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Balbed v. Eden Park Guest House, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

August 7, 2019

MARYAM BALBED, Plaintiff,
v.
EDEN PARK GUEST HOUSE, LLC, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Timothy J. Sullivan United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude the Expert Testimony and Report of Christine Limparis (“Motion”). (ECF No. 70.) Having considered the submissions of the parties (ECF No. 70, 71 & 74), I find that a hearing is unnecessary. See Local R. 105.6. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion will be denied.[1]

         Om January 19, 2016, Plaintiff Maryam Balbed (“Balbed”), filed a complaint against her former employer, Defendant Eden Park Guest House, LLC (“Eden Park”), alleging that she was not paid wages as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), the Maryland Wage and Hour Law, and the Montgomery County, Maryland minimum wage law. On January 10, 2017, Judge Messitte granted Eden Park's cross-motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 35.) In doing so, Judge Messitte agreed with Eden Park's argument that the parties' written contract constituted an exception to certain FLSA recordkeeping and calculation of in-kind wage requirements. Balbed appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. (ECF No. 37.)

         On January 25, 2018, the Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded, concluding that the district court failed to make certain findings as to whether Eden Park's in-kind compensation conformed to the relevant FLSA requirement (29 U.S.C. § 203(m)) and corresponding Department of Labor Regulations. Balbed v. Eden Park House L.L.C., 881 F.3d 285 290-91 (4th Cir. 2018). Of import to Balbed's Motion, the Fourth Circuit stated that “if Eden Park can provide a reconstruction of records that the district court deems reasonable, those reconstructed records can be used to assess Balbed's appropriate wages.” Id. On remand, Judge Messitte issued an Order permitting the parties time for “limited discovery, including time for Defendants to attempt to reconstruct records pertaining to the amount of wages-in cash and kind-paid to Plaintiff, and for both Plaintiff and Defendants to assess the nature of, and value of, the living quarters Plaintiff occupied during her employment with Defendants.” (ECF No. 57 at 1.)

         During discovery, Eden Park produced an expert report prepared by Christine Limparis (“Limparis”). In the report, Limparis states her opinion on the proper calculation of “a monthly housing and living cost allocation for the Inn-keeper of Eden Park for the period July 2015 through June 2016.” (ECF No. 70-4 at 2.) Ultimately, Limparis concluded that “the combined total monthly housing and living costs allocated to the Inn-keeper is $993 in 2015 and $829 in 2016.” (Id.) To arrive at these calculations, Limparis considered the reasonable cost to Eden Park of furnishing Balbed with board, lodging, and other facilities. Limparis calculated the cost of Balbed's personal living space at Eden Park's facility, the cost of Balbed's use of the common area of Eden Park's facility, and the cost of Balbed's use of supplies purchased by Eden Park for use at its facility. (Id. at 2-3.)

         Balbed moves to exclude the expert testimony of Limparis because it is not reliable or relevant under the standard announced in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). Balbed argues that Limparis is not qualified to offer an expert opinion on the reasonable costs to Eden Park of furnishing Balbed with board, lodging, and other facilities during the course of her employment, that her methodology is unreliable, that her calculations are incorrect, that her calculations are based on incorrect and inaccurate data and assumptions, and that her opinion is not relevant because it does not correlate with the requirements of 29 U.S.C. § 201(m). (ECF No. 70-1 at 3.) Because Limparis's opinion is not reliable or relevant, Balbed argues, it must be excluded from evidence.

         Under Rule 104(a) of the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Court is responsible for determining preliminary questions conerning the qualification of a person to be a witness and the admissibility of evidence, including the admissibility of expert testimony under Fed.R.Evid. 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.'” Maryland v. Dent, No. ELH-18-360, 2019 WL 1795531, at *1 (D. Md. Apr. 23, 2019) (quoting Fireman's Fund Ins. Co. v. Tecumseh Prods. Co., 767 F.Supp.2d 549, 553 (D. Md. 2011).

         “Expert testimony is admissible under Rule 702, then, if it concerns (1) scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge that (2) will aid the jury or other trier of fact to understand or resolve a fact at issue.” Westberry v. Gislaved Gummi AB, 178 F.3d 257, 260 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592).

The first prong of this inquiry necessitates an examination of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the expert's proffered opinion is reliable- that is, whether it is supported by adequate validation to render it trustworthy. The second prong of the inquiry requires an analysis of whether the opinion is relevant to the facts at issue. Thus, an expert's testimony is admissible under Rule 702 if it rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant.

Id. at 260-61 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). See also Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 141 (1999) (holding that the Daubert standard also applies “to the testimony of . . . other experts who are not scientists”).

         When exercising its “gate keeping function” to consider the admissibility of expert testimony, the Court undertakes a “flexible” inquiry, “focusing on the ‘principles and methodology' employed by the expert, not on the conclusions reached.” Westberry, 178 F.3d at 261 (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 594-95). The Fourth Circuit has directed district courts considering the admissibility of expert testimony to “be conscious of two guiding, and sometimes competing, principles.” Id. at 261.

On the one hand, the court should be mindful that Rule 702 was intended to liberalize the introduction of relevant expert evidence. And, the court need not determine that the expert testimony a litigant seeks to offer into evidence is irrefutable or certainly correct. As with all other admissible evidence, expert testimony is subject to being tested by vigorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof. On the other hand, the court must recognize that due to the difficulty of evaluating their testimony, expert witnesses have the potential to be both powerful and quite misleading. And, given the potential persuasiveness of expert testimony, proffered evidence that has a greater potential to mislead than to enlighten should be excluded.

Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         When applying Daubert to challenged expert testimony, courts typically ...


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