle v. FirstEnergy Generation Corp.

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

March 7, 2014

Hartle et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FirstEnergy Generation Corp., Defendant. Patrick et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FirstEnergy Generation Corp., Defendant. Price et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FirstEnergy Generation Corp., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Joy Flowers Conti, Chief United States District Judge

I. Introduction

Before the court are expert challenges in three cases consolidated for discovery, Hartle v. FirstEnergy Generation Corp. (08-1019), Patrick v. FirstEnergy Generation Corp. (No. 08-1025), and Price v. FirstEnergy Generation Corp. (No. 08-1030). These cases involve the Bruce Mansfield Power Plant (“Bruce Mansfield”), a coal-fired electric generating facility owned and operated by defendant FirstEnergy Generation Corporation (“FirstEnergy” or “defendant”). Bruce Mansfield is located along the Ohio River in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs allege harm from air pollution discharged by Bruce Mansfield. The alleged pollution came in the form of “white rain, ” a chronically discharged corrosive material, and “black rain, ” a dark- colored sooty residue discharged on two occasions in 2006 and 2007. The white rain and black rain were deposited on the area surrounding Bruce Mansfield, allegedly causing property damage and adverse health effects. The plaintiffs in Hartle are two parents seeking damages for adverse health effects sustained by their minor daughter. The named plaintiffs in Patrick are four couples who make class-action claims for damages due to diminution of property value and seek to enjoin the plant from operating until it can prevent the white rain emissions. In Price, nineteen plaintiffs seek monetary damages for adverse health effects and property damage and seek injunctive relief.

The parties conducted extensive fact and expert discovery in these cases. Defendant filed motions to limit or preclude the testimony of twelve of plaintiffs’ experts. Plaintiffs filed motions to limit or preclude the testimony of seven of defendant’s experts. This memorandum opinion addresses two of plaintiffs’ challenged geology, chemistry, and sampling experts—Carol A. Erikson (“Erikson”) and Charles H. Norris (“Norris”).[1] The motions to exclude these experts are fully briefed. As set forth below, the motions to preclude Erikson and Norris will be granted in part and denied in part.

II. Legal Standards

Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert testimony and 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.

FED. R. EVID. 702. Under the seminal case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), district courts must act as gatekeepers to “ensure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is … reliable.”[2] Id. at 589. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained that Rule 702 “embodies a trilogy of restrictions” that expert testimony must meet for admissibility: qualification, reliability and fit. Schneider ex rel. Estate of Schneider v. Fried, 320 F.3d 396, 404 (3d Cir. 2003). The party offering the expert testimony has the burden of establishing each of these requirements by a preponderance of the evidence. In re TMI Litig., 193 F.3d 613, 663 (3d Cir. 1999).

A. Qualification

An expert witness’s qualification stems from his or her “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” FED. R. EVID. 702. The witness therefore must have “specialized expertise.” Schneider, 320 F.3d at 405. The court of appeals interprets the qualification requirement “‘liberally, ’ holding that ‘a broad range of knowledge, skills, and training qualify an expert as such.’” Calhoun v. Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A., 350 F.3d 316, 321 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 35 F.3d 717, 741 (3d Cir. 1994)). When evaluating an expert’s qualifications, district courts should not insist on a certain kind of degree or background. Robinson v. Hartzell Propeller Inc., 326 F.Supp.2d 631, 667 (E.D. Pa. 2004). An expert’s qualifications are determined with respect to each matter addressed in the proposed testimony. Calhoun, 350 F.3d at 322 (“An expert may be generally qualified but may lack qualifications to testify outside his area of expertise.”). “While the background, education, and training may provide an expert with general knowledge to testify about general matters, more specific knowledge is required to support more specific opinions.” Id.

B. Reliability

In Daubert, the Supreme Court stated that the district court’s gatekeeper role requires “a preliminary assessment of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is … valid and of whether the reasoning or methodology properly can be applied to the facts in issue.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592–93. While the Court noted in Daubert that district courts were permitted to undertake a flexible inquiry into the admissibility of expert ...


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