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General Elec. Co. v. Joiner

ELR Citation: 28 ELR 20227
Nos. 96-188, 118 S. Ct. 512/(U.S., 12/15/1997) Rev'd

The Court holds that abuse of discretion is the proper standard by which to review a district court's decision to admit or exclude scientific evidence. The Court first holds that the court of appeals applied an overly stringent review of the exclusion of the plaintiff's experts' testimony, thereby failing to give the trial court the deference that is the hallmark of abuse of discretion review. The Court rejects the argument that Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 23 ELR 20979 (U.S. 1993) alters the general rule that abuse of discretion is the proper standard of review of a district court's evidentiary rulings. In fact, Daubert did not address the standard of appellate review for evidentiary rulings at all. Daubert did hold, however, that the previous standard of "general acceptance" had not been carried over into the Federal Rules of Evidence. Thus, while the Federal Rules of Evidence allow district courts to admit a somewhat broader range of scientific testimony than would have been admissible under preexisting law, they leave in place the "gatekeeper" role of the trial judge in screening such evidence. A court of appeals applying abuse of discretion review to such rulings may not categorically distinguish between rulings allowing expert testimony and rulings that disallow it. The Court also rejects the argument that because the granting of summary judgment is outcome determinative, it should have been subjected to a more searching standard of review. On a motion for summary judgment, disputed issues of fact are resolved against the moving party, but the question of admissibility of expert testimony is not such an issue of fact, and is reviewable under the abuse of discretion standard.

The Court next holds that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the plaintiff's expert testimony. The studies were so dissimilar to the facts presented in this litigation that it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to have rejected the experts' reliance on them. Nothing in either Daubert or the Federal Rules of Evidence requires a district court to admit opinion evidence that is connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit of the expert. A court may conclude that there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and opinion proffered.

In an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, Justice Stevens would remand the case to the court of appeals for application of the proper standard of review. Justice Stevens does not believe that a fair appraisal of either the methodology or the conclusions of the plaintiff's experts can be made on the basis of an incomplete record.

[A prior decision in this litigation is published at 26 ELR 20939.]

Counsel for Petitioners
Steven R. Kuney
Williams & Connolly
725 12th St. NW, Washington DC 20005
(202) 434-5000

Counsel for Respondents
Michael J. Warshauer
Warshauer & Woodruff
75 14th St. NE, Ste. 2700, Atlanta GA 30309
(404) 892-4900