TORTINI

For your delectation and delight, desultory dicta on the law of delicts.

Art Historian Expert Testimony

August 15th, 2016

Art appraisal and authentication is sometimes held out as a non-technical and non-scientific area of expertise, and as such, not subject to rigorous testing.[1] But to what extent is this simply excuse mongering for an immature field of study? The law has seen way too much of this sort of rationalization in criminal forensic studies.[2] If an entire field of learning suffers from unreliability because of its reliance upon subjective methodologies, lack of rigor, inability or unwillingness to use measurements, failure to eliminate biases through blinding, and the like, then do expert witnesses in this field receive a “pass” under Rule 702, simply because they are doing reasonably well compared with their professional colleagues?

In the movie Who the Fuck is Jackson Pollack, the late Thomas Hoving was interviewed about the authenticity of a painting claimed to have been “painted” by Jackson Pollack. Hoving “authoritatively,” and with his typical flamboyance, averred that the disputed painting was not a Pollack because the work “did not sing to me like a Pollack.” Hoving did not, however, attempt to record the notes he heard; nor did Hoving speak to what key Pollack usually painted in.

In a recent case of defamation and tortious interference with prospective business benefit, a plaintiff sued over the disparagement of a painting’s authenticity and provenance. As a result of the defendants’ statements that the painting at issue was not created by Peter M. Doig, auction houses refused to sell the painting held by plaintiff. In litigation, the plaintiff proffered an expert witness who opined that the painting was, in fact, created by Doig. The defendants challenged plaintiff’s expert witness as not reliable or relevant under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. Fletcher v. Doig, 13 C 3270, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95081 (N.D. Ill. July 21, 2016).

Peter Bartlow, the plaintiff’s expert witness on authenticity, was short on academic credentials. He had gone to college, and finished only one year of graduate study in art history. Bartlow did, however, have 40 years in experience in appraisal and authentication. Fletcher, at *3-4. Beyond qualifications, the defendants complained that Bartlow’s method was

(1) invented for the case,

(2) was too “generic” to establish authenticity, and

(3) failed to show that any claimed generic feature was unique to the work of the artist in question, Peter M. Doig.

The trial court rebuffed this challenge by noting that Peter Bartlow did not have to be an expert specifically in Doig’s work. Fletcher at *7. Similarly, the trial court rejected the defendants’ suggestion that the disputed work must exhibit “unique” features of Doig’s ouevre. Bartlow had made a legally sufficient case for his opinions based upon a qualitative analysis of 45 acknowledged works, using specific qualitative features of 11 known works. Id. At *10. Specifically, Bartlow compared types of paint, similarities in styles, shapes and positioning, and “repeated lineatures” by superimposing lines from known paintings to the questioned ones. Id. With respect to the last of these approaches, the trial court found that Bartlow’s explanation that the approach of superimposing lines to show similarity was simply a refinement of methods commonly used by art appraisers.

By comparison with Thomas Hoving’s subjective auditory methodology, as explained in Who the Fuck, Bartlow’s approach was positively brilliant, even if the challenged methodologies left much to be desired. For instance, Bartlow compared one disputed painting with 45 or so paintings of accepted provenance. No one tested Bartlow’s ability, blinded to provenance, to identify true and false positives of Doig paintings. SeeThe Eleventh Circuit Confuses Adversarial and Methodological Bias, Manifestly Erroneously” (June 6, 2015); see generally Christopher Robertson & Aaron Kesselheim, Blinding as a Solution to Bias: Strengthening Biomedical Science, Forensic Science, and Law (2016).

Interestingly, the Rule 702 challenges in Fletcher were in a case slated to be tried by the bench. The trial court thus toasted the chestnut that trial courts have even greater latitude in admitting expert witness opinion testimony in bench trials, in which “the usual concerns of [Rule 702] – keeping unreliable testimony from the jury – are not present.” Fletcher at *3 (citing Metavante Corp. v. Emigrants Savings Bank, 619 F.3d 648, 670 (7th Cir. 2010)). Citing Seventh Circuit precedent, the trial court, in Fletcher, asserted that the need to rule on admissibility before trial was lessened in a bench trial. Id. (citing In re Salem, 465 F.3d 767, 777 (7th Cir. 2006)). The courts that have taken this position have generally failed to explain why the standard for granting or denying a Rule 702 challenge should be different in a bench trial. Clearly, a bench trial can be just as much a waste of time, money, and energy as a jury trial. Even more clearly, judges can be, and are, snookered by misleading expert witness opinions, and they are also susceptible to their own cognitive biases and the false allure of unreliable opinion testimony, built upon invalid inferences. Men and women do not necessarily see more clearly when wearing black robes, but they can achieve some measure of objectivity by explaining and justifying their gatekeeping opinions in writing, subject to public review, comment, and criticism.


[1] See, e.g. Lees v. Carthage College, 714 F.3d 516, 525 (7th Cir. 2013) (holding that an expert witness’s testimony on premises security involved non-scientific expertise and knowledge that did “not easily admit of rigorous testing and replication”).

[2] See, e.g., National Academies of Science, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward (2009).

High, Low and Right-Sided Colonics – Ridding the Courts of Junk Science

July 16th, 2016

Not surprisingly, many of Selikoff’s litigation- and regulatory-driven opinions have not fared well, such as the notions that asbestos causes gastrointestinal cancers and that all asbestos minerals have equal potential and strength to cause mesothelioma.  Forty years after Selikoff testified in litigation that occupational asbestos exposure caused an insulator’s colorectal cancer, the Institute of Medicine reviewed the extant evidence and announced that the evidence was  “suggestive but not sufficient to infer a causal relationship between asbestos exposure and pharyngeal, stomach, and colorectal cancers.” Jonathan Samet, et al., eds., Institute of Medicine Review of Asbestos: Selected Cancers (2006).[1] The Institute of Medicine’s monograph has fostered a more circumspect approach in some of the federal agencies.  The National Cancer Institute’s website now proclaims that the evidence is insufficient to permit a conclusion that asbestos causes non-pulmonary cancers of gastrointestinal tract and throat.[2]

As discussed elsewhere, Selikoff testified as early as 1966 that asbestos causes colorectal cancer, in advance of any meaningful evidence to support such an opinion, and then he, and his protégées, worked hard to lace the scientific literature with their pronouncements on the subject, without disclosing their financial, political, and positional conflicts of interest.[3]

With plaintiffs’ firm’s (Lanier) zealous pursuit of bias information from the University of Idaho, in the LoGuidice case, what are we to make of Selikoff’s and his minions’ dubious ethics of failed disclosure. Do Selikoff and Mount Sinai receive a pass because their asbestos research predated the discovery of ethics? The “Lobby” (as the late Douglas Liddell called Selikoff and his associates)[4] has seriously distorted truth-finding in any number of litigations, but nowhere are the Lobby’s distortions more at work than in lawsuits for claimed asbestos injuries. Here the conflicts of interests truly have had a deleterious effect on the quality of civil justice. As we saw with the Selikoff exceptionalism displayed by the New York Supreme Court in reviewing third-party subpoenas,[5] some courts seem bent on ignoring evidence-based analyses in favor of Mount Sinai faith-based initiatives.

Current Asbestos Litigation Claims Involving Colorectal Cancer

Although Selikoff has passed from the litigation scene, his trainees and followers have lined up at the courthouse door to propagate his opinions. Even before the IOM’s 2006 monograph, more sophisticated epidemiologists consistently rejected the Selikoff conclusion on asbestos and colon cancer, which grew out of Selikoff’s litigation activities.[6] And yet, the minions keep coming.

In the pre-Daubert era, defendants lacked an evidentiary challenge to the Selikoff’s opinion that asbestos caused colorectal cancer. Instead of contesting the legal validity or sufficiency of the plaintiffs’ general causation claims, defendants often focused on the unreliability of the causal attribution for the specific claimant’s disease. These early cases are often misunderstood to be challenges to expert witnesses’ opinions about whether asbestos causes colorectal cancer; they were not.[7]

Of course, after the IOM’s 2006 monograph, active expert witness gatekeeping should eliminate asbestos gastrointestinal cancer claims, but sadly they persist. Perhaps, courts simply considered the issue “grandfathered” in from the era in which judicial scrutiny of expert witness opinion testimony was restricted. Perhaps, defense counsel are failing to frame and support their challenges properly.  Perhaps both.

Arthur Frank Jumps the Gate

Although ostensibly a “Frye” state, Pennsylvania judges have, when moved by the occasion, to apply a fairly thorough analysis of proffered expert witness opinion.[8] On occasion, Pennsylvania judges have excluded unreliably or invalidly supported causation opinions, under the Pennsylvania version of the Frye standard. A recent case, however, tried before a Workman’s Compensation Judge (WCJ), and appealed to the Commonwealth Court, shows how inconsistent the application of the standard can be, especially when Selikoff’s legacy views are at issue.

Michael Piatetsky, an architect, died of colorectal cancer. Before his death, he and his wife filed a worker’s compensation claim, in which they alleged that his disease was caused by his workplace exposure to asbestos. Garrison Architects v. Workers’ Comp. Appeal Bd. (Piatetsky), No. 1095 C.D. 2015, Pa. Cmwlth. Ct., 2016 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 72 (Jan. 22, 2016) [cited as Piatetsky]. Mr. Piatetsky was an architect, almost certainly knowledgeable about asbestos hazards generally.  Despite his knowledge, Piatetsky eschewed personal protective equipment even when working at dusty work sites well marked with warnings. Although he had engaged in culpable conduct, the employer in worker compensation proceedings does not have ordinary negligence defenses, such as contributory negligence or assumption of risk.

In litigating the Piatetsky’s claim, the employer dragged its feet and failed to name an expert witness.  Eventually, after many requests for continuances, the Workers’ Compensation Judge barred the employer from presenting an expert witness. With the record closed, and without an expert witness, the Judge understandably ruled in favor of the claimant.

The employer, sans expert witness, had to confront claimant’s expert witness, Arthur L. Frank, a minion of Selikoff and a frequent testifier in asbestos and many other litigations. Frank, of course, opined that asbestos causes colon cancer and that it caused Mr. Piatetsky’s cancer. Mr. Piatetsky’s colon cancer originated on the right side of his colon. Dr. Frank thus emphasized that asbestos causes colon cancer in all locations, but especially on the right side in view of one study’s having concluded “that colon cancer caused by asbestos is more likely to begin on the right side.” Piatetsky at *6.

On appeal, the employer sought relief on several issues, but the only one of interest here is the employer’s argument “that Claimant’s medical expert based his opinion on flimsy medical studies.” Piatetsky at *10. The employer’s appeal seemed to go off the rails with the insistence that the Claimant’s medical opinion was invalid because Dr. Frank relied upon studies not involving architects. Piatetsky at *14. The Commonwealth Court was able to point to testimony, although probably exaggerated, which suggested that Mr. Piatetsky had been heavily exposed, at least at times, and thus his exposure was similar to that in the studies cited by Frank.

With respect to Frank’s right-sided (non-sinister) opinion, the Commonwealth Court framed the employer’s issue as a contention that Dr. Frank’s opinion on the asbestos-relatedness of right-sided colon cancer was “not universally accepted.” But universal acceptance has never been the test or standard for the rejection or acceptance of expert witness opinion testimony in any state.  Either the employer badly framed its appeal, or the appellate court badly misstated the employer’s ground for relief. In any event, the Commonwealth Court never addressed the relevant legal standard in its discussion.

The Claimant argued that the hearing Judge had found that Frank’s opinion was based on “numerous studies.” Piatetsky at *15. None of these studies is cited to permit the public to assess the argument and the Court’s acceptance of it. The appellate court made inappropriately short work of this appellate issue by confusing general and specific causation, and invoking Mr. Piatetsky’s age, his lack of family history of colon cancer, Frank’s review of medical records, testimony, and work records, as warranting Frank’s causal inference. None of these factors is relevant to general causation, and none is probative of the specific causation claim.  Many if not most colon cancers have no identifiable risk factor, and Dr. Frank had no way to rule out baseline risk, even if there were an increased risk from asbestos exposure. Piatetsky at *16. With no defense expert witness, the employer certainly had a difficult appellate journey. It is hard for the reader of the Commonwealth Court’s opinion to determine whether the case was poorly defended, poorly briefed on appeal, or poorly described by the appellate judges.

In any event, the right-sided ruse of Arthur Frank went unreprimanded.  Intellectual due process might have led the appellate court to cite the article at issue, but it failed to do so.  It is interesting and curious to see how the appellate court gave a detailed recitation of the controverted facts of asbestos exposure, while how glib the court was when describing the scientific issues and evidence.  Nonetheless, the article referenced vaguely, which went uncited by the appellate court, was no doubt the paper:  K. Jakobsson, M. Albin & L. Hagmar, “Asbestos, cement, and cancer in the right part of the colon,” 51 Occup. & Envt’l Med. 95 (1994).

These authors 24 observed versus 9.63 expected right-sided colon cancers, and they concluded that there was an increased rate of right-sided colon cancer in the asbestos cement plant workers.  Notably the authors’ reference population had a curiously low rate of right-sided colon cancer.  For left-sided colon cancer, the authors 9.3 expected cases but observed only 5 cases in the asbestos-cement cohort.  Contrary to Frank’s suggestion, the authors did not conclude that right-sided colon cancers had been caused by asbestos; indeed, the authors never reached any conclusion whether asbestos causes colorectal  cancer under any circumstances.  In their discussion, these authors noted that “[d]espite numerous epidemiological and experimental studies, there is no consensus concerning exposure to asbestos and risks of gastrointestinal cancer.” Jakobsson at 99; see also Dorsett D. Smith, “Does Asbestos Cause Additional Malignancies Other than Lung Cancer,” chap. 11, in Dorsett D. Smith, The Health Effects of Asbestos: An Evidence-based Approach 143, 154 (2015). Even this casual description of the Jakobsson study will awake the learned reader to the multiple comparisons that went on in this cohort study, with outcomes reported for left, right, rectum, and multiple sites, without any adjustment to the level of significance.  Risk of right-sided colon cancer was not a pre-specified outcome of the study, and the results of subsequent studies have never corroborated this small cohort study.

A sane understanding of subgroup analyses is important to judicial gatekeeping. SeeSub-group Analyses in Epidemiologic Studies — Dangers of Statistical Significance as a Bright-Line Test” (May 17, 2011).  The chapter on statistics in the Reference Manual for Scientific Evidence (3d ed. 2011) has some prudent caveats for multiple comparisons and testing, but neither the chapter on epidemiology, nor the chapter on clinical medicine[9], provides any sense of the dangers of over-interpreting subgroup analyses.

Some commentators have argued that we must not dissuade scientists from doing subgroup analysis, but the issue is not whether they should be done, but how they should be interpreted.[10] Certainly many authors have called for caution in how subgroup analyses are interpreted[11], but apparently Expert Witness Arthur Frank, did not receive the memo, before testifying in the Piatetsky case, and the Commonwealth Court did not before deciding this case.


[1] As good as the IOM process can be on occasion, even its reviews are sometimes less than thorough. The asbestos monograph gave no consideration to alcohol in the causation of laryngeal cancer, and no consideration to smoking in its analysis of asbestos and colorectal cancer. See, e.g., Peter S. Liang, Ting-Yi Chen & Edward Giovannucci, “Cigarette smoking and colorectal cancer incidence and mortality: Systematic review and meta-analysis,” 124 Internat’l J. Cancer 2406, 2410 (2009) (“Our results indicate that both past and current smokers have an increased risk of [colorectal cancer] incidence and mortality. Significantly increased risk was found for current smokers in terms of mortality (RR 5 1.40), former smokers in terms of incidence (RR 5 1.25)”); Lindsay M. Hannan, Eric J. Jacobs and Michael J. Thun, “The Association between Cigarette Smoking and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in a Large Prospective Cohort from the United States,” 18 Cancer Epidemiol., Biomarkers & Prevention 3362 (2009).

[2] National Cancer Institute, “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk” (last visited July 10, 2016) (“In addition to lung cancer and mesothelioma, some studies have suggested an association between asbestos exposure and gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers, as well as an elevated risk for cancers of the throat, kidney, esophagus, and gallbladder (3, 4). However, the evidence is inconclusive.”).

[3] Compare “Health Hazard Progress Notes: Compensation Advance Made in New York State,” 16(5) Asbestos Worker 13 (May 1966) (thanking Selikoff for testifying in a colon cancer case) with, Irving J. Selikoff, “Epidemiology of gastrointestinal cancer,” 9 Envt’l Health Persp. 299 (1974) (arguing for his causal conclusion between asbestos and all gastrointestinal cancers, with no acknowledgment of his role in litigation or his funding from the asbestos insulators’ union).

[4] F.D.K. Liddell, “Magic, Menace, Myth and Malice,” 41 Ann. Occup. Hyg. 3, 3 (1997); see alsoThe Lobby Lives – Lobbyists Attack IARC for Conducting Scientific Research” (Feb. 19, 2013).

[5]

SeeThe LoGiudice Inquisitiorial Subpoena & Its Antecedents in N.Y. Law” (July 14, 2016).

[6] See, e.g., Richard Doll & Julian Peto, Asbestos: Effects on health of exposure to asbestos 8 (1985) (“In particular, there are no grounds for believing that gastrointestinal cancers in general are peculiarly likely to be caused by asbestos exposure.”).

[7] See Landrigan v. The Celotex Corporation, Revisited” (June 4, 2013); Landrigan v. The Celotex Corp., 127 N.J. 404, 605 A.2d 1079 (1992); Caterinicchio v. Pittsburgh Corning Corp., 127 NJ. 428, 605 A.2d 1092 (1992). In both Landrigan and Caterinicchio, there had been no challenge to the reliability or validity of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses’ general causation opinions. Instead, the trial courts entered judgments, assuming arguendo that asbestos can cause colorectal cancer (a dubious proposition), on the ground that the low relative risk cited by plaintiffs’ expert witnesses (about 1.5) was factually insufficient to support a verdict for plaintiffs on specific causation.  Indeed, the relative risk suggested that the odds were about 2 to 1 in defendants’ favor that the plaintiffs’ colorectal cancers were not caused by asbestos.

[8] See, e.g., Porter v. Smithkline Beecham Corp., Sept. Term 2007, No. 03275. 2016 WL 614572 (Phila. Cty. Com. Pleas, Oct. 5, 2015); “Demonstration of Frye Gatekeeping in Pennsylvania Birth Defects Case” (Oct. 6, 2015).

[9] John B. Wong, Lawrence O. Gostin & Oscar A. Cabrera, “Reference Guide on Medical Testimony,” in Reference Manual for Scientific Evidence 687 (3d ed. 2011).

[10] See, e.g., Phillip I. Good & James W. Hardin, Common Errors in Statistics (and How to Avoid Them) 13 (2003) (proclaiming a scientists’ Bill of Rights under which they should be allowed to conduct subgroup analyses); Ralph I. Horwitz, Burton H. Singer, Robert W. Makuch, Catherine M. Viscoli, “Clinical versus statistical considerations in the design and analysis of clinical research,” 51 J. Clin. Epidemiol. 305 (1998) (arguing for the value of subgroup analyses). In United States v. Harkonen, the federal government prosecuted a scientist for fraud in sending a telecopy that described a clinical trial as “demonstrating” a benefit in a subgroup of a secondary trial outcome.  Remarkably, in the Harkonen case, the author, and criminal defendant, was describing a result in a pre-specified outcome, in a plausible but post-hoc subgroup, which result accorded with prior clinical trials and experimental evidence. United States v. Harkonen (D. Calif. 2009); United States v. Harkonen (D. Calif. 2010) (post-trial motions), aff’d, 510 F. App’x 633 (9th Cir. 2013) (unpublished), cert. denied, 134 S. Ct. 824, ___ U.S. ___ (2014); Brief by Scientists And Academics as Amici Curiae In Support Of Petitioner, On Petition For Writ Of Certiorari in the Supreme Court of the United States, W. Scott Harkonen v. United States, No. 13-180 (filed Sept. 4, 2013).

[11] SeeSub-group Analyses in Epidemiologic Studies — Dangers of Statistical Significance as a Bright-Line Test” (May 17, 2011) (collecting commentary); see also Lemuel A. Moyé, Statistical Reasoning in Medicine:  The Intuitive P-Value Primer 206, 225 (2d ed. 2006) (noting that subgroup analyses are often misleading: “Fishing expeditions for significance commonly catch only the junk of sampling error”); Victor M. Montori, Roman Jaeschke, Holger J. Schünemann, Mohit Bhandari, Jan L Brozek, P. J. Devereaux & Gordon H Guyatt, “Users’ guide to detecting misleading claims in clinical research reports,” 329 Brit. Med. J. 1093 (2004) (“Beware subgroup analysis”); Susan F. Assmann, Stuart J. Pocock, Laura E. Enos, Linda E. Kasten, “Subgroup analysis and other (mis)uses) of baseline data in clinical trials,” 355 Lancet 1064 (2000); George Davey Smith & Mathias Egger, “Commentary: Incommunicable knowledge? Interpreting and applying the results of clinical trials and meta-analyses,” 51 J. Clin. Epidemiol. 289 (1998) (arguing against post-hoc hypothesis testing); Douglas G. Altman, “Statistical reviewing for medical journals,” 17 Stat. Med. 2662 (1998); Douglas G. Altman, “Commentary:  Within trial variation – A false trail?” 51 J. Clin. Epidemiol. 301 (1998) (noting that observed associations are expected to vary across subgroup because of random variability); Christopher Bulpitt, “Subgroup Analysis,” 2 Lancet: 31 (1988).

The LoGiudice Inquisitiorial Subpoena & Its Antecedents in N.Y. Law

July 14th, 2016

The plaintiffs’ bar’s inquisition into funding has been a recurring theme in the asbestos and other litigations.[1] It is thus interesting to compare the friendly reception Justice Moulton gave plaintiffs’ subpoena in LoGiudice[2] with the New York courts’ relatively recent hostility toward a defendant’s subpoena to Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

A few years ago, Justice Sherry Heitler quashed a defendant’s attempt to subpoena information from the archives of a deceased, former faculty member of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (“Mt. Sinai”), in Reyniak v. Barnstead Internat’l, No. 102688-08, 2010 NY Slip Op 50689, 2010 WL 1568424 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Apr. 6, 2010). In a cursory opinion, Justice Heitler cited institutional expense, chilling of research, and scholars’ fears that their unpublished notes, ideas, and observations would become public as a result of litigation. Heitler relied upon and followed an earlier New York state court’s decision that adopted a rather lopsided “balancing” analysis, which permitted the New York courts to ignore the legitimate needs of defendants for access to underlying data.[3]

Remarkably, Justice Heitler failed to cite a federal appellate court’s subsequent decision, which upheld the tobacco companies’ subpoena to Mount Sinai.[4] Her opinion also ignored the important context of the asbestos litigation, in which Selikoff, long since deceased, played a crucial role in fomenting and perpetuating litigation, with tendentious publications and pronouncements. Some might say, “manufacturing certainty.” Perpetuating the Litigation Industry’s Selikoff mythology, Justice Heitler described Selikoff as a ground breaking asbestos researcher, but she either ignored, or was ignorant of, his testimonial adventures, his attempts to influence litigation with ex parte meetings with presiding judges, and his other questionable litigation-related conduct.

Selikoff’s participation in litigation was not always above board.  His supposedly ground-breaking work was funded by the insulator’s union, which also sought him out as a testifying expert witness. Among his many testimonial adventures,[5] Selikoff testified as early as 1966 that asbestos causes colorectal cancer, and that it caused a specific claimant’s colorectal cancer. See “Health Hazard Progress Notes: Compensation Advance Made in New York State,” 16(5) Asbestos Worker 13 (May 1966) (thanking Selikoff for his having given testimony to support an insulator’s claim that asbestos caused his colorectal cancer). To be sure, Selikoff made his litigation claims in the scientific literature as well, but without any acknowledgement of his involving in litigation involving this very issue, and his funding by the asbestos union.[6]

Given the dubious provenance of many of Selikoff’s opinions,[7] the disparate treatment of the subpoenas in LoGuidice and Reyniak is irreconcilable. The inflated prestige of Selikoff and Mount Sinai blinded the New York state trial courts to Selikoff’s role in litigation and his biased assessments in science. The judicial hypocrisy may well be the consequence of how the academic community has promoted Selikoff’s reputation, while working assiduously to undermine the reputations of anyone who has been connected with the defense of occupational disease claims. Consider, for instance, how Labor (Marxist) historians have railed against the role that Dr. Anthony Lanza played in personal injury litigation following the Gauley Bridge tunnel construction.  See Jock McCulloch and Geoffrey Tweedale, “Anthony J. Lanza, Silicosis and the Gauley Bridge ‘Nine’,” 27 Social History of Medicine 86 (2013). While these historians deplore Lanza, however, they laud Selikoff. SeeBritish Labor Historians Belaboring American Labor History – Gauley Bridge” (Oct. 14, 2013). Politics and occupational disease litigation are like that.


[1] See In re All Litigation filed by Maune, Raichle, Hartley, French & Mudd LLC v. 3M Co., No. 5-15-0235, Ill. App., 5th Dist.; 2016 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1392 (June 30, 2016); “Engineers for Automakers Must Unredact Agendas in Madison County Asbestos Litigation,” Madison County Record (July 2016); Lynn A. Lenhart, “Meeting Agendas Between Non-Party Consultant and Counsel for Asbestos Friction Clients Not Privileged” (July 5, 2016).  See also Weitz & Luxenberg P.C. v. Georgia-Pacific LLC, 2013 WL 2435565, 2013 NY Slip Op 04127 (June 6, 2013), aff’d, 2013 WL 2435565 (N.Y. App. Div., 1st Dep’t June 6, 2013); “A Cautionary Tale on How Not to Sponsor a Scientific Study for Litigation” (June 21, 2013).

[2] LoGiudice v. American Talc Co., No. 190253/2014, 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2360, (N.Y. Sup., N.Y. Cty., June 20, 2016).

[3] See In re R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 136 Misc 2d 282, 285, 518 N.Y.S.2d 729 (Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty. 1987); see also In re New York County Data Entry Worker Prod. Liab.Litig., No. 14003/92, 1994 WL 87529 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cty. Jan 31, 1994) (denying discovery because “special circumstances,” vaguely defined were absent).

[4] Mount Sinai School of Medicine v. The American Tobacco Co., 866 F.2d 552 (2d Cir. 1889).

[5]Selikoff and the Mystery of the Disappearing Testimony” (Dec. 3, 2010).

[6] See, e.g., Irving J. Selikoff, “Epidemiology of gastrointestinal cancer,” 9 Envt’l Health Persp. 299 (1974) (arguing for his causal conclusion between asbestos and all gastrointestinal cancers).

[7] See generally Scientific Prestige, Reputation, Authority & The Creation of Scientific Dogmas” (Oct. 4, 2014); “Historians Should Verify Not Vilify or Abilify – The Difficult Case of Irving Selikoff” (Jan. 4, 2014).

LoGuidice v. American Talc Co. — Subpoenas to Investigate Funding

July 13th, 2016

Mickey Gunter is a University Distinguished Professor of Geological Sciences, at the University of Idaho. Gunter has long been involved in the mineralogical issues surrounding asbestos contamination and content.  He served as a member of an EPA review committee for World Trade Center dust screening method (2005), a member of an ATSDR expert panel on asbestos biomarkers (2006), and as a panel member and reviewer for the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, Workshop on NIOSH research on asbestos and elongated mineral particles (2009). Gunter has been publishing on asbestos and asbestiform mineralogy for well over a decade.[1]

Gunter has testified for talc companies that have been dragged into mesothelioma litigation, based upon testing he conducted for Colgate-Palmolive [Colgate], starting in 2011.  In his testimony, Gunter has acknowledged that University employees and laboratories were involved in testing Colgate-Palmolive’s Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder for asbestos content and contamination. In addition to compensating Gunter, Colgate and others have contributed to the University of Idaho, and provided support for Gunter’s student assistant, Mr. Matthew Sanchez.

In a recent New York trial court ruling, Justice Peter H. Moulton refused a motion to quash plaintiff’s subpoena served on the University of Idaho, designed to obtain evidence to show that Colgate-Palmolive Company’s gifts to the University affected research that has become relevant to their claims that Colgate’s talcum powder was contaminated with asbestos. LoGiudice v. American Talc Co., No. 190253/2014, 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2360, (N.Y. Sup., N.Y. Cty., June 20, 2016).

The plaintiffs based their lawsuit on the conjecture that the exposure to Colgate-Palmolive’s talc must contain asbestos because the talc caused mesothelioma.  Somehow idiopathic mesothelioma and occult asbestos exposure magically disappear in the plaintiffs’ worldview.

The plaintiffs’ vacuous and circular arguments supposedly thus made their claim of financial bias relevant.  Plaintiff’s mesothelioma must have been caused by cosmetic talc, but Gunter’s and Sanchez’s test results found no asbestos in the talc the tested. Therefore, the test results were skewed by financial bias. There is no suggestion in Justice Moultin’s opinion to suggest that there was any error, omission, or misconduct involved in the analytical testing conducted by Professor Gunter and his assistant.

Without much real analysis, Justice Moulton found the subpoena-based inquiry into financial influence relevant and proper.  Gunter had testified about asbestos contamination in Cashmere Bouquet and conducted research, published articles, and given speeches[2] on the subject. With minor modifications to the plaintiffs’ subpoena, he denied Colgate’s motion to quash, and allowed the plaintiffs proceed with their investigation. What the disinterested observer might well miss is that Gunter’s views were well formed, articulated, and published in advance of his retention by Colgate in litigation.

Professor Gunter thus represents an example of a litigant’s (Colgate’s) seeking out a highly qualified scientist, with relevant expertise, in part based upon his previously stated views. To be sure, his testing results of the particular talc were not done and available until commissioned by Colgate, but Gunter’s sound views about what would count as an asbestos fiber, based upon mineralogical, scientific criteria (rather than arbitrary legal, regulatory criteria) were well known in advance of retention.


[1] See, e.g., B. D. McNamee, Mickey E. Gunter & C. Viti, “Asbestiform talc from a talc mine near Talcville, New York, U.S.A.:  composition, morphology, and genetic relationships with amphiboles,” Canadian Mineralogist (2016 in press); Bryan R. Bandli & Mickey E. Gunter, “Examination of asbestos standard reference materials, amphibole particles of differing morphology, and phase discrimination from talc ores using scanning electron microscopy and transmitted electron backscatter diffraction,” 20 Microscopy and Microanalysis 1805 (2014); B. D. McNamee & Mickey E. Gunter, “Compositional analysis and morphological relationships of amphiboles, talc, and other minerals found in the talc deposits from the Gouverneur Mining District, New York,” 61 The Microscope 147 ((2013) (part one); 62 The Microscope  3 (2014) (part two); Bryan R. Bandli & Mickey E. Gunter, “Mineral identification using electron backscatter diffraction from unpolished specimens:  Applications for rapid asbestos identification,” 61 The Microscope 37 (2013); M. R. Van Baalen, Brooke T. Mossman, Mickey E. Gunter & C.A. Francis, “Environmental geology of Belvidere Mt., Vermont,” in Westerman, D.S. and Lathrop, A.S. eds., Guidebook to Field Trips in Vermont and adjacent regions of New Hampshire and New York.  New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference, 101st Annual Meeting, B11-23 (2009); Mickey E. Gunter, “Asbestos sans mineralogy,”  5 Elements 141 (2009); D. M. Levitan, J. M. Hammarstrom, Mickey E. Gunter, R. R. Seal II, I. M. Chou & N. M. Piatak, “Mineralogy of mine waste at the Vermont Asbestos Group mine, Belvidere Mountain, Vermont,” 94 American Mineralogist 1063 (2009); Mickey E. Gunter, E. Belluso & A. Mottana, “Amphiboles:  Environmental and health concerns.  In Amphiboles:  Crystal Chemistry, Occurrences, and Health Concerns,” 67 Reviews in Mineralogy & Geochemistry 453 (2007).

[2] See, e.g., Mickey Gunter, Matthew Sanchez & Richard Van Orden, “Fibrous talc (ribbon talc/”kinky” talc),” at Talc Methods Expert Panel Meeting, United States Pharmacopeial Convention, Rockville, Maryland (June 28, 2016).

The opinions, statements, and asseverations expressed on Tortini are my own, or those of invited guests, and these writings do not necessarily represent the views of clients, friends, or family, even when supported by good and sufficient reason.