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Montgomery v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 19, 2017

LOU MONTGOMERY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., et al. Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge

         Following a workplace accident involving a tool cart, Plaintiffs Lou Montgomery and Melissa Montgomery filed this lawsuit against the cart's manufacturer, Jamco Products, Inc. (“Jamco”), and Mr. Montgomery's employer, CSX Transportation, Inc. (“CSXT”). Now pending is Defendant CSXT's Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony and Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 120]. I have considered that motion, the materials submitted relating thereto, and the oral arguments presented at a hearing on January 11, 2017.[1] See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons set forth below, CSXT's motion will be granted.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On October 5, 2013, Mr. Montgomery was working as a machinist for CSXT in its shop in Cumberland, Maryland (“Cumberland shop”). Montgomery Dep., 43:6-12. Mr. Montgomery had been employed as a CSXT machinist for approximately nine years. Id. at 33:4-6. During all nine years, various tool carts were used by the machinists in the Cumberland shop. Id. at 166:2-4. The tool carts were not all identical. Id. at 71:2-8.

         On the date of the accident, Mr. Montgomery was assigned to repair a diesel locomotive. Id. 77:18-78:16. In order to transport his tools to the locomotive, Mr. Montgomery found a tool cart and pushed it approximately 70 yards to the tool room. He placed a fuel injector on top of the cart and then pushed the tool cart another 100 yards or so to his tool locker. He went into his tool locker, retrieved a small black toolbox weighing 10 or 15 pounds, and placed it on the cart. He then went to pick up a second toolbox weighing approximately 70 to 75 pounds and set in on the cart but, when he did, the cart broke. Mr. Montgomery was jerked forward from the weight of the toolbox, and severely injured his back. Id. at 79:15-90:12, 91:20-24.

         CSXT's safety rules require employees to inspect all tools and equipment for unsafe conditions before use. Id. at 87:21-24, 153:5-19. Mr. Montgomery looked at the cart before using it “and it appeared to be fine.” Id. at 87:8-89:10. He did not notice any cracks on the cart. Id.

         Another CSXT employee, Mike Kennell, worked as a boilermaker in the Cumberland shop. Kennell Dep. 7:1-4. Kennell testified that he recalled making repairs to some tool carts prior to Mr. Montgomery's accident, but he could not recall how many carts he had repaired, when the repairs were made, or whether the carts he repaired were Jamco carts. Id. at 14:21-16:9, 20:12-15. At the time of the accident, the original welds on the tool cart used by Mr. Montgomery had not been altered or repaired. Clauser Dep. 57:18-58:6.

         Mr. Montgomery and his wife filed the instant lawsuit against the manufacturer of the cart, Jamco, under a theory of manufacturing defect, and against CSXT, alleging negligence in violation of the Federal Employers' Liability Act (“FELA”), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51, et seq. See [ECF Nos. 1 and 60]. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that CSXT failed to provide Mr. Montgomery a reasonably safe place to work. See [ECF No. 60]; Pls.' Opp., [ECF No. 122 at 17-20].

         CSXT now seeks to exclude the testimony of Plaintiffs' liability expert pursuant to Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, and seeks summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         II. EXPERT TESTIMONY

         Plaintiffs have retained Craig Clauser, P.E., as their liability expert. By Plaintiffs' description, Mr. Clauser is “an expert metallurgist with a secondary expertise in industrial safety and quality control.” Pls.' Opp., [ECF No. 122 at 7].

         Contrary to Plaintiffs' claim, this Court has not previously ruled that Mr. Clauser's opinion meets all requirements of Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 703. Id. at 1. Rather, the Court's prior inquiry was limited to determining whether Mr. Clauser's expert reports and testimony violated 1) the timely disclosure requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2) and 2) the reliability requirement of Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 703. Montgomery v. CSX Transp., Inc., 2016 WL 5390809 (D. Md. Sept. 27, 2016) (denying CSXT's motion to strike Mr. Clauser's opinion on the above-stated bases). The instant motion challenges Mr. Clauser's qualifications as an expert and the foundational basis of his opinion as to CSXT's liability.[2]

         a. Legal Standard

         A witness may be qualified as an expert “by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.” Fed.R.Evid. 702. Expert testimony is admissible if it will assist the trier of fact, and: (1) is “based on sufficient facts or data;” (2) is “the product of reliable principles and methods;” and (3) the principles and methods have been applied “reliably...to the facts of the case.” Id. The expert testimony also must rest on a reliable foundation and must be relevant. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993); see also Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999) (extending Daubert to “the testimony of...other experts who are not scientists”). Where experiential expert testimony “does not rely on anything like a scientific method, ” it is nevertheless admissible “so long as an experiential witness ‘explain[s] how [his] experience leads to the conclusion reached, why [his] experience is a sufficient basis for the opinion, and how [his] experience is reliably applied to the facts.'” United States v. Bynum, 604 F.3d 161, 167 (4th Cir. 2010) (alterations in original) (citations omitted).

         The Court's inquiry into the reliability of an expert's testimony is “flexible, ” and focuses on “the principles and methodology employed by the expert.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 594-95. Holesapple v. Barrett, 5 F. App'x 177, 179 (4th Cir. 2001). In determining whether proffered testimony is sufficiently reliable, “the court has broad latitude to consider whatever factors bearing on validity the court finds to be useful; the particular factors will depend on the unique circumstances of the expert testimony involved.” Id. Neither Daubert nor the Federal Rules of Evidence obligate a trial court “to admit opinion evidence that is [based merely on] the ipse dixit of the expert.” Gen. Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 146 (1997). Rather, “[r]eliability is to be determined by the ‘principles and methodology' employed by the expert.” Holesapple v. Barrett, 5 F. App'x 177, 179 (4th Cir. 2001). Indeed, “[t]he Court must exclude expert testimony if it is so fundamentally unreliable that it can offer no assistance to the jury.” Goyal v. Thermage, Inc., 2011 WL 691185, at *3 n.8 (D. Md. Feb. 18, 2011) (quoting Meterlogic, Inc. v. KLT, Inc., 368 F.3d 1017, 1019 (8th Cir. 2004)).

         b. ...


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