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Lipp v. Ginger C, L.L.C.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

January 19, 2017

JOHN P. LIPP and STEPHANIE S. LIPP, Plaintiffs,
v.
GINGER C, L.L.C., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          NANETTE K. LAUGHREY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are Plaintiffs' Motion to Exclude Testimony of Michael White, [Doc. [367');">367]], Audrey Navarro, [Doc. [368]], Carl Martin, [Doc. [369');">369]], Dr. Alfred Bowles [Doc. 370], and Fred Crouch, [Doc. [377]]. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiffs' Motions to Exclude the Testimony of Michael White, Carl Martin, and Fred Crouch are each granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiffs' Motion to Exclude the Testimony of Audrey Navarro is granted. Plaintiffs' Motion to Exclude the Testimony of Dr. Alfred Bowles is denied.

         I. Background

         On December 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2-1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14, former Defendant Phi Kappa Phi Fraternity members hosted a party at 507 South Fourth Street in Columbia, Missouri. Jack Lipp arrived at this party sometime after 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1:00 p.m. At some point in the next hour, Lipp went onto a second-floor balcony on the south side of the property. Columbia Police believe party attendees had been urinating off the deck throughout the night due to long bathroom lines inside the house. Lipp fell 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">18 feet off the balcony to the driveway below. Lipp died on December 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">25, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14 as a result of his injuries.

         The balcony railing had been temporarily repaired by a prior owner of the property with wooden boards. Many of the issues in this case center around the condition of the balcony-who was responsible for repairing it, whether a balcony railing was in place, etc. At the time of Lipp's injury, 507 South Fourth Street was owned by Ginger C, which had an agreement with ACC to redevelop the property. ACC planned to remove the existing structure on the premises to make room for a large student apartment complex, and to this end ACC financed Ginger C's purchase of the property. However, in the spring and summer of 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14, the Columbia City Council repeatedly tabled its consideration of ACC's proposed project. Due to this delay, the existing structure was leased in August 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14 to three male students, members of the PKP Fraternity, for the upcoming school year. Roland Management had an agreement with Ginger C to manage the rental property at 507 South Fourth Street.

         Plaintiffs-the surviving parents of Jack Lipp-filed this suit on November 9, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15. Their Fourth Amended Complaint, [Doc. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">191');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1], contains four counts of negligence, one each against ACC, Ginger C, Roland, and Scott Swafford, as Class Representative for Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity. Plaintiffs reached a settlement with Pi Kappa Phi, which the Court approved, and Scott Swafford was terminated as a Defendant thereafter.

         Plaintiffs move to exclude five of Defendants' designated expert witnesses: Michael White, Audrey Navarro, Carl Martin, Dr. Alfred Bowles, and Fred Crouch.

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         Federal trial judges have “broad discretion” in making decisions concerning expert testimony's admissibility. Bradshaw v. FFE Transp. Servs., Inc., 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">104');">71');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">15 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">104, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">107 (8th Cir. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13). Under Fed.R.Evid. 702');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 and the guidance set forth in Daubert, expert testimony should be liberally admitted. Johnson v. Mead Johnson & Co., LLC, 3d 557');">754 F.3d 557, 562');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 (8th Cir. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">14) (citing U.S. v. Finch, 30 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1057');">630 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1057, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1062');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 (8th Cir. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1) (holding that doubts about usefulness of expert testimony are resolved in favor of admissibility)); Robinson v. GEICO Gen. Ins. Co., 3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1096');">447 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1096, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">100 (8th Cir. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2006) (holding that expert testimony should be admitted if it “advances the trier of fact's understanding to any degree”); Lauzon v. Senco Prods., Inc., 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">270 F.3d 681');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">270 F.3d 681');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 686 (8th Cir. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2001');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1) (Rule 702');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 “clearly is one of admissibility rather than exclusion”). “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. (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590, 596). Exclusion of expert opinion is proper “only if it is so fundamentally unsupported that it can offer no assistance to the jury.” Wood v. Minn. Mining & Mfg. Co., 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 F.3d 306');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 F.3d 306, 309 (8th Cir. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1997).

         Even so, pursuant to Daubert, the Court's role as “gatekeeper” in determining the admissibility of expert testimony requires the Court to conduct “a preliminary assessment 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.” Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 592');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2-93. “The main purpose of Daubert exclusion is to prevent juries from being swayed by dubious scientific testimony.” In re Zurn Pex Plumbing Prods. Liab. Litig., 3d 604');">644 F.3d 604, 61');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">13 (8th Cir. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1). This question of whether “an expert's testimony both rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand” is known as the “reliability and relevancy” test. Russell v. Whirlpool Corp., 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 F.3d 450');">702');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 F.3d 450, 456 (8th Cir. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">201');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">12');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2) (quoting Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">26 U.S. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">137');">52');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">26 U.S. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">137, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">141');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1 (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1999)).

         When making the reliability and relevancy determinations, a court may consider: (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1) “whether the theory or technique can be or has been tested”; (2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2) “whether the theory or technique has been subjected to peer review or publication”; (3) “whether the theory or technique has a known or potential error rate and standards controlling the technique's operation”; and (4) “whether the theory or technique is generally accepted in the scientific community.” Russell, 702');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 F.3d at 456 (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2-94).

         The Daubert standard is “flexible” and the above factors are guidelines rather than “a definitive checklist.” Jaurequi v. Carter Manufacturing Company, Inc., 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">173 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1076');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">173 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1076, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1082');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 (8th Cir. 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1999). The expert's testimony must at the very least satisfy “the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field, ” but “whether Daubert's specific factors are, or are not, reasonable measures of reliability in a particular case is a matter that the law grants the trial judge broad latitude to determine.” Kumho Tire, 52');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">26 U.S. at 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">151');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">153.

         Defendants have the burden of establishing the admissibility of their experts' testimony by a preponderance of the evidence. Lauzon v. Senco Prods., Inc., 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">270 F.3d 681');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">270 F.3d 681');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 686 (8th Cir. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2001');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1) (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2).

         B. Michael White

         Michael White is a real estate attorney with “more than fifty years of experience representing clients in complex commercial real estate.” [Doc. 399');">399');">399');">399');">399');">399');">399');">399');">399');">399');">399');">399');">399');">399');">399');">399, 3');">p. 3]. Defendants ACC designated Mr. White “to testify ‘regarding the standard of care and industry custom and practice for real estate developers of existing property, the Planned Unit Development [at issue in this case], the entitlement and permitting process, [and] the standard of care and custom of practice in the real estate industry regarding inspections and inspection periods.'” Id.

         Plaintiffs point to five of Mr. White's opinions that they believe must be excluded under Daubert, opinions regarding (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1) whether Defendants Ginger C and ACC had a joint venture relationship; (2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2) whether Ginger C or its managing member were agents of ACC; (3) the weight and effect of emails in interpreting documents; (4) the Parties' intent; and (5) other comments regarding the effect that finding a joint venture relationship existed between Ginger C and ACC would have on other real estate transactions. [Doc. 367');">367, pp. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 - 3].

         1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1. Joint Venture Opinions

         Mr. White's report includes a detailed summary of the elements of a joint venture under Missouri law. [Doc. 367');">367-2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2, pp. 4');">p. 4');">p. 4');">p. 4');">p. 4');">p. 4');">p. 4');">p. 4 - 5]. He then applies his law to the facts of this case and reaches the conclusion that there is no joint venture between ACC and Ginger C.

         Plaintiffs maintain that Mr. White's opinion must be excluded because it reaches the ultimate legal issues in the case and that the opinion is not the product of reliable methods because it relies on arguments the Plaintiffs have not made. [Doc. 367');">367, pp. 5');">p. 5');">p. 5');">p. 5-6]. Plaintiffs also characterize Mr. White's testimony as impermissible because whether or not an implied joint venture resulted from the Parties' business relationship is a legal conclusion to be reached by the judge or jury. Mr. White's report states: “It is my opinion that, based upon my review of the documents referenced herein, Ginger has no rights with respect to the student housing once it is built. Ginger had no control over the student housing project . . . It retained no ownership interest. Ginger was merely a seller that received a loan . . .” [Doc. 367');">367-2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2, p. 5');">p. 5');">p. 5');">p. 5].

         Expert witnesses-even attorneys testifying as experts-may not offer legal conclusions about a case. In re Acceptance Ins. Companies Sec. Litig., 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">23 F.3d 899');">42');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">23 F.3d 899, 905 (8th Cir. 2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2005). Whether or not testimony constitutes a legal conclusion, Fed.R.Evid. 702');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2 requires that the “specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue.” “[E]xpert testimony not only is unnecessary but indeed may properly be excluded in the discretion of the trial judge ‘if all the primary facts can be accurately and intelligibly described to the jury, and if they, as men of common understanding, are as capable of comprehending the primary facts and of drawing correct conclusions from them as are witnesses possessed of special or peculiar training, experience, or observation in respect of the subject under investigation.'” Salem v. U.S. Lines Co., 370 U.S. 31');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">370 U.S. 31');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1, 35 (1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1962');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2');">2) (quoting United States Smelting Co. vs. Parry, 1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1');">1'); ...


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