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VOILAS v. GENERAL MOTORS CORP.

November 1, 1999

GEORGE VOILAS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS CORP., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson, United States Magistrate Judge.

  MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is a motion, in limine, by defendant, General Motors Corporation ("GM"), seeking to preclude the testimony and reports of Frank D. Tinari, Ph.D., plaintiffs' proffered liability and punitive damages expert. Specifically, GM seeks to preclude Dr. Tinari's July 2, 1999, liability report and supplement to that report, as well as his July 16, 1999, punitive damages report. The Court has reviewed the moving, opposition, reply, and supplemental papers submitted by all the parties, and heard oral argument on September 7, 1999. For the following reasons, GM's motion is granted only with respect to Dr. Tinari's punitive damages report, and denied in all other respects.

I. Background

The plaintiffs, over 200 former GM hourly workers, filed a complaint on January 30, 1995, and an amended complaint on July 19, 1999, against GM and several other defendants. Plaintiffs allege that GM fraudulently announced on December 3, 1992, that its Trenton plant would close but failed to announce, prior to March 3, 1993, that it was exploring sales possibilities for the plant, with the motive to compel plaintiffs to select a voluntary early retirement pursuant to a collectively-bargained Special Accelerated Attrition Agreement ("SAAA") over other collectively-bargained options.

By order dated June 21, 1999, this Court granted GM's motion to preclude the report of plaintiffs' liability expert, Dr. Samuel J. Kursh, but granted plaintiffs leave to file a liability expert report on: "the economic analysis of the options of closing the Trenton plant, selling the Trenton plant, keeping the Trenton Plant open, or delaying a closing of the Trenton plant; and (2) the economic value of the benefits available to the hourly employees of the Trenton Plant." Order dated June 21, 1999.

Plaintiffs thereafter produced a liability report, dated July 2, 1999, along with a qualifications profile of Dr. Frank Tinari, analyzing the following issues: "(1) GM's Analysis of Disposition Plans for the Trenton Plant" and "(2) Special Accelerated Attrition Agreement (SAAA) vs. Remaining with GM." Celauro Certification, Exhibit "A." Plaintiffs subsequently produced another report by Dr. Tinari, dated July 16, 1999, opining "on the range of reasonable value of punitive damages in this matter. . . ." Celauro Certification, Exhibit "C." On August 3, 1999, during the taking of Dr. Tinari's deposition on both reports, Dr. Tinari also produced an undated supplemental report to his July 2, 1999, liability report. See Celauro Certification, Exhibit "B."

GM's present motion to preclude Dr. Tinari's reports is based on the expert's lack of qualifications, as well as the reports' lack of relevance, lack of methodology, and prejudicial value. See Defendant's Brief in Support of Motion at 2. GM moves to preclude the supplemental liability report not only on the same grounds it seeks to preclude the July 2, 1999, report, but also on the grounds that it was provided over a month past the due date set by this Court's order. See ibid.

Discussion

I. Qualifications Analysis of Dr. Tinari Regarding his Liability
  Report

The Court initially notes that this motion is being decided without a Federal Rule of Evidence 104 hearing.*fn1 Cognizant of the Third Circuit's recent reaffirmation in Padillas v. Stork-Gamco, Inc., 186 F.3d 412, 417 (3d Cir. 1999), of the importance of conducting in limine hearings under Rule 104 when making the reliability determinations required by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993), the Court is nonetheless satisfied that such a hearing is unnecessary under the present circumstances. In fact, upon the Court's inquiry at oral argument on September 7, 1999, the Court was informed of the parties' shared belief that the record was complete and that the matter was ripe for adjudication by this Court without a Rule 104 hearing. The Court further notes that Dr. Tinari has been previously and extensively deposed, the transcripts of which were provided to the Court in connection with this motion. As such, Padillas is distinguishable in that the district court there excluded the proposed expert's report — submitted in opposition to a summary judgment motion — without providing the expert the opportunity to explain certain flaws in his methodology. Unlike Padillas, the expert here had ample opportunity at his deposition to explain, and even correct, certain deficiencies GM brought to his attention. Cf. In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 916 F.2d 829, 854 (3d Cir. 1990) (reversing a district court's grant of summary judgment in defendants' favor because in excluding expert evidence under Federal Rule of Evidence 703, the court failed to "provide[] the plaintiffs with sufficient process for defending their evidentiary submissions."). Because this Court has before it a sufficient factual record upon which to base its conclusion, and because a Rule 104 hearing would not have brought any new information to light, the Court is satisfied that such a hearing is unwarranted.

GM first attacks Dr. Tinari's qualifications as an expert in the present matter. Specifically, GM contends that while Dr. Tinari regards himself as an economic expert with primary experience in calculating economic loss suffered by either personal injury plaintiffs or employee plaintiffs, he lacks any "prior experience or expertise with respect to evaluating business plans or options, or any expertise on the automotive industry from an economic perspective." Id. at 5. GM further maintains that Dr. Tinari conceded that he lacks experience in "valuing options available to employees under collective bargaining agreements — with the limited exception of attaching a value to a benefit in an economic loss analysis," which, GM argues, is not the analysis Dr. Tinari conducted in his liability report. Id. at 5-6. As such, GM avers that although Dr. Tinari is an economist, he does not comply with Federal Rule of Evidence 702's requirement that a witness may give expert testimony if qualified as an expert by "knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education. . . ." to the extent he purports to evaluate GM's business options with respect to the Trenton plant as well as plaintiffs' options under the collective bargaining agreement. Id. at 6-7.

Federal Rule of Evidence 702*fn2 has three major requirements: (1) the proffered witness must be an expert; (2) the expert must testify to scientific, technical or specialized knowledge; and (3) the expert's testimony must assist the trier of fact. See United States v. Velasquez, 64 F.3d 844, 849 (3d Cir. 1995). Because Federal Rule of Evidence 104(a) requires district courts to make preliminary determinations "concerning the qualification of a person to be a witness, [and] . . . the admissibility of evidence," a district court, when faced with a proffer of expert testimony, must make a preliminary determination as to all of these elements of Rule 702. Ibid. These preliminary determinations are intended to ensure the reliability of the expert testimony as well as its relevance. See ibid.

To ascertain whether a proposed expert is qualified to act as a witness at trial, courts are directed to engage in a two-step inquiry. See Federal Judicial Center, Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, at 55 (1994). First, the court should determine whether the proffered expert has minimal educational or experiential qualifications in a field that is relevant to a subject that will assist the trier of fact. See ibid. Second, if the expert passes this threshold test, the court should further compare the expert's area of expertise with the particular opinion the expert seeks to offer. See ibid. The expert should be permitted to testify only if the expert's particular expertise, however acquired, enables the expert to give an opinion that is capable of assisting the trier of fact. See ibid.

While on the one hand, the Third Circuit has held that "`a broad range of knowledge, skills and training qualify an expert as such' and [courts must] `eschew[] imposing overly vigorous requirements of expertise,'" the inquiry has not been reduced to a mere formality. Velasquez, supra, 64 F.3d at 849 (quoting In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 35 F.3d 717, 741 (3d Cir. 1994), cert. denied sub nom. General Elec. Co. v. Ingram, 513 U.S. 1190, 115 S.Ct. 1253, 131 L.Ed.2d 134 (1995)). Thus, the determination of whether an expert is qualified to testify about a particular topic is predominantly a fact-specific question governed by the unique circumstances in each case. For example, in Surace v. Caterpillar, Inc., 111 F.3d 1039 (3d Cir. 1997), the proposed expert was an electromechanical engineer, with a degree in electrical engineering, and twenty years of experience with Mack Trucks, who sought to testify about habituation. The court held that "[a]lthough the Rule [702] mandates a policy of liberal admissibility, both with respect to the substantive as well as the formal qualification of experts," the proffered expert did not meet the standard because he did not have the requisite training or experience in the particular area for which he was being offered to give testimony. Id. at 1055. Conversely, in Hammond v. International Harvester Co., 691 F.2d 646, 653 (3d Cir. 1982), based upon the particular circumstances of that case, the Third Circuit permitted an engineer with sales experience in automotive and agricultural equipment, who also taught high school automobile repair, to testify in a products liability action involving tractors.*fn3 Accordingly, the Third Circuit has warned that "it is an abuse of discretion to exclude testimony simply because the trial court does not deem the proposed expert to be the best qualified or because the proposed expert does not have the specialization that the court considers most appropriate." Holbrook v. Lykes Bros. Steamship Co., Inc., 80 F.3d 777, 782 (3d Cir. 1996).*fn4

The Third Circuit has clarified that general knowledge or practical experience is a sufficient basis on which to qualify an expert. Indeed, the Third Circuit noted that a witness can qualify as an expert "under Rule 702 on the basis of practical experience alone, and a formal degree, title, or educational specialty is not required." Lauria v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 145 F.3d 593, 599 (3d Cir. 1998). In the Lauria case, the circuit court found that the expert testimony of a veteran Amtrak employee of twenty years, on the subject of Amtrak's responsibility to "inspect and maintain the track in a safe condition," was improperly excluded. Ibid.; see also Waldorf v. Shuta, 142 F.3d 601, 627 (3d Cir. 1998) (finding a proposed expert witness' generalized knowledge or practical experience may be sufficient to qualify him as an expert).

With this framework in mind, this Court must first assess Dr. Tinari's qualifications to testify as to the issues in this case. The Court notes that Dr. Tinari's qualifications profile highlights an extensive and distinguished professional career in the field of economics. See Celauro Certification, Exhibit "A" at 22-25. Dr. Tinari, currently a Professor of Economics at Seton Hall University, received his B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. in Economics from Fordham University, and has, since that time, served in numerous academic and professional positions and has been the recipient of several honors and awards in his field. See id. at 22-23. Dr. Tinari is also currently involved as a member of several national economic associations. See id. at 24. Moreover, Dr. Tinari has provided expert testimony at over 250 trials, arbitration hearings, and depositions, and has lectured at various seminars on issues such as proving economic damages and the use of economic experts to calculate lost wages and benefits. See id. at 23. In addition to authoring "[n]umerous economic loss appraisal reports for use in litigation regarding economic daniages[,]" Dr. Tinari has also written and published various articles addressing economic issues such as the role of the economic expert, ethical issues for forensic economists, and the valuation of economic damages in the context of personal injury and wrongful death cases. Id. at 23-24. Dr. Tinari also currently serves as an editorial reviewer for four economic and business journals. See id. at 22.

This Court finds that Dr. Tinari qualifies to testify as an expert on the issues addressed in his liability report. Indeed, the Court is satisfied that Dr. Tinari has extensive experience in the area of economics and is qualified to review and summarize GM's financial plans regarding its decision to sell, close, or keep the Trenton plant open, as well as to evaluate the options available to plaintiffs from December 1992 through March 1993. Contrary to GM's assertion, the fact that Dr. Tinari does not have specific experience in the automotive industry or in creating or evaluating business plans does not impact upon his qualifications to review such plans and to summarize in a concise, easy to understand fashion GM's own analyses of the business options available to it. The Court further notes that notwithstanding its belief that Dr. Tinari may not be the best qualified expert to render testimony on this particular issue, his testimony is nonetheless admissible and the weight to be accorded that testimony is left to the province of the jury. See Holbrook, supra, 80 F.3d at 782 ("witnesses may be competent to testify as experts even though they may not, in the court's eyes, be the `best' qualified. Who is `best' qualified is a matter of weight upon which reasonable jurors may disagree.").

Similarly, in the context of valuing benefits under collective bargaining agreements Dr. Tinari's deposition testimony reveals that he has evaluated numerous wage and benefit provisions in other agreements as well as in collective bargaining agreements — albeit only from the perspective of an economic loss analysis, an analysis different from the one conducted in his liability report. See Celauro Certification, Exhibit "D" at 23. Logically, the review of such agreements for purposes of calculating losses requires an understanding of the value of the benefits contained therein. It is thus inconsequential to the present analysis that Dr. Tinari is neither an expert in collective bargaining agreements nor in the automotive industry when his liability report merely evaluates the wages and benefits contained in the collective bargaining agreement, and in no way requires him to determine any issues that would necessitate specific expertise of collective bargaining agreements*fn5 or the automotive industry. Finally, as plaintiffs point out in their brief, GM's attempt to draw a distinction between valuing loss in collective bargaining agreements, which Dr. Tinari has experience doing, and valuing various benefit options is futile. Certainly, analyzing the value and income stream that would have resulted had plaintiffs accepted the SAAA and comparing that to the income stream that would have resulted had ...


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