29 F.3d 499 (9th Cir. 1994), 92-35337, Claar v. Burlington Northern R. Co.

Docket Nº92-35337, 92-35539.
Citation29 F.3d 499
Party NameH. Jerome CLAAR; Ben Mar; Maynard Young; Donald Doll, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. BURLINGTON NORTHERN RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee. Dick EGGAR; Ray Ellison, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. BURLINGTON NORTHERN RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.
Case DateJuly 14, 1994
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Page 499

29 F.3d 499 (9th Cir. 1994)

H. Jerome CLAAR; Ben Mar; Maynard Young; Donald Doll,

Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

BURLINGTON NORTHERN RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.

Dick EGGAR; Ray Ellison, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

BURLINGTON NORTHERN RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.

Nos. 92-35337, 92-35539.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 14, 1994

Argued and Submitted Dec. 15, 1993.

Page 500

William A. Rossbach, Rossbach & Whiston, Missoula, MT, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Richard S. Cornfield, Coburn, Croft & Putzell, St. Louis, MO, for defendant-appellee.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Montana.

Before: GOODWIN, CANBY, and KOZINSKI, Circuit Judges.

CANBY, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiffs Claar, Mar, Young, Doll, Eggar, and Ellison appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment for the defense in their action against their former employer, Burlington Northern Railroad, brought under the Federal Employees Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. Sec. 51 et seq. The district court held inadmissible the expert testimony that plaintiffs offered in support of their claims, and granted summary judgment because, without that testimony, plaintiffs failed to show any causal connection between their workplace chemical exposure and their injuries. We affirm.

I

Plaintiffs are members of a group of twenty-seven people who brought suit against Burlington Northern, alleging that they suffer from a variety of ailments stemming from their exposure to a variety of chemicals while working at Burlington Northern's Livingston, Montana, shop. Out of concern that plaintiffs might not be able to demonstrate a causal connection between their workplace chemical exposure and their injuries, the district court issued a case management order consolidating the twenty-seven cases for pretrial purposes. The order required plaintiffs to submit affidavits describing their exposure to the chemicals they claim harmed them, and affidavits from physicians listing each plaintiff's specific injuries, the particular chemical(s) that in the physician's opinion caused each injury, and the scientific basis for the physician's conclusions. The court selected the cases of the present six plaintiffs for adjudication as test cases, and stayed the remaining cases.

Dr. Mark Hines prepared an affidavit concerning Eggar, and Dr. Richard Nelson prepared affidavits concerning the remaining five plaintiffs. The district court found these affidavits deficient because they failed to explain which chemical(s) caused which injuries, and failed to explain the scientific basis for the physicians' conclusions that plaintiffs' injuries were caused by workplace chemical exposure. Consequently, it ordered a second round of affidavits, again insisting that the physicians explain the basis for their opinions.

Approximately one month after receipt of the new affidavits, Burlington Northern moved for summary judgment on the ground that the affidavits were inadmissible. The district court agreed, finding that the affidavits still failed to explain Drs. Hines's and Nelson's reasoning and methods, and concluding that they lacked "the foundation and reliability necessary to support expert testimony." The court held that, without the affidavits, plaintiffs could not demonstrate a causal relationship between chemical exposure and their injuries, and granted summary judgment for Burlington Northern. This appeal followed.

II

Plaintiffs first argue that the district court improperly relied on Fed.R.Evid. 703 for authority to scrutinize the reasoning and methodology underlying their affidavits. We review de novo the district court's interpretation of the Federal Rules of Evidence, United States v. Williams, 989 F.2d 1061, 1070 (9th Cir.1993), and will uphold its decision to exclude expert testimony unless it is "manifestly

Page 501

erroneous," Rogers v. Raymark Indus., Inc., 922 F.2d 1426, 1429 (9th Cir.1991).

Rule 703 provides, in relevant part:

The facts or data ... upon which an expert bases an opinion or inference may be those perceived by or made known to the expert at or before the hearing. If of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in the particular field in forming opinions or inferences upon the subject, the facts or data need not be admissible in evidence.

(Emphasis added.) To the extent that the district court relied on Rule 703, we agree that it was in error. The plain language of the rule permits no other conclusion. See Christophersen v. Allied-Signal Corp., 939 F.2d 1106, 1118 (5th Cir.1991) (Clark, C.J., concurring), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 112 S.Ct. 1280, 117 L.Ed.2d 506 (1992). Rule 703 merely relaxes, for experts, the requirement that witnesses have personal knowledge of the matter to which they testify. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., --- U.S. ----, ----, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 2796, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993); Fed.R.Evid. 602 ("A witness may not testify to a matter unless ... the witness has personal knowledge of the matter.... This rule is subject to the provisions of Rule 703, relating to opinion testimony by expert witnesses."). It does not deal with the authority of the court to scrutinize an expert's methodology or reasoning.

In evaluating the reliability of the affidavits offered by plaintiffs' experts in this case, however, the district court relied not only on Rule 703, but also on Rule 702. And Rule 702 does provide authority for evaluating the reasoning and methodology underlying expert testimony. 1 In fact, it requires a court to do so:

[T]he trial judge must ensure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable. The primary locus of this obligation is Rule 702.

. . . . .

Faced with a proffer of expert scientific testimony, then, the trial judge must determine at the outset, pursuant to Rule 104(a), whether the expert is proposing to testify to (1) scientific knowledge that (2) will assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue. This entails 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, --- U.S. at ---- - ----, 113 S.Ct. at 2795-96 (emphasis added). 2 Accordingly, the district court was both authorized and obligated to scrutinize carefully the reasoning and methodology underlying the affidavits offered by the plaintiffs in this case. The only question is whether it did so correctly.

Plaintiffs contend that the district court did not confine itself to examining their experts' reasoning and methods, but instead based its decision to exclude the affidavits on improper assessments of the experts' credibility. We disagree. It is true that, whenever a court rejects expert testimony because it is based on faulty methodology or reasoning, it follows implicitly that the expert's conclusions are not to be credited. But as long as the court's analysis focuses on the expert's methods and reasoning, and not on the expert's conclusions, its actions are proper. Daubert, --- U.S. at ----, 113 S.Ct. at 2797. Here, the district court confined itself to an inquiry into the reliability of the methods and reasoning underlying the conclusions in the proffered affidavits. Therefore, the court did not overstep its authority.

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Fundamentally, the district court was concerned that the experts, Drs. Hines and Nelson, failed to explain the basis for their conclusions. Before admitting the affidavits, the district court was affirmatively required to find that the experts' conclusions were based on scientific knowledge. Id. at ----, 113 S.Ct. at 2796. This requirement means that the court had to determine that Drs. Hines and Nelson arrived at their conclusions using scientific methods and procedures, and that those conclusions were not mere subjective beliefs or unsupported speculation. Id. at ----, 113 S.Ct. at 2795. In an effort to make this determination, the district court repeatedly ordered the experts to explain the reasoning and methods underlying their conclusions. Despite those orders, the affidavits are devoid of any such explanation. Consequently, the district court could not make the findings required by Rule 702, and therefore properly refused to admit the affidavits into evidence. We find no error in the district court's decision.

The district court made other findings that also focus exclusively on the experts' methods and that support its decision to exclude the affidavits. For example, it found that neither Dr. Hines nor Dr. Nelson made any effort to rule out other possible causes for the injuries plaintiffs complain of, even though they admitted that this step would be standard procedure before arriving at a diagnosis. 3 See Daubert, --- U.S. at ----, 113 S.Ct. at 2797 (use of generally accepted scientific methods one indication of reliability). For example, Dr. Nelson diagnosed Eggar as having "dyscalculia" (poor arithmetic ability) and "spelling dispraxia" (poor spelling ability), without first reviewing Eggar's school records, which indicate that he...

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