346 F.3d 987 (10th Cir. 2003), 02-1391, Goebel v. Denver and Rio Grande Western R. Co.

Docket Nº:02-1391
Citation:346 F.3d 987
Party Name:Goebel v. Denver and Rio Grande Western R. Co.
Case Date:October 09, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
 
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Page 987

346 F.3d 987 (10th Cir. 2003)

Richard W. GOEBEL, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

The DENVER AND RIO GRANDE WESTERN RAILROAD COMPANY, a Delaware corporation, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 02-1391.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

October 9, 2003

Page 988

Lawrence M. Mann, Alper & Mann, P.C., Washington, D.C., (and Christopher B. Little, Montgomery, Little & McGrew, P.C., Englewood, CO, with him on the brief), for Plaintiff-Appellee.

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James W. Erwin (and Thomas R. Jayne, Thompson, Coburn, L.L.P., St. Louis, MO, and Steven E. Napper, Denver, CO, on the briefs), for Defendant-Appellant.

Before KELLY, HENRY, and HARTZ, Circuit Judges.

PAUL KELLY, Jr., Circuit Judge.

In June 1999, Plaintiff-Appellee Richard W. Goebel obtained a $755,000 jury verdict against his employer, Defendant-Appellant The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad Company ("Railroad"), for injuries suffered on the job. The Railroad appealed and we concluded that the district court failed to perform its gatekeeper function and thus abused its discretion by admitting the testimony of plaintiff expert Dr. Daniel Teitelbaum. Goebel v. Denver and Rio Grande W. R.R. Co., 215 F.3d 1083, 1088 (10th Cir. 2000) ("Goebel I "). Accordingly, we reversed and remanded for a new trial. Id. at 1089.

On remand, the Railroad renewed its motion to exclude Dr. Teitelbaum's testimony under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). After denying the Railroad's request for an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the Railroad's Daubert motion in a thorough written order. To expedite appeal on the core issue, the parties stipulated to a judgment in Mr. Goebel's favor in an amount equal to the initial jury award, with the Railroad reserving its right to appeal the district court's Daubert decision. After the court entered judgment, the Railroad filed this appeal arguing that the district court abused its discretion in admitting Dr. Teitelbaum's testimony. We exercise jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and affirm.

Background

Mr. Goebel claims that in January 1994, he was injured on the job during a mishap in the Moffat Tunnel in Colorado which involved exposure to high elevations and diesel fumes. Details of the mishap as described in Goebel I are incorporated by reference. 215 F.3d at 1085-87. As we noted then, Mr. Goebel sued the Railroad under the Federal Employers' Liability Act alleging personal injuries resulting from the tunnel incident. The district court granted summary judgment to Mr. Goebel on the question of liability and limited the trial to issues of causation and damages. At trial, Dr. Teitelbaum testified as to the causation of Mr. Goebel's injuries:

I believe that the cause of Mr. Goebel's injury was his exposure to a unique environment, deficient in oxygen at low barometric pressure, contaminated with pulmonary irritants, which combined with the unique physiologic setting which takes place at high altitude produced an oxygen lack syndrome, which produced swelling in his brain, called cerebral edema, which resulted in small diffuse pressure injuries which resulted in his cognitive defect.

It's a complicated chain of events, but one which is relatively simple to explain on the basis of the fundamental physiology. All of these pieces have been looked at in separate events. In this gentleman, they occurred at the same time and produced this result.

I R. at 50. The jury found in favor of Mr. Goebel and awarded him $755,000 in damages.

Discussion

I. Standard of Review

As we stated in Goebel I, we review de novo the question of whether the district court performed its gatekeeper

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role and applied the proper legal standard in admitting an expert's testimony. 215 F.3d at 1087; see also Dodge v. Cotter Corp., 328 F.3d 1212, 1223 (10th Cir. 2003). We then review for abuse of discretion the trial court's actual application of the gatekeeper standard in deciding whether to admit or exclude an expert's testimony. General Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 142, 118 S.Ct. 512, 139 L.Ed.2d 508 (1997). The trial court's broad discretion applies both in deciding how to assess an expert's reliability, including what procedures to utilize in making that assessment, as well as in making the ultimate determination of reliability. Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152, 119 S.Ct. 1167, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999); Dodge, 328 F.3d at 1223. Accordingly, we will not disturb the district court's ruling unless it is "arbitrary, capricious, whimsical or manifestly unreasonable" or when we are convinced that the district court "made a clear error of judgment or exceeded the bounds of permissible choice in the circumstances." Dodge, 328 F.3d at 1223 (quoting Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Farm Credit Bank of Wichita, 226 F.3d 1138, 1163-64 (10th Cir. 2000)).

Neither party argues that the district court has again failed to perform its gatekeeper function. In fact, as we required on remand, when faced with the Railroad's renewed Daubert objection, the district court took pains to "demonstrate by specific findings on the record that it ha[d] performed its duty as gatekeeper." Goebel I, 215 F.3d at 1088.

Furthermore, although the district court denied the Railroad's request for a Daubert hearing, III R. at 661, the Railroad has not appealed that ruling. As a result, our task here is simply to review the district court's detailed findings in light of the record and to apply the deferential abuse of discretion standard to its decision to admit Dr. Teitelbaum's testimony. The Railroad's decision not to appeal the denial of an evidentiary hearing prompts us to note that our review is appropriately constrained by the record developed by the parties. In cases such as this one, where one party alleges that an expert's conclusions do not follow from a given data set, the responsibility ultimately falls on that challenging party to inform (via the record) those of us who are not experts on the subject with an understanding of precisely how and why the expert's conclusions fail to follow from the data set. Any failure by the challenging party to satisfy this responsibility is at that party's peril.

II. An Overview of the Railroad's Arguments

Because it provides a convenient means of analyzing the district court's ruling, we believe Dr. Teitelbaum's opinion is best viewed as a conclusion that two separate aspects of causation existed in this case: (1) general causation, meaning that the particular circumstances in the tunnel could have caused Mr. Goebel's injury, and (2) specific causation, meaning that those circumstances did in fact cause Mr. Goebel's injury. See, e.g., Soldo v. Sandoz Pharms. Corp., 244 F.Supp.2d 434, 524-25 (W.D.Pa.2003) (discussing these concepts and collecting cases). To arrive at general causation, Dr. Teitelbaum reviewed scientific literature, drew general propositions therefrom, and then combined those propositions to conclude that the conditions in the tunnel could have caused high altitude cerebral edema ("HACE") in Mr. Goebel. III R. at 664-65. To arrive at specific causation, Dr. Teitelbaum performed a differential diagnosis in which, after examining and testing Mr. Goebel, he ruled in all scientifically plausible causes of the injury and then ruled out the least plausible causes until only the most likely cause remained, i.e., that the tunnel conditions

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did in fact cause Mr. Goeble to suffer HACE-induced cognitive deficits. Id. at 668-70.

The Railroad contends that the district court abused its discretion by admitting Dr. Teitelbaum's testimony because (1) his general causation opinion was not supported by the medical literature he relied upon and (2) his differential diagnosis was unreliable because he failed to account for alternative explanations of Mr. Goebel's condition. Aplt. Br. at 15-16. Because the Railroad's arguments on appeal are the same as those made before the district court, the district court's order and memorandum addresses each of these claims in significant detail.

III. The Standard for Admitting Expert Testimony

The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence:

If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.

Fed.R.Evid. 702 (2003). Rule 702 imposes on a district court a gatekeeper obligation to "ensure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable." Daubert, 509 U.S. at 589, 113 S.Ct. 2786. Fulfilling the gatekeeper duty requires the judge to assess the reasoning and methodology underlying the expert's opinion and determine whether it is both scientifically valid and applicable to a particular set of facts. Id. at 592-93, 113 S.Ct. 2786. The Supreme Court has made clear that "where [expert] testimony's factual basis, data, principles, methods, or their application are called sufficiently into question ... the trial judge must determine whether the testimony has 'a reliable basis in the knowledge and experience of [the relevant] discipline.' " Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 149, 119 S.Ct. 1167 (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592, 113 S.Ct. 2786).

To be reliable under Daubert, an expert's scientific testimony must be based on scientific knowledge, which "implies a...

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