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Hunt Valley Baptist Church, Inc. v. Baltimore County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 6, 2018




         Plaintiff Hunt Valley Baptist Church, Inc. (“HVBC” or the “Church”) filed suit against Baltimore County and the Board of Appeals of Baltimore County (the “Board”), alleging, inter alia, violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc et seq.; the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment; the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and Article 36 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. ECF 1 (“Complaint”).

         The case is rooted in a zoning dispute. HVBC sought to obtain a special exception from the Board to build a church on 16.6 acres of land in Cockeysville, Maryland. See ECF 21 at 4-18. However, the Board rejected the Church's application. Id. at 15-17; see also ECF 8-2 at 131-144. This litigation followed.

         Following this Court's ruling (ECF 17) with respect to defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF 8), the Court issued a Scheduling Order. ECF 27. The parties are now engaged in discovery, pursuant to the Scheduling Order of December 7, 2017. Id.

         On May 11, 2018, defendants filed an “Objection To Plaintiff's Expert Designations, Request For Hearing, And Request For Extension To Designate Defendants' Experts” (ECF 46), along with a supporting memorandum of law (ECF 46-1) (collectively, the “Motion”), and exhibits. See ECF 46-2 at 1-81.[1] In the Motion, defendants requested “a Daubert hearing . . . .” ECF 46 at 1. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 597 (1993). Moreover, defendants contend, inter alia, that the testimony of plaintiffs' five proposed experts is not relevant under rules 401 and 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. ECF 46-1 at 3. Among other things, defendants insist that the Church “should not be allowed to attack the Board's decision with evidence that was not presented to the Board.” Id. at 4. Further, defendants ask the Court to extend the deadline for their expert designations until 30 days after the Court has ruled on the Motion. ECF 46 at 1.

         Plaintiff opposes the Motion. See ECF 47 (“Opposition”). The Church argues, inter alia, that the “issues raised in Defendants' ‘Objections' are not issues appropriate for a Daubert hearing, but for arguments in dispositive motions or motions in limine following the conclusion of discovery.” ECF 47 at 3.

         In defendants' reply (ECF 48, “Reply”), they reiterate that the expert “testimony should have [been] presented to the Board in the first instance, ” at least as to plaintiff's “as applied challenge.” ECF 48 at 2. They add that plaintiff's “attempted use of after-the-fact expert evidence should not be allowed to make up for Plaintiff's failure to request conditional approval . . . [or] to seek a variance . . . .” Id. at 10.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall deny the Motion (ECF 46), without prejudice to the right of defendants to renew their objections as to plaintiff's expert witnesses, at the appropriate time.



         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 104(a), the court is responsible for determining “preliminary questions concerning the qualification of a person to be a witness” and “the admissibility of evidence, ” including the admissibility of expert testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. With regard to expert testimony, it is well settled that “[t]he party seeking admission of the expert testimony bears the burden of establishing admissibility by a preponderance of the evidence.” Fireman's Fund Ins. Co. v. Tecumseh Prods. Co., 767 F.Supp.2d 549, 553 (D. Md. 2011); see Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590; Cady v. Ride-Away Handicap Equipment Corp., 702 Fed. App'x 120, 124-25 (4th Cir. 2017); Cooper v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 259 F.3d 194, 199 (4th Cir. 2001); Maryland Casualty Co. v. Therm-O-Disc., Inc., 137 F.3d 780, 783 (4th Cir. 1998); Casey v. Geek Squad ® Subsidiary Best Buy Stores, L.P., 823 F.Supp.2d 334, 340 (D. Md. 2011).

         Fed. R. Evid. 702 provides that a properly qualified expert witness may testify regarding technical, scientific, or other specialized knowledge in a given field if the testimony would assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or to determine a fact in issue. The rule “was intended to liberalize the introduction of relevant expert evidence.” Westberry v. Gislaved Gummi AB, 178 F.3d 257, 261 (4th Cir. 1999).

         Rule 702, which governs expert testimony, provides:

         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.

         In Daubert, 509 U.S. at 597, the Supreme Court made clear that scientific evidence is admissible under Rule 702 if “it rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant.” The Court explained that expert scientific testimony must be grounded “in the methods and procedures of science, ” and it must be something more than subjective belief or unsupported assumptions. Id. at 589-90. Moreover, the evidence or testimony must be relevant to the extent that it will “assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” Id. at 591; see also Nease v. Ford Motor Co., 848 F.3d 219, 229 (4th Cir. 2017); United States v. Forrest, 429 F.3d 73, 80-81 (4th Cir. 2005). In Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 141 (1999), the Supreme Court extended the principles pertaining to scientific expert testimony to other expert testimony requiring technical or specialized knowledge.

         Under Daubert, 509 U.S. at 597, the trial court serves a “gatekeeping role, ” by making pretrial determinations “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.” Id. at 592-93. This gatekeeper role helps to ensure that the expert's testimony “rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand.” Id. at 597; see Lord & Taylor, LLC v. White Flint, L.P., 849 F.3d 567, 577 (4th Cir. 2017).

         As to reliability, Daubert articulated five factors that the trial court should consider in evaluating the reliability of an expert's reasoning or methodology: (1) whether the particular scientific theory has been or can be tested; (2) whether the theory has been subjected to peer review and publication; (3) the known or potential rate of error; (4) whether there are standards controlling the method; and (5) whether the technique has gained general acceptance in the relevant scientific community. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593-94; see United States v. Crisp, 324 F.3d 261, 265-66 (4th Cir. 2003).

         As a whole, the factors are meant to ensure that “an expert, whether basing his testimony upon professional studies or personal experience, employs in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field.” Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 152. However, the factors are meant to be “helpful, not definitive, ” and not all factors necessarily apply in a given case. Id. at 151; see Nease, ...

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