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Miller v. New Jersey Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 25, 2018

RICKY MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          STANLEY R. CHESLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court upon three in limine motions: (1) Defendants' motion to preclude the testimony of Plaintiff's expert witness Dr. James McMenamin [ECF 316]; (2) Defendants' motion to preclude Plaintiff from litigating the legality of his interstate transfer [ECF 317]; and (3) Plaintiff's motion to preclude Defendants from introducing evidence of Plaintiff's criminal convictions and Plaintiff's disciplinary history while incarcerated [ECF 318]. Opposition to each of the motions has been filed. The Court proceeds to rule on the motions based on the papers submitted, and without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78.

         As the background of this case is well-known to the parties and has been set forth at length in the Court's previous opinions, the Court will provide only a brief summary of the facts. This § 1983 action arises from an incident on December 4, 2006. On that date, Defendants Frank Orlando and Edward McCarthy, both troopers with the Pennsylvania State Police, came to the Northern State Prison in Newark, New Jersey, where Plaintiff Ricky Miller was then incarcerated, for the purpose of transporting Mr. Miller to Pennsylvania to face criminal charges pending against him in that state. Plaintiff objected to the transfer. Plaintiff maintains that when he questioned the validity of his transfer and asked to see documentation authorizing the transfer, Defendants refused to provide him with any paperwork or warrants and forced him to comply. Defendants claim that Plaintiff resisted their attempts to take him into their custody. It is undisputed that when Troopers Orlando and McCarthy attempted to handcuff Mr. Miller, Trooper Orlando punched Plaintiff in the face. Plaintiff was treated in the Northern State Prison infirmary and thereafter transported by Defendants to Pennsylvania.

         Plaintiff claims that the force used by Defendants was unconstitutionally excessive in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The instant lawsuit alleges that the Defendants' excessive force caused Plaintiff to sustain dental injuries and resulted in the extraction of several teeth subsequent to the incident. While the original Complaint asserted a number of causes of action, the sole claim proceeding to trial is an Eighth Amendment claim against Troopers Orlando and McCarthy.

         A jury trial of this action is scheduled to commence on September 5, 2018. In anticipation of several issues that will arise at trial, the parties have filed three motions in limine, which are the subject of the instant Opinion. The Court will address each in limine motion in turn.

         I. Motion To Preclude Testimony of Plaintiff's Expert Dr. McMenamin

         Plaintiff has proffered the expert opinion of a dentist, Dr. James P. McMenamin, in support of his claim that Defendants' conduct caused him to sustain dental injuries. In the expert's February 6, 2017 report, Dr. McMenamin states that he performed an oral and maxillofacial examination on Mr. Miller on September 27, 2016. He notes that, at the time of the examination, Mr. Miller had a full maxillary denture and partial mandibular denture. Dr. McMenamin's report also states that he reviewed Plaintiff's applicable medical records. Dr. McMenamin opines that “it is apparent from the records that the altercation of December 4, 2006 caused [Mr. Miller] significant dental trauma” and “conclude[s] to a reasonable degree of Medical/Dental certainty that the trauma Mr. Miller sustained on December 4, 2006 when he was punched several times by State Troopers set in motion the subsequent loss of Mr. Miller's remaining maxillary teeth and all but 7 of his mandibular teeth.” (Mot. Ex. 1, ECF 316-2.)

         Defendants challenge the admissibility of Dr. McMenamin's testimony as unreliable. They argue that in his perfunctory, page-and-a-half long report, Dr. McMenamin provides no reliable methodology for having reached the conclusion that Plaintiff's significant dental problems and many tooth extractions were caused by Trooper Orlando having struck Mr. Miller in the face. They point out that at his deposition, Dr. McMenamin conceded that his clinical exam of Mr. Miller, conducted almost ten years after the incident, did not allow him to form a conclusion as to what caused the damage to Mr. Miller's teeth, resulting in his many extractions. (McMenamin Dep. 20:7-11.) They further point out that Dr. McMenamin also conceded that tooth extractions have a number of different possible causes-decay, periodontal disease, trauma, and infection-and that the medical records gave him no indication as to the reason Mr. Miller's teeth had been extracted. (Id. at 21:22-22:1, 24:3-11, 35:10-20.) Indeed, they note that Dr. McMenamin acknowledged that, as of October 2006, just prior to the incident, Plaintiff was already planning on having three teeth extracted. (Id. at 25:5-14.) Thus, Defendants maintain, Dr. McMenamin has no grounds for concluding that the many tooth extractions Mr. Miller underwent in the years following the December 4, 2006 incident were caused by trauma sustained by Plaintiff when he was struck by Trooper Orlando. Defendants submit that Dr. McMenamin's opinion amounts to no more than speculation, unsupported by a reliable methodology, and must therefore be excluded.

         The Court agrees. The Court bears an obligation to act as a gatekeeper and ensure that expert testimony is both relevant and reliable. Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999); Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). Federal Rule of Evidence 702 sets the standard for admissibility of expert testimony. It provides:

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.

Fed. R. Evid. 702.

         In its Daubert opinion, the Supreme Court articulated various factors that a district court may use to analyze the reliability of expert testimony. That non-exhaustive list of factors is as follows: (1) whether the particular theory can be and has been tested; (2) whether the theory has been subjected to peer review and publication; (3) the known or potential rate of error; (4) the existence and maintenance of standards controlling the technique's operation; and (5) whether the technique has achieved general acceptance in the relevant scientific or expert community. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593-94. Later, in Kumho Tire, the Supreme Court clarified that “the test of reliability is flexible, and Daubert's list of specific factors neither necessarily nor exclusively applies to all experts or in every case.” Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 141. The crux of the inquiry as to reliability is whether the expert's testimony is based on “good grounds” rather than the “subjective belief or unsupported speculation” of the expert witness. United States v. Williams, 235 Fed. App'x 925, 928 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590).

         In this case, it is apparent that the opinion offered by Dr. McMenamin is not based on good grounds. In his report, he provides two bases for his opinion that the incident of December 4, 2006 caused Mr. Miller's dental injuries: his clinical examination of Mr. Miller conducted nearly ten years after the incident and his review of the medical records. The report, however, does not explain how Dr. McMenamin used the information he gathered to form his opinion. Nor does it explain how the records and exam support his conclusion. When given an opportunity to draw a connection between his opinion and its two purported bases, Dr. McMenamin conceded in his deposition testimony that neither the records nor the examination conclusively demonstrated that Mr. Miller's injuries were caused by trauma sustained as a result of Trooper Orlando's striking Mr. Miller in the face. Indeed, it appears Dr. McMenamin's sole basis for his opinion is Mr. Miller's own account of the December 4, 2006 incident, in which Mr. Miller informed Dr. McMenamin that after the incident, he was bleeding from his mouth and felt his teeth were loose. (McMenamin Dep. 36:9-20.)

         Plaintiff's expert has provided no methodology for his conclusions. His opinion is therefore unreliable and inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. Accordingly, the Court will grant Defendant's motion to ...


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