Court Precludes Detainee from Testifying as his own Plumbing Expert Witness


Court: United States District Court for the District of Oregon, Pendleton Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Brown v. Union County
Citation: 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114320

The plaintiff’s testimony was excluded, as he relied only on smelling the drain in question and listening to pipes to form his opinion. The court held that neither action constitutes proper methodology for a plumbing expert witness.

Facts

The plaintiff was a pre-trial detainee at a correctional facility. He brought this civil-rights action against the defendants claiming that inadequate food preparation and the medical staff’s deliberate indifference caused him severe medical ailments. The plaintiff elected to proffer expert testimony as his own plumbing expert witness. The defendants objected to the plaintiff’s myriad of medical opinions as well as his opinion that the plumbing system in the correctional facility was defective in construction.

The Plaintiff as a Plumbing Expert

The plaintiff proffered multiple medical opinions testifying that the inadequate dietary and sanitation conditions in the correctional facility had caused him severe abdominal pain,  cramping and bloating, extreme gas, constipation, violent diarrhea, bloody stool, continuous pain, nausea, lack of appetite, toothaches, and weakness. The plaintiff also testified that there were severe construction defects in the plumbing system at the correctional facility. He based his opinion on the putrid smell coming from the drains and on unusual sounds inside the pipes which could be heard from his prison cell.

Discussion

The court was of the opinion that its duty was to ensure that all admitted expert testimony was qualified, relevant, and reliable. The court’s gatekeeping role in admitting expert testimony extends to all kinds of expert testimony, noting that at the time of summary judgment “an expert opinion is admissible if it appears that the affiant is competent to give an expert opinion and that the factual basis for the opinion is stated in the affidavit, even if the underlying factual details and reasoning upon which the opinion is based are not”, citing Rebel Oil Co., Inc. v. A. Richfield Co.

The court further noted that the plaintiff admitted he was not a medical expert. Thus, his medical opinion on the diagnosis of his symptoms allegedly developed at the correctional facility was inadmissible. Moreover, the court determined that although the plaintiff had identified himself as a plumbing expert witness and claimed to have extensive education in construction, he failed to establish beyond this conclusory statement where or how he received such education. He had also failed to show any certification to prove his “extensive education in construction” and did not cite prior work experience in the construction industry. The court, thus, felt that the plaintiff had failed to establish himself as a qualified plumbing expert to the satisfaction of the bench.

The court went on to question the reliability of the plumbing expert’s methodology, as he had not conducted any scientifically-accepted tests, but had merely resorted to smelling the drain and listening to pipes from his cell to form his opinion.

Held

The court held that the plaintiff did not satisfy the methodology aspect of the standards set by Daubert. The defendant’s motion to preclude the plaintiff’s expert testimony as a plumbing expert witness was, therefore, granted.

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