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Stradtman v. Republic Services, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

April 28, 2015

REPUBLIC SERVICES, INC., et al., Defendants.


JAMES C. CACHERIS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendants' Expert Lyman Johnson. [Dkt. 95.] For the following reasons, the Court will deny the motion.

I. Background

Plaintiff Stephen M. Stradtman ("Plaintiff") claims that Defendants Republic Services, Inc., Republic Services of Virginia, LLC, and Ronald Krall (collectively "Defendants") tortuously interfered with contractual relations and business expectancies regarding his former employment as the Chief Executive Officer ("CEO") of Otto Industries North America, Inc. ("Otto"). (Compl. [Dkt. 1-3] at ¶¶ 121-140.) In general, Plaintiff claims that Defendants caused his resignation from Otto in retaliation for a discrimination lawsuit that Plaintiff's wife had filed against Defendants. (See generally id.) Discovery was completed on April 10, 2015. (Scheduling Order [Dkt. 20].) The parties appeared for a Final Pretrial Conference on April 16, 2015 and set the matter for a jury trial commencing on July 6, 2015.

On March 11, 2015, Defendants disclosed the expert report of Mr. Lyman Johnson (the "Report"), who opines and intends to testify regarding Plaintiff's corporate governance responsibilities as the CEO of Otto. In the Report, Mr. Johnson concludes:

(1) Under standard corporate practice, the Otto Board, not Stradtman as CEO, was ultimately responsible for acting to direct and oversee the business and affairs of Otto, including how Otto would act in relation to Republic, with whom it had a contractual relationship.
(2) Upon assessing his conduct in context, it is my opinion that Stradtman was not required to resign as CEO of Otto in order to fulfill his governance responsibilities or comply with his fiduciary duties. He had no fiduciary duty to resign as he did.

(Report [Dkt. 96-1] at 4.) Plaintiff now moves to strike Mr. Johnson as an expert witness in this matter. (Pl.'s Mot. to Strike [Dkt. 95]; Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. [Dkt. 96].)

In support of his motion, Plaintiff argues that Mr. Johnson draws impermissible legal conclusions regarding Plaintiff's fiduciary duties that would not otherwise assist a jury in its understanding of the case, and that Mr. Johnson's expert testimony is based on incorrect information that would otherwise mislead the jury. (Pl.'s Mem. at 3-8; 8-12.) Defendants oppose Plaintiff's motion and argue Mr. Johnson's proposed testimony is proper. (Defs.' Opp'n [Dkt. 102].) Fully briefed and argued, this motion is ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if: (a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; (b) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data; (c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (d) the witness has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Fed. R. Evid. 702. Pursuant to their role as gatekeepers, district court judges must act to ensure that expert testimony is relevant and reliable. Cooper v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 259 F.3d 194, 199 (4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 588 (1993)). The gatekeeping requirement is meant "to ensure that the expert witness in question in the courtroom employs the same level of intellectual vigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field." United States v. Barnette, 211 F.3d 803, 815-16 (4th Cir. 2000) (citing Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152 (1999)). Ultimately, however, a district court's decision with respect to the admissibility of expert testimony "is always a flexible one, and the court's conclusions necessarily amount to an exercise of broad discretion guided by the overarching criteria of relevance and reliability." Oglesby v. Gen. Motors Corp., 190 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1999).

The district court may also exclude expert testimony if it does not aide the finder of fact. United States v. Barile, 286 F.3d 749, 760 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing Kopf v. Skyrm, 993 F.2d 374, 377-78 (4th Cir. 1993) (stating that while "[a]n opinion is not objectionable simply because it embraces an ultimate issue to be decided by the trier of fact... such an opinion may be excluded if it is not helpful to the trier of fact under Rule 702") (internal quotation omitted)). "The touchstone of the rule is whether the testimony will assist the jury." United States v. Offill, 666 F.3d 168, 175 (4th Cir. 2011). Legal conclusions or testimony that merely tells the jury what result to reach is not likely to assist the jury in its determination and is excludable. Barile, 286 F.3d at 760 (citing Woods v. Lecureux, 110 F.3d 1215, 1220 (6th Cir. 1997)). The Fourth Circuit has held that "it does not help the jury for an expert to give testimony that states a legal standard or draws a legal conclusion by applying law to the facts, because it supplies the jury with no information other than the witness's view of how the verdict should be read." Offill, 666 F.3d at 175 (quoting United States v. McIver, 470 F.3d 550, 562 (4th Cir. 2006); Weinstein's Federal Evidence § 704.04[2][a] (2d ed. 2003)) (internal quotations omitted). The Court must therefore "distinguish opinion testimony that ...

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