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A.H. v. St. Louis County

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

August 15, 2016

A.H., et al., Plaintiffs,
ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on defendants’ motion to exclude the expert testimony of Richard Hayward pursuant to Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). Plaintiff has responded in opposition, and the issues are fully briefed.

         I. Background

         In February 2013, Jereme M. Hartwig, was incarcerated in the St. Louis County Justice Center where he committed suicide by hanging himself. Plaintiffs are the decedent’s children and mother. In the first amended complaint, plaintiffs assert claims against defendants St. Louis County, Missouri, psychiatrist Wendy Magnoli, corrections officer Lauren Abate, and the director of the St. Louis County Department of Justice Services, Herbert Bernsen. Count I is asserted against defendants Magoli, Abate and Bernsen for deliberate indifference to Mr. Hartwig’s mental health care needs in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Count III alleges that defendant St. Louis County failed to have an adequate suicide prevention policy and training program in violation of § 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment. Count V is a supplemental state law claim of wrongful death brought against all of the defendants. Counts II and IV were dismissed for failure to state a claim.

         Plaintiffs have endorsed psychologist Richard Hayward, Ph.D., as an expert witness to provide opinions concerning the effectiveness of St. Louis County’s suicide prevention program and the adequacy of the work of mental health providers at the jail. See Defs.’ Exs. A & B [Docs. ##116-1-2]. Defendants move to exclude Dr. Hayward’s opinions, arguing that the opinions he asserts in his report do not meet the test of admissibility under Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 provides that a court may permit opinion testimony from a witness qualified as an expert 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 upon 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. The Eighth Circuit has summarized Rule 702 as a three-part test:

First, evidence based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge must be useful to the finder of fact in deciding the ultimate issue of fact. This is the basic rule of relevancy. Second, the proposed witness must be qualified to assist the finder of fact. Third, the proposed evidence must be reliable or trustworthy in an evidentiary sense, so that, if the finder of fact accepts it as true, it provides the assistance the finder of fact requires.

Johnson v. Mead Johnson & Co., LLC, 754 F.3d 557, 561 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Polski v. Quigley Corp., 538 F.3d 836, 839 (8th Cir. 2008)). “The proponent of the expert testimony must prove its admissibility by a preponderance of the evidence.” Lauzon v. Senco Prods., Inc., 270 F.3d 681, 686 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592).

         Under Rule 702, district courts act as gatekeepers, ensuring that expert testimony is “not only relevant, but reliable.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 589; see also Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 141 (1999) (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 597). In Daubert, the Supreme Court outlined four non-exclusive factors that the district court may look to in evaluating the reliability of expert testimony: (1) whether the scientific technique can be or has been tested; (2) whether the theory or technique has been subjected to peer review or publication; (3) the known rate of error for the technique or theory and the applicable standards for operation; and (4) whether the technique is generally accepted. Johnson, 754 F.3d at 562 (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593-94). Daubert's progeny provide additional factors such as: “whether the expertise was developed for litigation or naturally flowed from the expert's research; whether the proposed expert ruled out other alternative explanations; and whether the proposed expert sufficiently connected the proposed testimony with the facts of the case.” Lauzon, 270 F.3d at 687. As the Supreme Court explained in Kumho Tire Company, “the test of reliability is ‘flexible, ’ and Daubert’s list of specific factors neither necessarily nor exclusively applies to all experts or in every case. Rather, the law grants a district court the same broad latitude when it decides how to determine reliability as it enjoys in respect to its ultimate reliability determination.” 526 U.S. at 141-42. The Eighth Circuit has described the standard in Daubert as calling for the “liberal admission” of expert testimony. Johnson, 754 F.3d at 562.

         “Regardless of what factors are evaluated, the main inquiry is whether the proffered expert's testimony is sufficiently reliable.” First Union Nat. Bank v. Benham, 423 F.3d 855, 861 (8th Cir. 2005). The Eighth Circuit has admonished district courts “not to weigh or assess the correctness of competing expert opinions.” Johnson, 754 F.3d at 562. As long as the expert’s testimony “rests upon ‘good grounds, based on what is known’ it should be tested by the adversary process with competing expert testimony and cross-examination, rather than excluded by the court at the outset.” Id. (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590, 596. “Only if the expert's opinion is so fundamentally unsupported that it can offer no assistance to the jury must such testimony be excluded.” Benham, 523 F.3d at 862. “Doubts regarding ‘whether an expert’s testimony will be useful should generally be resolved in favor of admissibility.’” Clark v. Hendrick, 150 F.3d 912, 915 (8th Cir. 1998) (quoting Larabee v. MM & L Int’l Corp., 896 F.2d 1112, 1116 n.6 (8th Cir. 1990)).

         III. Discussion

         In the instant motion, defendants ask the Court to exclude Dr. Hayward’s opinions regarding (1) whether the St. Louis County Justice Department developed and implemented an effective suicide prevention program prior to Mr. Hartwig’s suicide, (2) whether the St. Louis County Justice Department developed and implemented an effective suicide prevention training and supervision program for correctional officers, (3) whether the mental health providers at the county jail adequately assessed Mr. Hartwig’s level of suicide, and (4) whether the mental health administrative staff provided sufficient supervision of the jail mental health clinicians regarding suicide prevention. See Hayward Report, at *3-12 [Doc. #116- 1]. Defendants argue that Dr. Hayward’s opinions on these issues are not based on accurate facts or data, are not the product of reliable principles or methods, and are irrelevant. Affidavits from the individual defendants and a St. Louis County Justice Department computer system analyst are attached in support of the motion.

         Defendants have not challenged Dr. Hayward’s qualifications to serve as an expert in this case. The Court finds Dr. Hayward’s background as a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist with 36 years of experience in correctional settings developing suicide prevention training programs sufficient to qualify him to testify as an expert on suicide prevention in jails in this case pursuant to Rule 702. Hayward Curriculum Vitae [Doc. #142-1]; see Fed.R.Evid. 702 advisory committee notes (“The fields of knowledge which may be drawn upon are not limited merely to the ‘scientific’ and ‘technical’ but extend to all ‘specialized’ knowledge. Similarly, the expert is viewed, not in a narrow ...

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