In the “Daubert trilogy,” Rule 702 spawned three children, all special in their own way. The firstborn, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), naturally receives most of the attention, being the pioneer. The middle child, General Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136 (1997), tends to be comparatively underappreciated in the shadow of its predecessor. Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999), the youngest, generally receives the least attention.
Daubert’s broad pronouncements about gatekeeping principles dominate the Rule 702 landscape. No one calls a motion to exclude a “Joiner motion”; no one participates in a “Kumho hearing.” But in the broad wake of Daubert, Joiner played a particularly important and multifaceted role in shaping the ongoing development of Rule 702 jurisprudence. Its influence is worth revisiting.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in Merck Sharp & Dohme, Inc. v. Albrecht, 139 S.Ct. 1668 (2019), discussed here and here addressed impossibility preemption in label change lawsuits. In Albrecht, the Supreme Court purported to clarify the standard arising from Wyeth v. Levine, 555 US 555 (2009) that a labeling claim against a manufacturer is preempted for “impossibility” if there is “clear evidence” that the FDA would have rejected a manufacturer’s proposed label change. Albrecht explained that impossibility preemption requires the “manufacturer to show that it fully informed the FDA of the justifications for the warning required by state law and that the FDA, in turn, informed the drug manufacturer that the FDA would not approve changing the drug’s label to include that warning.” But Albrecht left unclear what the “clear evidence” showing entails and left open several important questions about how it is to be applied.
A New Jersey federal judge recently applied Tennessee and California law in dismissing a proposed class action concerning allegedly leaky water heater sensors/valves (valves) made by Honeywell International Inc. The decision provides a point-by-point explanation of how superficial allegations of product defect fail to satisfy federal pleading standards under the substantive product liability laws of both states.
In Butera v. Honeywell International, Inc., Civil Action No. 18-13417, the named plaintiffs were a resident of Tennessee and a resident of California whose water heaters began leaking six years after purchase. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action claiming that Honeywell’s hot water heater valves were defective. The plaintiffs alleged that the valves featured a plastic (thermowell) casing that “prematurely erodes” and deteriorates, allowing water leakage. They asserted claims under Tennessee’s Products Liability Act (TPLA) and causes of action under California common law, the California Commercial Code, and California’s Unfair Competition Law statute (UCL), sounding in breach of express and implied warranty, negligence, strict product liability and consumer fraud. Honeywell moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The court applied the laws of each plaintiff’s home state to their respective claims.
Courts have struggled for decades to define the constitutional limitations on personal jurisdiction over major product manufacturers who sell their products nationwide. The central tension has been determining the validity and potential scope of the “stream of commerce” theory in a world of advancing technology and associated evolution of business operations and practices. That tension is increasing as state courts decide what kind of nexus is required, between a defendant’s “forum-directed” commercial activities and the plaintiff’s claim, to justify the exercise of specific jurisdiction. Specifically, how purposefully forum-directed and how closely tied to the specific claim must the activities be?
Stream of commerce theory posits that a defendant that has placed a product into the nationwide channels of commerce should anticipate that its products will thereby be “swept” into any state and if it causes injury there, it will be subject to suit. In its purest form, the theory collides to some degree with the fundamental limiting requirement that a defendant may be haled into a forum to litigate only where it has “purposely availed” itself of the privilege of doing business by, for example, directing its products into the forum.
Amateur philosophers, bar flies, and eulogists, among others, are known to wistfully observe that nothing dies so long as it is remembered and discussed. That’s a comforting sentiment when it comes to loved ones and legacies, but it can be mischievous and bothersome when applied to fallen case law. The long, drawn-out demise of Roberti v. Andy’s Termite & Pest Control. Inc., 113 Cal.App.4th 893 (2003) is a case in point, so to speak.
Pre-Roberti Expert Admissibility Standards – The Kelly/Frye Rule and a Suggestion of Daubert
Roberti is part of a much longer story about California’s journey to adoption of Daubert-style reliability gatekeeping for the testimony of expert witnesses.
You can find the first two parts of this story here and here.
In 2013, spurred by the decisions in Marsh and Hood, the Florida Legislature amended F.S. 90.702 to mirror Federal Rule of Evidence 702. In a preamble to the final bill, the Legislature expressed its intent to (1) adopt the standards set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Daubert trilogy and (2) prohibit “pure opinion testimony as provided in Marsh…”
The Plaintiff’s Bar Parries
Ordinarily, this definitive a legislative adoption of Daubert and rejection of Frye and pure opinion would be the end of the story. But Florida plaintiffs’ lawyers immediately mounted a challenge to the amendment based on the separation of powers provisions of the Florida Constitution, and they had a liberal and receptive Supreme Court.