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From Products Liability Law Daily, October 2, 2014

Baby formula maker asks High Court to clarify appellate review standard for “Daubert” rulings

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

A baby formula maker has challenged a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit which held that a Minnesota district court abused its discretion in excluding the testimony of experts testifying for the guardian ad litem of an infant who developed a bacterial infection which resulted in brain damage allegedly as a result of ingesting the formula (Mead Johnson & Co., LLC v. Johnson, Docket No. 14-365, September 26, 2014).

Background. In support of the products liability action against the manufacturer, the infant’s guardian ad litem’s presented testimony by three experts to prove that the infant’s C. sak infection was caused by ingestion of the baby formula. The trial court excluded the experts because their testimony did not sufficiently “rule out” other possible causes of the C. sak contamination. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit (sub nom. Johnson v. Mead Johnson & Co., LLC.) reversed that decision, finding that the district court violated the liberal admission standards of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and Rule 702 by resolving doubts in favor of keeping the experts’ testimony out and relying upon its own assessment of the correctness of the expert opinions. By doing so, the appellate court said, the trial court disallowed the adversarial process to work.

Reasons for granting writ. In urging the U.S. supreme Court to review the Eighth Circuit’s decision, Mead Johnson argued that the proper standard of review of a federal district court’s rulings in a Daubert matter was the deferential abuse of discretion standard, meaning the appellate court could not overrule the trial court’s ruling on the admissibility of expert testimony unless it was manifestly erroneous. However, the Eighth Circuit subjected the lower court’s ruling to rigorous scrutiny, exhibiting a bias towards the admission of expert testimony, according to the petition. Furthermore, the Eighth Circuit’s decision that an expert’s opinion could be admitted even if it was not based on reliable methodology conflicted with decisions in at least nine other circuits.

Questions presented. Mead Johnson presented two questions for High Court considerations:

  • Did Rule 702 so liberalize federal law on the admission of expert opinion testimony that appellate courts must rigorously scrutinize district court orders excluding such testimony, resolving all doubts in favor of reversal?

  • Is a district court required, when exercising its Daubert gatekeeper role, to admit expert causation testimony when the expert has failed to use reliable methodology, reliably applied, to rule out any alternative causes for plaintiff’s injuries?

  • The case number is 14-365.

    Attorneys: Anthony J. Anscombe (Sedgwick LLP), and Brian W. Thompson (Stinson Leonard Street LLP) for Mead Johnson & Co., LLC. Kay Nord Hunt (Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King & Stageberg, PA) for Scott Johnson.

    Companies: Mead Johnson & Co., LLC

    MainStory: TopStory SupremeCourtNews BabyProductsNews ExpertEvidenceNews

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