Court Discards Blanket Assertions Against Hydrology Expert’s Qualifications


Hydrology Expert

Court: United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Southern Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Palmer v. Sun Coast Contr. Servs.
Citation: 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111979

Although the defendant’s hydrology expert was sufficiently qualified through education, training, and experience to testify to the opinions contained in his expert reports, plaintiffs in Palmer v. Sun Coast Contr. Servs moved to strike his opinion without factual or legal basis.

Facts

The plaintiffs, in this case, were owners of houses in the Ravenwood Subdivision. The plaintiffs alleged that at the time they purchased their Ravenwood homes, the land comprising Ravenwood, together with a larger parcel of land, served as a watershed for the Alligator Branch waterway and allowed the overflow of that waterway to move east and west away from Ravenwood.

The plaintiffs filed a complaint against a number of defendants alleging they had suffered damages to their houses and quality of life due to the construction and operation of the plant and the associated rail spur by the defendants. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint asserting claims for negligence, trespass, private nuisance, and declaratory ruling.

Criticism of the Defendant’s Expert

The plaintiffs filed a motion to strike the defendant’s expert. The defendant had designated an expert in the field of hydrology to testify that defendant designed drainage and detention system were of adequate size to reduce post-development peak runoff to a level that was less than the pre-development peak runoff for a 10-year design storm. The plaintiffs asserted that the designated expert was not qualified because the expert did no research on whether the retention pond was built as designed or functioned as designed.

The defendant asserted that the plaintiffs proffered no basis for striking the opinions the expert had offered.

The Court’s Discussions

The plaintiffs did not articulate a factual or legal basis underlying their contentions to exclude the expert’s opinion. After reviewing expert’s qualifications and the opinion he offered, the court found that the defendants had met their burden of establishing that the expert was sufficiently qualified through education, training, and experience to testify to the opinions contained in his expert reports.

The plaintiffs alleged that the expert’s opinions should be excluded because he opined only that the design of the retention pond was proper, and not whether the as-built retention pond was constructed in compliance with the design, or whether the retention pond actually functioned as designed. According to the plaintiffs, the expert designation “[did] not demonstrate that he was qualified to render an opinion on anything other than the opinions he intends to give on the issues pertaining to LHJ’s ‘design’ of the retention pond.” It appeared that the plaintiffs were, in fact, arguing that the expert’s testimony was not relevant because it only addressed the design of the retention pond, even though the design of the plant was at issue in this case.

Held

The court found that the plaintiffs had not alleged that the expert methodology was unreliable. The plaintiffs’ allegations went more to the relevance of the expert’s theories on grounds that they claim the retention pond was not built and does not function as designed. However, this criticism went more to the weight of the hydrology expert’s opinions, not their relevance. The design of the plant was at issue, thus the expert’s opinions were deemed relevant.

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