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In re Ethicon, Inc. Pelvic Repair Systems Product Liability Litigation

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

March 10, 2017

IN RE ETHICON, INC. PELVIC REPAIR SYSTEMS PRODUCT LIABILITY LITIGATION THIS DOCUMENT RELATES TO cases Identified in the Exhibit Attached Hereto

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER (DAUBERT MOTION RE: SHELBY THAMES, PH.D.)

          JOSEPH R. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the court is the Motion to Exclude the Opinions and Testimony of Shelby Thames [ECF No. 2039] filed by the plaintiffs. The Motion is now ripe for consideration because briefing is complete.

         I. Background

         This case resides in one of seven MDLs assigned to me by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation concerning the use of transvaginal surgical mesh to treat pelvic organ prolapse (“POP”) and stress urinary incontinence (“SUI”). In the seven MDLs, there are more than 75, 000 cases currently pending, approximately 30, 000 of which are in this MDL, which involves defendants Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon, Inc. (collectively “Ethicon”), among others.

         In this MDL, the court's tasks include “resolv[ing] pretrial issues in a timely and expeditious manner” and “resolv[ing] important evidentiary disputes.” Barbara J. Rothstein & Catherine R. Borden, Fed. Judicial Ctr., Managing Multidistrict Litigation in Products Liability Cases 3 (2011). To handle motions to exclude or to limit expert testimony pursuant to Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), the court developed a specific procedure. In Pretrial Order (“PTO”) No. 217, the court instructed the parties to file only one Daubert motion per challenged expert, to file each motion in the main MDL-as opposed to the individual member cases-and to identify which cases would be affected by the motion. PTO No. 217, at 4.[1]

         II. Preliminary Matters

         Before plunging into the heart of the Motion, a few preliminary matters need to be addressed.

         I am compelled to comment on the parties' misuse of my previous Daubert rulings on several of the experts offered in this case. See generally Sanchez v. Bos. Sci. Corp., No. 2:12-cv-05762, 2014 WL 4851989 (S.D. W.Va. Sept. 29, 2014); Tyree v. Bos. Sci. Corp., 54 F.Supp.3d 501 (S.D. W.Va. 2014); Eghnayem v. Bos. Sci. Corp., 57 F.Supp.3d 658 (S.D. W.Va. 2014). The parties have, for the most part, structured their Daubert arguments as a response to these prior rulings, rather than an autonomous challenge to or defense of expert testimony based on its reliability and relevance. In other words, the parties have comparatively examined expert testimony and have largely overlooked Daubert's core considerations for assessing expert testimony. Although I recognize the tendency of my prior evidentiary determinations to influence subsequent motions practice, counsels' expectations that I align with these previous rulings when faced with a different record are misplaced, especially when an expert has issued new reports and given additional deposition testimony.

         Mindful of my role as gatekeeper for the admission of expert testimony, as well as my duty to “respect[ ] the individuality” of each MDL case, see In re Phenylpropanolamine Prods. Liab. Litig., 460 F.3d 1217, 1231 (9th Cir. 2006), I refuse to credit Daubert arguments that simply react to the court's rulings in Sanchez and its progeny. Indeed, I feel bound by these earlier cases only to the extent that the expert testimony and Daubert objections presented to the court then are identical to those presented now. Otherwise, I assess the parties' Daubert arguments anew. That is, in light of the particular expert testimony and objections currently before me, I assess “whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid” and “whether that reasoning or methodology properly can be applied to the facts in issue.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-93. Any departure from Sanchez, Eghnayem, or Tyree does not constitute a “reversal” of these decisions and is instead the expected result of the parties' submission of updated expert reports and new objections to the expert testimony contained therein.

         Finally, I have attempted to resolve all possible disputes before transfer or remand, including those related to the admissibility of expert testimony pursuant to Daubert. Nevertheless, in some instances I face Daubert challenges where my interest in accuracy counsels reserving ruling until the reliability of the expert testimony may be evaluated at trial. At trial, the expert testimony will be tested by precise questions asked and answered. The alternative of live Daubert hearings is impossible before transfer or remand because of the numerosity of such motions in these seven related MDLs. As these MDLs have grown and the expert testimony has multiplied, I have become convinced that the critical gatekeeping function permitting or denying expert testimony on decisive issues in these cases is best made with a live expert on the witness stand subject to vigorous examination.

         In the course of examining a multitude of these very similar cases involving the same fields of expertise, I have faced irreconcilably divergent expert testimony offered by witnesses with impeccable credentials, suggesting, to me, an unreasonable risk of unreliability. The danger-and to my jaded eye, the near certainty-of the admission of “junk science” looms large in this mass litigation.

         The parties regularly present out-of-context statements, after-the-fact rationalizations of expert testimony, and incomplete deposition transcripts. This, combined with the above-described practice of recycling expert testimony, objections, and the court's prior rulings, creates the perfect storm of obfuscation. Where further clarity is necessary, I believe it can only be achieved through live witness testimony- not briefing-I will therefore reserve ruling until expert testimony can be evaluated firsthand.

         III. Legal Standard

         By now, the parties should be intimately familiar with Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence and Daubert, so the ...


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