Argued: April 3, 2017
Court for Baltimore City Case No.: 24-C-11-008722
Barbera, C.J., Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten,
have often said that when it comes to expert testimony, trial
court judges protect juries from "junk science" and
other unsupported scientific conclusions. But in the complex
field of behavioral disorders, the task of determining
whether causation testimony rests on sound science is fraught
with potential pitfalls. This case presents the question of
whether studies concluding that lead exposure causes various
attention problems constitute a sufficient factual basis for
an expert's testimony that lead caused the
plaintiff's Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
AND LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
Starlena Stevenson was born on December 22, 1990. For the
first ten months of her life, Stevenson lived at 2110 Clifton
Avenue in Baltimore City with her mother, Charlena
Montgomery, and maternal grandmother, Lorena Cooks. In the
fall of 1991, Stevenson and Montgomery moved to 3823 Fairview
Avenue ("Fairview"), where they lived for 15
months. At the time, Fairview was owned in part by Petitioner
Stanley Rochkind. According to Montgomery, Fairview contained
chipping and flaking paint on the windowsills, floors, and
front porch. Montgomery witnessed Stevenson mouthing the
windows at Fairview. In early 1993, Stevenson and her mother
moved to an apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue
and 1993, Stevenson's blood lead level was tested three
times. The results were as follows:
Blood Lead Level
October 29, 1992
1 year, 10 months
January 8, 1993
March 17, 1993
2 years, 3 months
Stevenson was five years old, she was evaluated by Thomas
Ley, Ph.D., a psychologist with the Kennedy Krieger
Institute, because she was struggling to pay attention in
school. Dr. Ley found that Stevenson's cognitive
functioning was within the "low average to borderline
range." He diagnosed Stevenson with ADHD and recommended
that she begin taking medication to treat it. Over the next
few years, Stevenson was prescribed Dexedrine, Ritalin, and
Adderall to treat her ADHD. In 2004, when she was thirteen
years old, Stevenson attempted suicide by cutting her wrists
and overdosing on prescription medication. The following
year, Stevenson complained of auditory hallucinations and
depression. She was evaluated by a psychologist at Mount
Washington Pediatric Hospital ("MWPH") who
diagnosed her with major depressive disorder and generalized
graduating from high school in 2008, Stevenson has been
sporadically employed. She has worked as a patient
transporter for the University of Maryland Medical System
("UMMS"), a cashier for Royal Farms, and a
babysitter. Stevenson was fired from her job at UMMS, and she
testified that she quit her job at Royal Farms because she
was bored. As of October 2014, Stevenson was unemployed.
December 2011, Stevenson filed suit against Rochkind in the
Circuit Court for Baltimore City for negligence and
violations of the Maryland Consumer Protection
Act.In July 2012, Arc Environmental, Inc.
conducted lead testing at Fairview. The testing detected
lead-based paint on 22 interior surfaces and nine exterior
surfaces. In February 2013, Cecilia Hall-Carrington, M.D., a
pediatrician, filed a report concluding to "a reasonable
degree of medical probability" that Stevenson was
poisoned by lead at Fairview, and that "her lead
poisoning is a significant contributing factor" to her
neuropsychological problems, including her ADHD.
trial, Rochkind filed four motions in limine seeking
to exclude Dr. Hall-Carrington's testimony. He argued
that she should not be permitted to testify that Fairview was
a source of Stevenson's lead exposure or that such
exposure caused Stevenson's "cognitive deficits,
" including, specifically, ADHD. Rochkind requested a
Frye-Reed hearing on each motion. The court denied
his request. After hearing arguments on the motions in
limine, the court denied them as well. The jury returned
a verdict in favor of Stevenson, awarding her $829, 000 in
economic damages and $534, 000 in noneconomic damages.
Rochkind filed a motion for a new trial, or, in the
alternative, a remittitur. The court granted his motion in
part and ordered a new trial on the issue of damages alone.
partial new trial began in October 2014. Before trial,
Rochkind renewed his motions in limine to exclude
Dr. Hall-Carrington's ADHD testimony, which were again
denied. The court declined to hold a
Frye-Reed hearing, explaining that Dr.
Hall-Carrington's opinions are "not new
science" or "new conclusions." It admitted her
testimony under Maryland Rule 5-702 because it found that she
drew from "reliable sources."
trial, Dr. Hall-Carrington testified as to both general and
specific ADHD causation. She explained that studies show that
lead exposure can cause "attention problems[ ] or
ADHD" generally. She also opined "within a
reasonable degree of medical probability" that lead
exposure caused Stevenson's ADHD specifically. To support
her testimony, Dr. Hall-Carrington relied on a publication
from the Environmental Protection Agency reviewing the most
recent studies on the effects of lead exposure in children,
titled "Integrated Science Assessment for Lead"
("the EPA-ISA"). She testified that the EPA-ISA
concluded that there is a causal relationship between lead
exposure and the symptoms of ADHD, such as attention
decrements, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Dr.
Hall-Carrington also testified that "some years ago
there was a concern with suicide in kids [taking]
Adderall." In closing argument, Stevenson's counsel
implied that Stevenson's depression and hallucinations
were side effects of her ADHD medications, including
jury awarded Stevenson $753, 000 in economic damages and
$700, 000 in noneconomic damages. Due to the statutory cap on
noneconomic damages, the court reduced the total judgment to
$1, 103, 000. See Md. Code (1986, 2013 Repl. Vol.),
§ 11-108 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article.
Rochkind filed a motion for a new trial, which the court
denied. He filed a timely appeal.
Court of Special Appeals held that the trial court did not
err in failing to hold a Frye-Reed hearing on Dr.
Hall-Carrington's general causation testimony because the
studies she relied upon did not reach novel conclusions and
"used methodologies that are generally accepted" in
the scientific community. Rochkind v. Stevenson, 229
Md.App. 422, 464 (2016). The intermediate appellate court
also held that the trial court properly admitted Dr.
Hall-Carrington's specific causation testimony under Rule
5-702 because her opinion "was supported by an adequate
factual basis and was sufficient to allow the jury to decide
the causal connection, if any, between lead exposure and [ ]
Stevenson's ADHD." Id. at 465. Rochkind
granted certiorari to answer the following
1. Did the trial court err in admitting Dr.
Hall-Carrington's general and specific ADHD causation
testimony under Maryland Rule 5-702?
2. Did the trial court err in failing to hold a
Frye-Reed hearing on Dr. Hall-Carrington's
general ADHD causation testimony?
we answer the first question in the affirmative, we reverse
the decision of the Court of Special Appeals and remand for a
new trial on the issue of ...