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Amalu v. Stevens Transport, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

April 23, 2018

AUGUSTINA C. AMALU, individually and as next kin of and Administrator of the Estate of IFEYINWA STEPHANIE AMALU, deceased, et. al. Plaintiffs,
v.
STEVENS TRANSPORT, INC., et. al., Defendants.

          ORDER AFFIRMING MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S DECISION

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant Stevens Transport, Inc. (“Stevens Transport”) filed a motion to limit or exclude the testimony of Plaintiffs' expert Roger Allen (ECF No. 440) and motion to limit or exclude the testimony of Plaintiffs' expert Peter Philbrick (ECF No. 444). Defendant Stevens Transport TL, Inc. (“Stevens TL”) also filed motion to limit or exclude the testimony of Allen (ECF No. 442) and Philbrick (ECF No. 446). The motion was referred to the United States Magistrate Judge for determination on January 17, 2018. (ECF No. 448.) On March 12, 2018, Magistrate Judge Edward G. Bryant issued an order granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motions. (ECF No. 479.)[1] Defendants Stevens Transport and Stevens TL filed timely objections to the Magistrate Judge's order on March 26, 2018. (ECF Nos. 485, 486.) Plaintiffs Augustina C. Amaulu, individually and as next kin of and administrator of the estate of Ifeyinwa Stephanie Amalu, and Ody Udeozo and Josephine Udeozo, individually and as next kin of and administrators of the estate of Chinelo Udeozo, filed a response to Defendants' objections on April 4, 2018. (ECF No. 491.) Plaintiff David Lindsey, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Kristi Mills, filed a response to Defendants' objections on April 9, 2018. (ECF No. 493.) For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Magistrate Judge is AFFIRMED.

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), a district court shall apply a “clearly erroneous or contrary to law” standard of review for nondispositive preliminary matters such as motions to strike. United States v. Curtis, 237 F.3d 598, 603 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 673 (1980)). Thus, a district judge “shall consider” objections to a magistrate judge's order on a nondispositive matter and “shall modify or set aside any portion of the magistrate judge's order found to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Bell v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 1997 WL 103320 *4 (6th Cir. 1997) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a)). “The clearly erroneous standard applies only to factual findings made by the Magistrate Judge, while legal conclusions will be reviewed under the more lenient contrary to law standard.” E.E.O.C. v. Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 621 F.Supp.2d 603, 605 (W.D. Tenn. 2009) (citation omitted). Under the clearly erroneous standard for findings of fact, the Court need only consider whether any evidence or showing exists to support the Magistrate Judge's finding and whether the finding was reasonable. See Tri-Star Airlines, Inc. v. Willis Careen Corp. of Los Angeles, 75 F.Supp.2d 835, 839 (W.D. Tenn. 1999) (citations omitted) (explaining that the clearly erroneous “standard does not permit the reviewing court to substitute its own conclusion for that of the magistrate judge. Rather, the clearly erroneous standard only requires the reviewing court to determine if there is any evidence to support the magistrate judge's finding and that the finding was reasonable.”) “When examining legal conclusions under the contrary to law standard, the Court may overturn any conclusions of law which contradict or ignore applicable precepts of law, as found in the Constitution, statutes, or case precedent.” Doe v. Aramark Educ. Res., Inc., 206 F.R.D. 459, 461 (M.D. Tenn. 2002) (citing Gandee v. Glaser, 785 F.Supp. 684, 686 (S.D. Ohio 1992), aff'd, 19 F.3d 1432 (6th Cir. 1994). “Rejection of expert testimony ‘is the exception, rather than the rule.'” MAR Oil Co. v. Korpan, 973 F.Supp.2d 775, 781 (N.D. Ohio 2013) (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 702 Advisory Committee's Note, 2000 Amend.); see also In re Scrap Metal Antitrust Litig., 527 F.3d 517, 530 (6th Cir. 2008) (same).

         The party filing the objections or appeal has the burden of proving that the decision was clearly erroneous. See 12 Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 3068.2 (2d ed.) (citing Lopez v. Metropolitan Gov't of Nashville and Davidson Cty, 646 F.Supp.2d 891, 921 (M.D. Tenn. 2009)).

         Background

         The Magistrate Judge included the following background summary in his order; neither party has objected to this summary.

Plaintiffs' lawsuit stems from a multiple vehicle accident on June 25, 2014. This accident involved a vehicle occupied by Ifeyinwa Stephanie Amalu and Chinelo Udeozo and a tractor-trailer driven by Tony Mills with a passenger, Kristi Mills. All the aforementioned parties died as a result of the accident. The parties disagree on the various roles of the involved parties, including Defendants Stevens Transport and Stevens TL. These disagreements include which Defendants are motor carriers and/or brokers and how many Defendants employed Tony Mills. Connected to these issues are various standards in the trucking industry. To help with these issues, Plaintiffs Lindsey, Amalu, and Hartmann have listed Allen as a Rule 26 expert. Philbrick is the Rule 26 expert designated by Amalu and Hartmann.

(Mag. J. Ord. at p. 2, ECF No. 479.)

         Objections and Analysis

         Defendants do not object to the Magistrate Judge's determination that Allen and Philbrick are prohibited from testifying as to legal conclusions as a matter of law, including contract interpretation, whether Tony Mills was a statutory employee, the legal applicability of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSRs”), and whether Defendant Stevens Transport was a motor carrier. Defendants do object to the Magistrate Judge's determination that Allen and Philbrick are qualified to offer expert opinions regarding freight brokers and motor carrier selection and to the determination that Allen and Philbrick may render expert opinions on the reliability and usefulness of BASIC scores.

         In making his decision, the Magistrate Judge analyzed the Court's “gate-keeping role” under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) (holding that Federal Rule of Evidence 702 requires that trial courts perform a “gate-keeping role” when considering the admissibility of expert testimony) and determined as follows.

         Qualifications of Roger Allen and ...


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