522 U.S. 136 (1997), 96-188, General Electric Co. v. Joiner

Docket Nº:No. 96-188
Citation:522 U.S. 136, 118 S.Ct. 512, 139 L.Ed.2d 508, 66 U.S.L.W. 4036
Party Name:GENERAL ELECTRIC CO. et al v. JOINER et ux
Case Date:December 15, 1997
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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522 U.S. 136 (1997)

118 S.Ct. 512, 139 L.Ed.2d 508, 66 U.S.L.W. 4036

GENERAL ELECTRIC CO. et al

v.

JOINER et ux

No. 96-188

United States Supreme Court

December 15, 1997

Argued October 14, 1997

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

After he was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer, respondent Joiner and his wife (hereinafter jointly respondent) sued in Georgia state court, alleging, inter alia, that his disease was "promoted" by his workplace exposure to chemical "PCB's" and derivative "furans" and "dioxins" that were manufactured by, or present in materials manufactured by, petitioners. Petitioners removed the case to federal court and moved for summary judgment. Joiner responded with the depositions of expert witnesses, who testified that PCB's, furans, and dioxins can promote cancer, and opined that Joiner's exposure to those chemicals was likely responsible for his cancer. The District Court ruled that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Joiner had been exposed to PCB's, but granted summary judgment for petitioners because (1) there was no genuine issue as to whether he had been exposed to furans and dioxins, and (2) his experts' testimony had failed to show that there was a link between exposure to PCB's and small-cell lung cancer and was therefore inadmissible because it did not rise above "subjective belief or unsupported speculation." In reversing, the Eleventh Circuit applied "a particularly stringent standard of review" to hold that the District Court had erred in excluding the expert testimony.

Held:

1. Abuse of discretion—the standard ordinarily applicable to review of evidentiary rulings—is the proper standard by which to review a district court's decision to admit or exclude expert scientific evidence. Contrary to the Eleventh Circuit's suggestion, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, did not somehow alter this general rule in the context of a district court's decision to exclude scientific evidence. Daubert did not address the appellate review standard for evidentiary rulings at all, but did indicate that, while the Federal Rules of Evidence allow district courts to admit a somewhat broader range of scientific testimony than did pre-existing law, they leave in place the trial judge's "gatekeeper" role of screening such evidence to ensure that it is not only relevant, but reliable. Id., at 589. A court of appeals applying "abuse-of-discretion" review to such rulings may not categorically distinguish between rulings allowing expert testimony and rulings which disallow it. Compare Beech Aircraft Corp. v. Rainey, 488 U.S.

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153, 172, with United States v. Abel, 469 U.S. 45, 54. This Court rejects Joiner's argument that because the granting of summary judgment in this case was "outcome determinative," it should have been subjected to a more searching standard of review. On a summary judgment motion, disputed issues of fact are resolved against the moving party—here, petitioners. But the question of admissibility of expert testimony is not such an issue of fact, and is reviewable under the abuse-of-discretion standard. In applying an overly "stringent" standard, the Eleventh Circuit failed to give the trial court the deference that is the hallmark of abuse-of-discretion review. Pp. 141-143.

2. A proper application of the correct standard of review indicates that the District Court did not err in excluding the expert testimony at issue. The animal studies cited by respondent's experts were so dissimilar to the facts presented here— i. e., the studies involved infant mice that developed alveologenic adenomas after highly concentrated, massive doses of PCB's were injected directly into their peritoneums or stomachs, whereas Joiner was an adult human whose small-cell carcinomas allegedly resulted from exposure on a much smaller scale—that it was not an abuse of discretion for the District Court to have rejected the experts' reliance on those studies. Nor did the court abuse its discretion in concluding that the four epidemiological studies on which Joiner relied were not a sufficient basis for the experts' opinions, since the authors of two of those studies ultimately were unwilling to suggest a link between increases in lung cancer and PCB exposure among the workers they examined, the third study involved exposure to a particular type of mineral oil not necessarily relevant here, and the fourth involved exposure to numerous potential carcinogens in addition to PCB's. Nothing in either Daubert or the Federal Rules of Evidence requires a district court to admit opinion evidence that is connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit of the expert. Pp.143-147.

3. These conclusions, however, do not dispose of the entire case. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the District Court's conclusion that Joiner had not been exposed to furans and dioxins. Because petitioners did not challenge that determination in their certiorari petition, the question whether exposure to furans and dioxins contributed to Joiner's cancer is still open. P. 147.

78 F.3d 524, reversed and remanded.

Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court with respect to Parts I and II, and the opinion of the Court with respect to Part III, in which O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Breyer, J., filed a concurring opinion,

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post, p. 147. Stevens, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 150.

Steven R. Kuney argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were John G. Kester, David H. Flint, Alexander J. Simmons, Jr., Henry W. Ewalt, and Gerard H. Davidson, Jr.

Deputy Solicitor General Wallace argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Acting Solicitor General Dellinger, Assistant Attorney General Hunger, Edward C. DuMont, and John P. Schnitker.

Michael H. Gottesman argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Kenneth J. Chesebro, David L. Shapiro, and Michael J. Warshauer. [*]

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case to determine what standard an appellate court should apply in reviewing a trial

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court's decision to admit or exclude expert testimony under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579(1993). We hold that abuse of discretion is the appropriate standard. We apply this standard and conclude that the District Court in this case did not abuse its discretion when it excluded certain proffered expert testimony.

I

Respondent Robert Joiner began work as an electrician in the Water & Light Department of Thomasville, Georgia (City), in 1973. This job required him to work with and around the City's electrical transformers, which used a mineral-oil-based dielectric fluid as a coolant. Joiner often had to stick his hands and arms into the fluid to make repairs. The fluid would sometimes splash onto him, occasionally getting into his eyes and mouth. In 1983 the City discovered that the fluid in some of the transformers was contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB's). PCB's are widely considered to be hazardous to human health. Congress, with limited exceptions, banned the production and sale of PCB's in 1978. See 90 Stat. 2020, 15 U.S.C. § 2605(e)(2)(A).

Joiner was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer in 1991. He[1] sued petitioners in Georgia state court the following year. Petitioner Monsanto manufactured PCB's from 1935 to 1977; petitioners General Electric and Westinghouse Electric manufactured transformers and dielectric fluid. In his complaint Joiner linked his development of cancer to his exposure to PCB's and their derivatives, polychlorinated dibenzo furans (furans) and polychlorinated dibenzo dioxins (dioxins). Joiner had been a smoker for approximately eight years, his parents had both been smokers, and there was a history of lung cancer in his family. He was thus perhaps already at a heightened risk of developing lung cancer eventually. The suit alleged that his exposure to PCB's "promoted"

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his cancer; had it not been for his exposure to these substances, his cancer would not have developed for many years, if at all.

Petitioners removed the case to federal court. Once there, they moved for summary judgment. They contended that (1) there was no evidence that Joiner suffered significant exposure to PCB's, furans, or dioxins, and (2) there was no admissible scientific evidence that PCB's promoted Joiner's cancer. Joiner responded that there were numerous disputed factual issues that required resolution by a jury. He relied largely on the testimony of expert witnesses. In depositions, his experts had testified that PCB's alone can promote cancer and that furans and dioxins can also promote cancer. They opined that since Joiner had been exposed to PCB's, furans, and dioxins, such exposure was likely responsible for Joiner's cancer.

The District Court ruled that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Joiner had been exposed to PCB's. But it nevertheless granted summary judgment for petitioners because (1) there was no genuine issue as to whether Joiner had been exposed to furans and dioxins, and (2) the testimony of Joiner's experts had failed to show that there was a link between exposure to PCB's and small-cell lung cancer. The court believed that the testimony of respondent's experts to the contrary did not rise above "subjective belief or unsupported speculation." 864 F.Supp. 1310, 1326 (ND Ga. 1994). Their testimony was therefore inadmissible.

The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed. 78 F.3d 524 (1996). It...

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