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Thompson v. Kinder Morgan Altamont, LLC

United States District Court, D. Utah

October 19, 2018

CLAYTON LEO THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
KINDER MORGAN ALTAMONT, LLC et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO EXCLUDE PLAINTIFF'S EXPERT WITNESS

          JILL N. PARRISH UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on Defendants' Motion to Exclude Plaintiff's Expert Witness filed on June 25, 2018. (ECF No. 90). On August 15, 2018, Plaintiff filed its opposition memorandum, [1] (ECF No. 103), to which defendants replied on September 5, 2018, (ECF No. 114). The court held two days of evidentiary hearings on this motion on September 13, 2018 and September 27, 2018.[2] For the reasons below, defendants' motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 31, 2015, plaintiff Clayton Thompson filed this diversity action against a group of oil and gas associations that had, at different times over the last 44 years, owned or operated a natural gas compressor station that doubled as a petroleum storage and freight loading facility (the “South Compressor Station”). The operative Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) asserts six tort-based causes of action arising from the defendants' alleged negligent and intentional conduct in the construction and operation of this station. That conduct, Mr. Thompson alleges, resulted in the migration of pollutants onto his property, which is located next to the South Compressor Station.

         In 2012, Mr. Thompson was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (“CML”), a cancer that Mr. Thompson's expert, Dr. Peter Infante, seeks to opine is more likely than not caused by exposure to benzene-one of the substances alleged to have contaminated his property. Although recovery in a toxic tort case requires that a plaintiff prove both general and specific causation, the parties have stipulated to resolving the general causation issue first. (ECF No. 90 at 4 n.2). As a result, defendants' motion seeks only to exclude Dr. Infante's opinion that benzene is a cause of CML in the abstract, rather than the specific cause of Mr. Thompson's CML.[3]

         The court held two days of hearings on this motion during which Dr. Infante and defendants' expert, Dr. Kenneth Mundt, testified extensively about the epidemiological literature on benzene exposure and leukemia, as well as the proper weight that ought to be accorded to the relevant studies.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that:

         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 on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Fed. R. Evid. 702. The Supreme Court has explained that Rule 702 creates a gatekeeping function for the district court, “assign[ing] to the trial judge the task of ensuring that an expert's testimony both rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at ...


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