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University of Pittsburgh v. Townsend

March 30, 2007

UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DAVID W. TOWNSEND; RONALD NUTT; CTI MOLECULAR IMAGING, INC.; AND CTI PET SYSTEMS, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: C. Clifford Shirley, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge

(Phillips/Shirley)

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), the Rules of this Court, and by Order [Docs. 83, 86] of the Honorable Thomas W. Phillips, United States District Judge, for disposition of the defendants' motions to exclude the testimony of the plaintiff's experts Robert Wooldridge, Thomas Lewellen, and Mark Gleason [Doc. 77, 79, 81] and the defendants' motion to exclude testimony based on spoliation of evidence [Doc. 84]. The Court held a Daubert hearing on February 27 and 28, 2007. Participating on behalf of the plaintiff were attorneys David G. Oberdick, Andrew R. Tillman, and Dwight E. Tarwater. Participating on behalf of the defendants were attorneys Daniel F. Diffley, Randall L. Allen, and J. Chadwick Hatmaker.

INTRODUCTION

In this action, the plaintiff University of Pittsburgh ("University") alleges that the defendants David W. Townsend, Ronald Nutt, CTI Molecular Imaging, Inc., and CTI PET Systems, Inc. (collectively, the "defendants"), subverted and misappropriated the University's rights and interests in valuable medical scanning technology, namely a combined PET/CT scanner, that the University alleges was developed collaboratively at its campus over the course of several years. The University alleges that the defendants' wrongful actions include breaches of, and interference with, the University's contractual rights to joint ownership in the technology as well as tortious misrepresentations and misappropriation. [Doc. 31, Amended Complaint at ¶1]. The University alleges that its ownership rights and interests include, but are not limited to, the inventions described in U.S. Patent No. 6,490,476 ("'476 patent") and U.S. Patent No. 6,631,284 ("'284 patent"), as well as the broader intellectual property, technology, development, and operational know-how associated with the PET/CT scanner; the attenuation correction methodology and related algorithms software programs/code utilized in the PET/CT scanner; and the PET/CT scanner test data generated at the University and utilized by the defendants. [Id. at ¶136].

DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO EXCLUDE BASED ON SPOLIATION OF EVIDENCE

The defendants move the Court to exclude from trial any and all testimony of the plaintiff's proposed experts Robert Wooldridge and Thomas Lewellen based on the spoliation and destruction of evidence. Specifically, the defendants allege that Wooldridge and Lewellen, along with the plaintiff's counsel, admittedly destroyed copies of e-mails between these experts and counsel, and that the witnesses also destroyed previous drafts of their expert reports. The defendants argue that as a result of this spoliation, they have been unfairly prejudiced and denied the opportunity to cross-examine these witnesses as to counsel's contributions to their expert reports.

I. Factual Background

In their First Request for Production of Documents served on February 10, 2005 [Doc. 85 Ex. F], the defendants requested the plaintiff produce "[a]ll [d]ocuments provided to or by [y]ou to, revised by, relied upon, or otherwise used in consultation with or as a basis for consultation with, any expert witness identified by [y]ou pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 26(a)(2)." In its response served on April 8, 2005 [Doc. 85 Ex. G], the plaintiff objected to this request as premature and stated that "[r]esponsive documents will be produced in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2) and the Case Management Order applicable to this matter."

In a subpoena issued to Robert Wooldridge on July 27, 2006 and commanding him to appear for deposition on August 7, 2006, the following document requests were made:

1. All documents reviewed by you or anyone that assisted you in connection with preparing your Expert Report.

2. Any and all documents that you relied upon in preparing your Expert Report.

3. All drafts of the Expert Report.

4. All notes made by you or anyone that assisted you during the preparation of your Expert Report.

5. All correspondence between you and any other individual, including, but not limited to counsel for the University of Pittsburgh related to the Expert Report.

6. All documents provided to you by counsel for the University of Pittsburgh or any other representative of the University of Pittsburgh in connection with the preparation of your Expert Report.

7. All documents contained within your files related in any way to the preparation of your Expert Report.

[Doc. 85 Ex. A]. A subpoena with identical document requests was issued on July 28, 2006 for Thomas Lewellen's deposition on August 16, 2006. [Id.].

In his deposition on August 7, 2006, Wooldridge testified that he had not retained previous drafts of his report, as he worked only from one draft. He testified that he had e-mailed earlier drafts of his report to plaintiff's counsel and that counsel e-mailed it back to him with revisions. Wooldridge testified that counsel added Bates numbers, corrected some typographical errors, added two footnotes (on pages 10 and 28) of legal citations to the report, and asked him if he agreed with those revisions. Wooldridge admitted that he had not read the legal authority cited in the footnotes. He testified that he did not keep copies of these emails from counsel. [Doc. 77 Ex. B at 174-77]. At the Daubert hearing, Wooldridge reiterated that the comments he received from counsel were stylistic and not substantive in nature.

At his deposition on August 16, 2006, Lewellen testified that he too only had one working draft of his report and that he did not retain drafts of his report. He testified that he received e-mail communications from counsel, and that any documents he received via e-mail were retained. Lewellen recalled receiving "marked up" versions of his draft report from plaintiff's counsel via e-mail but did not retain copies of these drafts. He also recalled receiving some comments back from plaintiff's counsel via e-mail. He did not retain the e-mails themselves, upon the suggestion of plaintiff's counsel. [Doc. 79 Ex. B at 29-32]. At the Daubert hearing, Lewellen testified that the comments he received from counsel were mainly editorial comments regarding style. Substantively, Lewellen testified that counsel suggested removing one section regarding Lewellen's opinions on disclosure of conflicts, as this was not a contested issue in the litigation, and requested that Lewellen address an additional question regarding Dr. Meltzer's involvement in the PET/CT scanner project.

In subsequent correspondence between counsel, defendants' counsel requested copies of the e-mails between these experts and plaintiffs' counsel, as well as copies of any prior drafts of their reports. Plaintiff's counsel advised that he had not retained any of these e-mails or drafts and that it was counsel's practice to instruct experts not to retain copies of such drafts. [Doc. 85 Exs. B, C, D].

II. Analysis

The defendants argue that draft expert reports and communications between experts and counsel are discoverable pursuant to Rule 26(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The defendants further contend that Rule 26(a)(2) imposes an affirmative duty upon an expert "to preserve all documents, including e-mails and drafts of a report." [Doc. 85 at 5]. The defendants contend that because the plaintiff's experts and counsel destroyed discoverable evidence, the plaintiff should be sanctioned by precluding Lewellen and Wooldridge from testifying at trial.

The plaintiff contends that the defendants' accusations of spoliation and destruction of documents must be summarily disregarded. Specifically, the plaintiff argues that until the subpoenas were served on the plaintiff's experts shortly before their depositions, there was no outstanding discovery request asking for the drafts of any expert reports, and that no documents were destroyed once the subpoenas were served. Further, the plaintiff contends that the requested email communications and draft reports are not "evidence" and raise inherent issues of privilege and work product. Finally, the plaintiff argues that the defendants have not suffered any prejudice because they have had the opportunity to fully depose the plaintiff's experts and the experts have specifically identified the portions of their reports where they received assistance or input from counsel.

"Spoliation is the intentional destruction of evidence that is presumed to be unfavorable to the party responsible for the destruction." McDaniel v. Transcender, LLC, 119 Fed. Appx. 774, 782 (6th Cir. Jan. 31, 2005). The rules defining spoliation of evidence and the appropriate sanctions therefor are determined by state law, in this case, Tennessee. Id. (citing Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Ford Motor Co., 174 F.3d 801, 804 (6th Cir. 1999)). As a general rule, Tennessee law states that spoliation of evidence creates a rebuttable presumption that the destroyed evidence would have been unfavorable to the offending party. McDaniel, 119 Fed. Appx. at 782 (quoting Thurman-Bryant Elec. Supply Co. v. Unisys Corp., No. 03A01-CV-00152 (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 16, 1992)). This inference arises, however, only where the spoliation was intentional, fraudulent, and done with a "desire to suppress the truth." Id.

Contrary to the defendants' assertion, the Court does not read Rule 26(a)(2) to impose an "affirmative duty" upon an expert to preserve "all documents," particularly report drafts, and the defendants do not cite any support for such a sweeping obligation. Nor does Rule 26(a)(2) require that draft reports be disclosed as part of an expert disclosure. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(B) ("The report shall contain a complete statement of all opinions to be expressed and the basis and reasons therefor; the data or other information considered by the witness in forming the opinions; any exhibits to be used as a summary of or support for the opinions; the qualifications of the witness, including a list of all publications authored by the witness within the preceding ten years; the compensation to be paid for the study and testimony; and a listing of any other cases in which the witness has testified as an expert at trial or by deposition within the preceding four years."). While not technically a required subject of disclosure, and contrary to the plaintiff's arguments, draft reports are certainly discoverable, and the defendants contend that they requested any and all expert report drafts in their February, 2005 discovery requests. This discovery request, however, is far from the model of clarity. The request seeks the production of "[a]ll [d]ocuments provided to or by [y]ou to, revised by, relied upon, or otherwise used in consultation with or as a basis for consultation with, any expert witness . . . ." Even if this awkwardly worded request could be construed to require production of draft reports (and the Court finds it does not), the Court finds that this request, served well over a year prior to the date that any expert disclosures were required to be made, to be an unreasonable request, essentially imposing a continuing obligation on a party to disclose any document from an expert -- whether it be a letter or a draft report -- as it is received through the consultation process. Such a requirement would virtually nullify the expert disclosure deadline established by the Court.

The defendants did make a clear request for drafts of expert reports in their subpoenas to Wooldridge and Lewellen. Only at that point were the experts under a duty to retain any drafts and produce them at their depositions. It appears from the representations of counsel and the testimony of Wooldridge and Lewellen at the Daubert hearing that by the time that the subpoenas were served, any draft reports that had existed (by virtue of being attached to e-mails sent back and forth between counsel and the experts) had already been destroyed. Because the draft reports were destroyed prior to the creation of any obligation on the part of the experts, the plaintiff or the plaintiff's counsel to retain them, the Court finds that the destruction of these draft reports was not done intentionally, fraudulently, and with "a desire to suppress the truth," and therefore, is not sanctionable.

With respect to the experts' communications with counsel, Rule 26(a)(2) does require an expert report to contain "the data or other information considered by the witness in forming the opinions." Thus, to the extent that correspondence from counsel may contain such "data or other information," such as factual background or factual assumptions to be made by the expert in forming his or her opinions, such correspondence must be disclosed. The Advisory Committee Notes make clear that such information, even though provided by counsel, is not immune from disclosure by any privilege or work production protection:

The report is to disclose the data and other information considered by the expert and any exhibits or charts that summarize or support the expert's opinions. Given this obligation of disclosure, litigants should no longer be able to argue that materials furnished to their experts to be used in forming their opinions -- whether or not ultimately relied upon by the expert -- are privileged or otherwise protected from disclosure when such persons are testifying or being deposed.

1993 Advisory Committee's Notes to Fed. R. Civ. P. 26. The Sixth Circuit recently reiterated this principle in Regional Airport Authority of Louisville v. LFG, LLC, 460 F.3d 697, 717 (6th Cir. 2006), holding that "Rule 26 creates a bright-line rule mandating disclosure of all documents, including attorney opinion work product, given to testifying experts."

Thus, to the extent that plaintiff's counsel communicated with Wooldridge and Lewellen, such communications were required to be disclosed pursuant to Rule 26(a)(2)(B) if the communications provided information or other data to be considered by the expert in forming his opinions. While communications that did not furnish information or data to be considered by the expert may not have been required to be disclosed, given the lack of attorney-client privilege or work product protection to these communications, any correspondence or communication between counsel and the experts was, at the very least, discoverable.

The subject e-mails were the target of multiple discovery requests, namely the defendants' February, 2005 request for production and the 2006 subpoenas to the experts. The Court finds that it was improper for plaintiff's counsel to have instructed and/or otherwise suggested to the experts that such communications should be destroyed. The Court notes that plaintiff's counsel has acknolwedged this error and has apologized to the Court and opposing counsel.

Although the Court finds that counsel acted improperly in destroying these communications in light of the pending discovery requests, the Court does not find that this action was done with any fraudulent intent. Accordingly, the Court will not, in its discretion, impose any sanctions on the plaintiff. The Court finds that the defendants have not been prejudiced by the destruction of these communications, as the defendants have been able to fully cross-examine the witnesses, both during depositions and at the Daubert hearing, on the substance of these communications and particularly, counsel's input into their respective reports. Further, the Court notes that any prejudice that might have incurred (essentially depriving the defendants of a document with which to cross-examine and possibly impeach these experts) is minimal, given the collateral nature of this issue. The Court declines to impose such harsh sanctions as the wholesale exclusion of an expert for an infraction of this nature. For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony Based on Spoliation of Evidence [Doc. 84] is DENIED.

DEFENDANTS' DAUBERT MOTIONS

The defendants have filed several motions challenging the qualifications and/or opinions of the plaintiff's expert witnesses under Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence governs the admissibility of expert testimony:

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.

The trial judge must act as a gatekeeper, admitting only that expert testimony that is relevant and reliable. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 589. With regard to scientific knowledge, the trial court must initially determine whether the reasoning or methodology used is scientifically valid and is properly applied to the facts at issue in the trial. Id. To aid the trial court in this gatekeeping role, the Supreme Court has listed several key considerations: (1) whether the scientific knowledge can or has been tested; (2) whether the given theory or technique has been published or been the subject of peer review; (3) whether a known error rate exists; and (4) whether the theory enjoys general acceptance in the particular field. Id. at 592-94. The Court's focus "must be solely on principles and methodology, not on the conclusions that they generate." Id. at 595. "[T]he test under Daubert is not the correctness of the expert's conclusions but the soundness of his methodology." Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 43 F.3d 1311, 1318 (9th Cir. 1995).

Although Daubert centered around the admissibility of scientific expert opinions, the trial court's gatekeeping function applies to all expert testimony, including that based upon specialized or technical, as opposed to scientific, knowledge. Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147-48 (1999); Berry v. City of Detroit, 25 F.3d 1342, 1350 (6th Cir. 1994). The trial court's objective "is to make certain that an expert, whether basing testimony upon professional studies or personal experience, employs in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field." Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 152. The trial judge enjoys broad discretion in determining whether the factors listed in Daubert reasonably measure reliability in a given case. Id. at 153. The Sixth Circuit has recognized that the enumerated Daubert factors "may be of limited utility in the context of non-scientific expert testimony," as opinions formed based upon personal knowledge or practical experience "do not easily lead themselves to scholarly review or to traditional scientific evaluation." First Tennessee Bank Nat'l Ass'n v. Barreto, 268 F.3d 319, 334, 335 (6th Cir. 2001); see also Surles v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 474 F.3d 288, 295 (6th Cir. 2007) (noting that "the factors enumerated in Daubert cannot readily be applied to measure the reliability of" testimony based upon "technical or other specialized knowledge"). With this framework in mind, the Court will now address each of the defendants' motions.

I. Robert Wooldridge

The defendants move to exclude the proposed testimony of the University's expert, Robert Wooldridge. [Doc. 77].*fn1 Wooldridge has been with Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation at Carnegie Mellon University since 1996 and has served as its Director since 2002. [Exhibit 5A Attach. 1, Wooldridge C.V.]. That office solicits invention disclosures from Carnegie Mellon's faculty, processes them through the University's policies and procedures, evaluates the technologies for their suitability as commercial products, and advises faculty on how to commercialize the technology. Wooldridge has been involved in the negotiation of over 400 license agreements. In the course of his employment with Carnegie Mellon, Wooldridge has worked regularly with the requirements of the Bayh-Dole Act and the accompanying federal regulations. [Wooldridge Daubert Testimony at 18-19]. He has also had experience in applying university policies concerning intellectual property and conflicts of interest. He is a member of the Licensing Executive Society and the Association of University Technology Managers ("AUTM"). He has attended courses through AUTM regarding technology transfer, attends annual AUTM meetings, and has given presentations on technology transfer issues. He also serves as the Chair of the AUTM software course. [Id. at 20-22].

Wooldridge offers four primary opinions in his report. First, Wooldridge opines that the University of Pittsburgh has ownership rights in the two issued patents and pending patent application relating to the commercial PET/CT scanner, as well as the general know-how concerning the combined PET/CT scanner that was developed by University personnel and test data derived from the use and operation of the combined PET/CT scanner at the University. Second, he opines that university technology transfer offices typically engage in licensing agreements to reflect the value provided by university employees and/or through university facilities in connection with the development of commercialized technology. While not assessing a license value for the University's interest, Wooldridge goes on to discuss some typical financial terms that would appear in such licenses and opines that a royalty rate from 2% to 4% would be within a reasonable range. Third, Wooldridge opines that the University acted consistently with standard technology transfer policies in dealing with the defendants and in its efforts to protect the University's intellectual property rights in the combined PET/CT scanner technology. Fourth, Wooldridge opines that the University's intellectual property rights in the combined PET/CT scanner under the Bayh-Dole Act are not affected by the timing of its invention disclosure to the NIH and election of title in November, 1999, and further, that the prior consulting and intellectual property assignment agreement between Dr. Townsend and CPS would not affect the University's intellectual property rights, as the Bayh-Dole Act supersedes and nullifies any intellectual property assignment rights and obligations created under the consulting agreements. [Wooldridge Report at 3-5].

A. Ownership Rights

With respect to Wooldridge's opinions regarding the University's ownership rights, the defendants argue that Wooldridge is not qualified to offer opinions on the law, and further, that his opinions amount to little more than legal conclusions. Even if Wooldridge is somehow qualified, the defendants argue, his opinions regarding ownership are not based on sufficient facts to be considered reliable, as Wooldridge took no steps to verify or investigate that the claims in the patent were invented at the University.

The University has conceded that to the extent that Wooldridge proffers opinions that are essentially legal conclusions, these opinions will be withdrawn. Thus, to the extent that Wooldridge proffers legal conclusions regarding the University's ownership interest or the parties' rights and obligations under the Bayh-Dole Act or University policies, his opinions will be excluded. See Berry, 25 F.3d at 1353 (excluding expert's legal conclusion on grounds that testimony would "invade[] the province of the court"). However, to the extent that the University seeks to offer Wooldridge as an expert, based on his experiential knowledge, to provide insight and general background regarding such matters as how a university would evaluate its potential interest in a patent or invention; what a university would look to in determining its interest (i.e., the status of the inventor, the sponsorship of the research, and the obligations and rights of the respective entities involved under the Bayh-Dole Act); and what documents might be filed, such as election of title or invention disclosures, as well as general insight and background on ...


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