United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Eastern Division
DAKOTA, MINNESOTA & EASTERN RAILROAD CORPORATION, et al., Plaintiffs,
INGRAM BARGE COMPANY, Defendant.
ORDER ON MOTION IN LIMINE
Leonard T. Strand, Chief Judge.
case is before me on a motion (Doc. No. 29) in limine through
which plaintiff Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad
Corporation (DME) seeks to exclude the testimony of an expert
witness. Defendant Ingram Barge Company (Ingram) has filed a
resistance (Doc. No. 31) and DME has filed a reply (Doc. No.
33). Oral argument is not necessary.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
case arises from two allisions on the Upper Mississippi River.
Plaintiffs DME and Soo Line Railroad Company (Soo) commenced
this action in admiralty on December 10, 2015, by filing a
complaint (Doc. No. 2) against Ingram. In general, plaintiffs
allege that DME owns the Sabula Bridge, a railroad bridge
that crosses the Upper Mississippi River near mile 535.0, and
that Soo owns the LaCrosse Bridge, a railroad bridge that
crosses the Upper Mississippi River near mile
699.8. They further allege that Ingram is in the
business of transporting barges on the Upper Mississippi
River and elsewhere.
their First Claim for Relief, plaintiffs allege that on April
24, 2015, Ingram was operating the M/V Aubrey B Harwell Jr
while pushing barges upstream when one or more of the barges
struck appurtenant structures of the Sabula Bridge. In their
Second Claim for Relief, plaintiffs allege that on September
7, 2015, Ingram was operating the M/V Kim W Nowell while
pushing barges downstream when one or more of the barges
struck appurtenant structures of the LaCrosse Bridge. With
regard to both incidents, plaintiffs make various allegations
of fault and negligence on the part of Ingram and the
captains, pilots and crews of the respective vessels.
Plaintiffs request judgment in an amount sufficient to
compensate them for the resulting damages.
filed an answer (Doc. No. 13) on January 25, 2016, in which
it denied liability to either plaintiff and raised various
defenses, including comparative fault. During discovery,
Ingram designated Dana A. Goward, a retired captain of the
United States Coast Guard, as a witness who will provide
expert opinion testimony at trial. DME now seeks to exclude
Goward's testimony. The bench trial in this matter is
scheduled to begin on November 28, 2017.
Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admission of expert
testimony. The rule states that a qualified expert may
testify "in the form of an opinion or otherwise"
(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
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and
methods to the facts of the case
Fed. R. Evid. 702. To be admissible, expert testimony must be
both relevant and reliable. Weisgram v. Marley Co.,
169 F.3d 514, 517 (8th Cir. 1999), aff'd, 528
U.S. 440 (2000). Evidence is relevant if it tends to make a
fact more or less probable and is of consequence in
determining the action. Fed.R.Evid. 401. Evidence is reliable
if it is useful to the finder of fact in deciding an ultimate
issue of fact, the expert is qualified and the evidence used
by the expert is reliable. Peters v. Woodbury Cty.,
Iowa, 979 F.Supp.2d 909, 919 (N.D. Iowa 2013),
aff'd sub nom. Peters v. Risdal, 786 F.3d 1095
(8th Cir. 2015). The trial court has broad discretion when
determining the reliability of expert testimony. United
States v. Vesey, 338 F.3d 912, 916 (8th Cir. 2003).
Doubts on whether the testimony will be helpful should be
resolved in favor of admissibility. Peters, 979
F.Supp.2d at 919, quoting Larabee v. MM&L Int'l
Corp., 896 F.2d 1112, 1116 n.6 (8th Cir. 1990).
Rule of Evidence 704(a) provides that expert evidence is
admissible even if it embraces an ultimate issue in the case.
Fed.R.Evid. 704(a). However, opinions that merely tell the
trier of fact what result to reach are not admissible.
Langenbau v. Med-trans Corp., 167 F.Supp.3d 983, 995
(N.D. Iowa 2016); Lee v. Andersen, 616 F.3d 803,
808-09 (8th Cir. 2010). Generally, questions of law are not a
proper subject of expert testimony. United States v.
Klaphake, 64 F.3d 435, 438-39 (8th Cir. 1995). If an
expert's testimony is "so couched in legal
conclusions that it supplies the fact finder with no
information other than what the witness believes the verdict
should be, " it is inadmissible. Williams v.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 922 F.2d 1357, 1360 (8th Cir.
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509
U.S. 579 (1993), the district court must perform a
"gatekeeping function" to ensure that irrelevant or
unreliable expert testimony is not introduced into evidence.
See, e.g., In re Zurn Pex Plumbing Prod. Liab.
Litig., 644 F.3d 604, 613 (8th Cir. 2001). However, the
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained that this
concern is not paramount when the case will be tried to the
court, rather than to a jury:
The main purpose of Daubert exclusion is to protect
juries from being swayed by dubious scientific testimony.
That interest is not implicated at the class certification
stage where the judge is the decision maker. The district
court's "gatekeeping function" under
Daubert ensures that expert evidence "submitted
to the jury" is sufficiently relevant and reliable,
Bonner v. ISP Technologies, Inc., 259 F.3d 924, 929
(8th Cir. 2001) (emphasis added), but "[t]here is less
need for the gatekeeper to keep the gate when the gatekeeper
is keeping the gate only for himself, " United
States v. Brown, 415 F.3d 1257, 1269 (11th Cir. 2005).
Similar reasons support less stringent application of
Daubert in bench trials. See Charles Alan
Wright, Victor James Gold, 29 Fed. Prac. & Proc. Evid.
§ 6266, n. 90.2 (2010), and cases cited. The "usual
concerns of the [Daubert] rule-keeping unreliable
expert testimony from the jury-are not present in such a
setting." Metavante Corp. v. Emigrant Sav.
Bank, 619 F.3d 748, 760 (7th Cir. 2010).