TORTINI

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

The Contrivance Standard for Gatekeeping

March 23rd, 2019

According to Google ngram, the phrase “junk science” made its debut circa 1975, lagging junk food by about five years. SeeThe Rise and Rise of Junk Science” (Mar. 8, 2014). I have never much like the phrase “junk science” because it suggests that courts need only be wary of the absurd and ridiculous in their gatekeeping function. Some expert witness opinions are, in fact, serious scientific contributions, just not worthy of being advanced as scientific conclusions. Perhaps better than “junk” would be patho-epistemologic opinions, or maybe even wissenschmutz, but even these terms might obscure that the opinion that needs to be excluded derives from serious scientific, only it is not ready to be held forth as a scientific conclusion that can be colorably called knowledge.

Another formulation of my term, patho-epistemology, is the Eleventh Circuit’s lovely “Contrivance Standard.” Rink v. Cheminova, Inc., 400 F.3d 1286, 1293 & n.7 (11th Cir. 2005). In Rink, the appellate court held that the district court had acted within its discretion to exclude expert witness testimony because it had properly confined its focus to the challenged expert witness’s methodology, not his credibility:

“In evaluating the reliability of an expert’s method, however, a district court may properly consider whether the expert’s methodology has been contrived to reach a particular result. See Joiner, 522 U.S. at 146, 118 S.Ct. at 519 (affirming exclusion of testimony where the methodology was called into question because an “analytical gap” existed “between the data and the opinion proffered”); see also Elcock v. Kmart Corp., 233 F.3d 734, 748 (3d Cir. 2000) (questioning the methodology of an expert because his “novel synthesis” of two accepted methodologies allowed the expert to ”offer a subjective judgment … in the guise of a reliable expert opinion”).”

Note the resistance, however, to the Supreme Court’s mandate of gatekeeping. District courts must apply the statutes, Rule of Evidence 702 and 703. There is no legal authority for the suggestion that a district court “may properly consider wither the expert’s methodology has been contrived.” Rink, 400 F.3d at 1293 n.7 (emphasis added).

The Expert Witness Who Put God on His Reference List

August 28th, 2018

And you never ask questions
When God’s on your side”

                                Bob Dylan, “With God on Our Side” 1963.

Cases involving claims of personal injury have inspired some of the most dubious scientific studies in the so-called medical literature, but the flights of fancy in published papers are nothing compared with what is recorded in the annals of expert witness testimony. The weaker the medical claims, the more outlandish is the expert testimony proffered. Claims for personal injury supposedly resulting from mold exposure are no exception to the general rule. The expert witness opinion testimony in mold litigation has resulted in several commentaries1 and professional position papers,2 offered to curb the apparent excesses.

Ritchie Shoemaker, M.D., has been a regular expert witness for the mold lawsuit industry. Professional criticism has not deterred Shoemaker, although discerning courts have put the kibosh on some of Shoemaker’s testimonial adventures.3

Shoemaker cannot be everywhere, and so in conjunction with the mold lawsuit industry, Shoemaker has taken to certifying new expert witnesses. But how will Shoemaker and his protégées overcome the critical judicial reception?

Enter Divine Intervention

Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch.4

Some say the age of prophets, burning bushes, and the like is over, but perhaps not so. Maybe God speaks to expert witnesses to fill in the voids left by missing evidence. Consider the testimony of Dr. Scott W. McMahon, who recently testified that he was Shoemaker trained, and divinely inspired:

Q. Jumping around a little bit, Doctor, how did your interest in indoor environmental quality in general, and mold in particular, how did that come about?

A. I had — in 2009, I had been asked to give a talk at a medical society at the end of October and the people who were involved in it were harassing me almost on a weekly basis asking me what the title of my talk was going to be. I had spoken to the same society the previous four years. I had no idea what I was going to speak about. I am a man of faith, I’ve been a pastor and a missionary and other things, so I prayed about it and what I heard in my head verbatim was pediatric mold exposure colon the next great epidemic question mark. That’s what I heard in my head. And so because I try to live by faith, I typed that up as an email and said this is the name of my topic. And then I said, okay, God, you have ten weeks to teach me about this, and he did. Within three, four weeks maybe five, he had connected me to Dr. Shoemaker who was the leading person in the world at that time and the discoverer of this chronic inflammatory response.

*****

I am a man of faith, I’ve been a pastor and everything. And I realized that this was a real entity.

*****

Q. And do you attribute your decision or the decision for you to start Whole World Health Care also to be a divine intervention?

A. Well, that certainly started the process but I used my brain, too. Like I said, I went and I investigated Dr. Shoemaker, I wanted to make sure that his methods were real, that he wasn’t doing, you know, some sort of voodoo medicine and I saw that he wasn’t, that his scientific practice was standard. I mean, he changes one variable at a time in tests. He tested every step of the way. And I found that his conclusions were realistic. And then, you know, over the last few years, I’ve 1 gathered my own data and I see that they confirm almost every one of his conclusions.

Q. Doctor, was there anything in your past or anything dealing with your family in terms of exposure to mold or other indoor health issues?

A. No, it was totally off my radar.

Q. *** I’m not going to go into great detail with respect to Dr. Shoemaker, but are you Shoemaker certified?

A. I am.

Deposition transcript of Dr. Scott W. McMahon, at pp.46-49, in Courcelle v. C.W. Nola Properties LLC, Orleans Parish, Louisiana No. 15-3870, Sec. 7, Div. F. (May 18, 2018).

You may be surprised that the examining lawyer did not ask about the voice in which God spoke. The examining lawyer seems to have accepted without further question that the voice was that of an adult male voice. Still did the God entity speak in English, or in tongues? Was it a deep, resonant voice like Morgan Freeman’s in Bruce Almighty (2003)? Or was it a Yiddische voice like George Burns, in Oh God (1977)? Were there bushes burning when God spoke to McMahon? Or did the toast burn darker than expected?

Some might think that McMahon was impudent if not outright blasphemous for telling God that “He” had 10 weeks in which to instruct McMahon in the nuances of how mold causes human illness. Apparently, God was not bothered by this presumptuousness and complied with McMahon, which makes McMahon a special sort of prophet.

Of course, McMahon says he used his “brain,” in addition to following God’s instructions. But really why bother? Were there evidentiary or inferential gaps filled in by the Lord? The deposition does not address this issue.

In federal court, and in many state courts, an expert witness may base opinions on facts or data that are not admissible if, and only if, expert witnesses “in the particular field would reasonably rely on those kinds of facts or data in forming an opinion on the subject.5

Have other expert witnesses claimed divine inspiration for opinion testimony? A quick Pubmed search does not reveal any papers by God, or papers with God as someone’s Co-Author. It is only a matter of time, however, before a judge, some where, takes judicial notice of divinely inspired expert witness testimony.


1 See, e.g., Howard M. Weiner, Ronald E. Gots, and Robert P. Hein, “Medical Causation and Expert Testimony: Allergists at this Intersection of Medicine and Law,” 12 Curr. Allergy Asthma Rep. 590 (2012).

2 See, e.g., Bryan D. Hardin, Bruce J. Kelman, and Andrew Saxon, “ACOEM Evidence-Based Statement: Adverse Human Health Effects Associated with Molds in the Indoor Environment,” 45 J. Occup. & Envt’l Med. 470 (2003).

3 See, e.g., Chesson v. Montgomery Mutual Insur. Co., 434 Md. 346, 75 A.3d 932, 2013 WL 5311126 (2013) (“Dr. Shoemaker’s technique, which reflects a dearth of scientific methodology, as well as his causal theory, therefore, are not shown to be generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.”); Young v. Burton, 567 F. Supp. 2d 121, 130-31 (D.D.C. 2008) (excluding Dr. Shoemaker’s theories as lacking general acceptance and reliability; listing Virginia, Florida, and Alabama as states in which courts have rejected Shoemaker’s theory).

4 Genesis 6:14 (King James translation).

5 Federal Rule of Evidence. Bases of an Expert.

Stuck in Silicone

December 12th, 2017

There was a time when silicone chemistry, biocompatibility, toxicity, and litigation weighed upon my mind. What started with a flurry of scientific interest, led to a media free for all, then FDA Commissioner David Kessler’s moratorium on silicone breast implants, and then to a feeding frenzy for the lawsuit industry. Ultimately, the federal court system found its way to engage four non-party expert witnesses, who cut through the thousands of irrelevant documents that plaintiffs’ counsel used to obfuscate the lack of causation evidence. The court-appointed experts in MDL 926 were unanimous in their rejection of the plaintiffs’ claims.1 Not long after, the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) issued its voluminous review of the scientific evidence, again with the conclusion that the evidence, when viewed scientifically and critically, showed a lack of association between silicone and autoimmune disease.2

Along the way to this definitive end of the lawsuit industry’s assault on the medical device industry, the parties assembled in the courtroom of the Hon. Jack B. Weinstein, for Rule 702 hearings on the opinions proffered by the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses. Judge Weinstein, along with the late Judge Harold Baer, of the Southern District of New York, and Justice Lobis, of the New York Supreme Court, held hearings that lasted two weeks, and entertained virtually unlimited argument. In characteristic style, Judge Weinstein did not grant the defendants’ Rule 702 motions; rather he cut right to the heart of the matter, and granted summary judgment in favor of the defense on plaintiffs’ claims of systemic diseases.3

Over a dozen years later, in reflecting upon a long judicial career that involved many so-called mass torts, Judge Weinstein described the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses more plainly as “charlatans” and the silicone litigation as largely based upon fraud.4

****************************

Last week, I received an email from Arthur E. Brawer, who represented himself to be an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine.5 Dr. Brawer kindly forwarded some of his publications on the subject of silicone toxicity.6 Along with the holiday gift, Dr Brawer also gave me a piece of his mind:

I recommend you rethink your prior opinions on the intersection of science and the law as it relates to this issue, as you clearly have no idea what you are talking about regarding the matter of silicone gel-filled breast implants. Perhaps refresher courses in biochemistry and biophysics at a major university might wake you up.”

Wow, that woke me up! Who was this Dr Brawer? His name seemed vaguely familiar. I thought he might have been a lawsuit industry expert witness I encountered in the silicone litigation, but none of his articles had a disclosure of having been a retained expert witness. Perhaps that was a mere oversight on his part. Still, I went to my archives, where I found the same Dr Brawer engaged in testifying for plaintiffs all around the country. In one early testimonial adventure, Brawer described how he came up with his list of signs and symptoms to use to define “silicone toxicity”:

Q. Doctor, if a patient presented to you with green hair and claimed that her green hair was attributable to her silicone breast implants, unless you could find another explanation for that green hair, you’d put that on your list of signs and symptoms; right?

A. The answer is yes.

Notes of Testimony of Arthur E. Brawer, at 465:7-12, in Merlin v. 3M Co., No. CV-N-95-696-HDM (D. Nev.Dec. 11, 1995) (Transcript of Rule 702 hearing)

A year later, Brawer’s opinions were unceremoniously excluded in a case set for trial in Dallas, Texas.7 Surely this outcome, along with Judge Weinstein’s rulings, the findings of the court-appointed witnesses in MDL 926, and the conclusions of the Institute of Medicine would have discouraged this Brawer fellow from testifying ever again?

Apparently not. Brawer, like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, still lives and breathes, but only to be cut again and again. A quick Westlaw search turned up another, recent Brawer testimonial misadventure in Laux v. Mentor Worldwide, LLC, case no. 2:16-cv-01026, 2017 WL 5235619 (C.D. Calif., Nov. 8, 2017).8 Plaintiff Anita Laux claimed that she developed debilitating “biotoxin” disease from her saline-filled silicone breast implants. In support, she proffered the opinions of three would-be expert witnesses, a plastic surgeon (Dr Susan Kolb), a chemist (Pierre Blais), and a rheumatologist (Arthur Brawer).

Plaintiffs’ theory of biotoxin disease causation started with Blais’ claim to have found mold debris in the plaintiff’s explanted implants. The court found Blais unqualified, however, to offer an opinion on microbiology or product defects, and his opinions in the case, unreliable. Id. at *4-6. Dr Kolb, the author of The Naked Truth about Breast Implants, attempted to build upon Blais’ opinions, a rather weak foundation, to construct a “differential diagnosis.” In reasoning that Ms. Laux’s medical complaints arose from a mold infection, Kolb asserted that she had ruled out all other sources of exposure to mold. Unfortunately, Kolb either forgot or chose to hide correspondence with Ms. Laux, in which the plaintiff directly provided Kolb with information about prior environmental mold exposure on multiple occasions. Id. at *3. The trial court severely deprecated Kolb’s rather selective and false use of facts used to make the attribution of Ms. Laux’s claimed medical problems.

Dr Brawer, the author of Holistic Harmony: A Guide To Choosing A Competent Alternative Medicine Provider (1999), and my recent email correspondent, also succumbed to Judge Wright’s gatekeeping in Laux. The court found that Brawer had given a toxicology opinion with no supporting data. His report was thus both procedurally deficient under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26, and substantively deficient under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. Finding Brawer’s report “so lacking of scientific principles and methods,” and thus unhelpful and unreliable, the trial court excluded his report and precluded his testimony at trial. Id. at *7.

Thankfully, the ghost of litigations past, communicating now by email, can be safely disregarded. And I do not have to dig my silicone polymer chemistry and biochemistry textbooks out of storage.


1 See Barbara Hulka, Betty Diamond, Nancy Kerkvliet & Peter Tugwell, “Silicone Breast Implants in Relation to Connective Tissue Diseases and Immunologic Dysfunction: A Report by a National Science Panel to the Hon. Sam Pointer Jr., MDL 926 (Nov. 30, 1998).” The experts appointed by the late Judge Pointer all committed extensive time and expertise to evaluating the plaintiffs’ claims and the entire evidence. After delivering their reports, the court-appointed experts all published their litigation work in leading journals. See Barbara Hulka, Nancy Kerkvliet & Peter Tugwell, “Experience of a Scientific Panel Formed to Advise the Federal Judiciary on Silicone Breast Implants,” 342 New Engl. J. Med. 812 (2000); Esther C. Janowsky, Lawrence L. Kupper., and Barbara S. Hulka, “Meta-Analyses of the Relation between Silicone Breast Implants and the Risk of Connective-Tissue Diseases,” 342 New Engl. J. Med. 781 (2000); Peter Tugwell, George Wells, Joan Peterson, Vivian Welch, Jacqueline Page, Carolyn Davison, Jessie McGowan, David Ramroth, and Beverley Shea, “Do Silicone Breast Implants Cause Rheumatologic Disorders? A Systematic Review for a Court-Appointed National Science Panel,” 44 Arthritis & Rheumatism 2477 (2001).

2 Stuart Bondurant, Virginia Ernster, and Roger Herdman, eds., Safety of Silicone Breast Implants (Institute of Medicine) (Wash. D.C. 1999).

3 See In re Breast Implant Cases, 942 F. Supp. 958 (E. & S.D.N.Y. 1996) (granting summary judgment because of insufficiency of plaintiffs’ evidence, but specifically declining to rule on defendants’ Rule 702 and Rule 703 motions).

5 At the Drexel University School of Medicine, in Philadelphia, as well as the Director of Rheumatology at Monmouth Medical Center, in Long Branch, New Jersey.

6 Included among the holiday gift package was Arthur E. Brawer, “Is Silicone Breast Implant Toxicity an Extreme Form of a More Generalized Toxicity Adversely Affecting the Population as a Whole?,”1 Internat’l Ann. Med. (2017); Arthur E. Brawer, “Mechanisms of Breast Implant Toxicity: Will the Real Ringmaster Please Stand Up,”1 Internat’l Ann. Med. (2017); Arthur E. Brawer, “Destiny rides again: the reappearance of silicone gel-filled breast implant toxicity,” 26 Lupus 1060 (2017); Arthur E. Brawer, “Silicon and matrix macromolecules: new research opportunities for old diseases from analysis of potential mechanisms of breast implant toxicity,” 51 Medical Hypotheses 27 (1998).

7 Bailey v. Dow Corning Corp., c.a. 94-1199-A (Dallas Cty. Texas Dist. Ct., Sept. 15, 1996).

8 I later found that another blog had reviewed the Laux decision. Stephen McConnell, “C.D. Cal. Excludes Three Plaintiff Experts in Breast Implant Case,” Drug & Device Law (Nov. 16, 2017).

Earthquake-Induced Data Loss – We’re All Shook Up

June 26th, 2015

Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky are medical journalists who publish the Retraction Watch blog. Their blog’s coverage of error, fraud, plagiarism, and other publishing disasters is often first-rate, and a valuable curative for the belief that peer review publication, as it is now practiced, ensures trustworthiness.

Yesterday, Retraction Watch posted an article on earthquake-induced data loss. Shannon Palus, “Lost your data? Blame an earthquake” (June 25, 2015). A commenter on PubPeer raised concerns about a key figure in a paper[1]. The authors acknowledged a problem, which they traced to their loss of data in an earthquake. The journal retracted the paper.

This is not the first instance of earthquake-induced loss of data.

When John O’Quinn and his colleagues in the litigation industry created the pseudo-science of silicone-induced autoimmunity, they recruited Nir Kossovsky, a pathologist at UCLA Medical Center. Although Kossovsky looked a bit like Pee-Wee Herman, he was a graduate of the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, and the U.S. Naval War College, and a consultant to the FDA. In his dress whites, Kossovsky helped O’Quinn sell his silicone immunogenicity theories to juries and judges around the country. For a while, the theories sold well.

In testifying and dodging discovery for the underlying data in his silicone studies, Kossovsky was as slick as silicone itself. Ultimately, when defense counsel subpoenaed the underlying data from Kossovsky’s silicone study, Kossovsky shrugged and replied that the Northridge Earthquake destroyed his data. Apparently coffee cups and other containers of questionable fluids spilled on his silicone data in the quake, and Kossovsky’s emergency response was to obtain garbage cans and throw out the data. For the gory details, see Gary Taubes, “Silicone in the System: Has Nir Kossovsky really shown anything about the dangers of breast implants?” Discover Magazine (Dec. 1995).

As Mr. Taubes points out, Kossovsky’s paper was rejected by several journals before being published in the Journal of Applied Biomaterials, of which Kossovsky was a member of the editorial board. The lack of data did not, however, keep Kossovsky from continuing to testify, and from trying to commercialize, along with his wife, Beth Brandegee, and his father, Ram Kossowsky[2], an ELISA-based silicone “antibody” biomarker diagnostic test, Detecsil. Although Rule 702 had been energized by the Daubert decision in 1993, many judges were still not willing to take a hard look at Kossovsky’s study, his test, or to demand the supposedly supporting data. The Food and Drug Administration, however, eventually caught up with Kossovsky, and the Detecsil marketing ceased. Lillian J. Gill, FDA Acting Director, Office of Compliance, Letter to Beth S. Brandegee, President, Structured Biologicals (SBI) Laboratories: Detecsil Silicone Sensitivity Test (July 15, 1994); see Taubes, Discover Magazine.

After defense counsel learned of the FDA’s enforcement action against Kossovsky and his company, the litigation industry lost interest in Kossovsky, and his name dropped off trial witness lists. His name also dropped off the rolls of tenured UCLA faculty, and he apparently left medicine altogether to become a business consultant. Dr. Kossovsky became “an authority on business process risk and reputational value.” Kossovsky is now the CEO and Director of Steel City Re, which specializes in strategies for maintaining and enhancing reputational value. Ironic; eh?

A review of PubMed’s entries for Nir Kossovsky shows that his run in silicone started in 1983, and ended in 1996. He testified for plaintiffs in Hopkins v. Dow Corning Corp., 33 F.3d 1116 (9th Cir.1994) (tried in 1991), and in the infamous case of Johnson v. Bristol-Myers Squibb, CN 91-21770, Tx Dist. Ct., 125th Jud. Dist., Harris Cty., 1992.

A bibliography of Kossovsky silicone oeuvre is listed, below.


[1] Federico S. Rodríguez, Katterine A. Salazar, Nery A. Jara, María A García-Robles, Fernando Pérez, Luciano E. Ferrada, Fernando Martínez, and Francisco J. Nualart, “Superoxide-dependent uptake of vitamin C in human glioma cells,” 127 J. Neurochemistry 793 (2013).

[2] Father and son apparently did not agree on how to spell their last name.


Nir Kossovsky, D. Conway, Ram Kossowsky & D. Petrovich, “Novel anti-silicone surface-associated antigen antibodies (anti-SSAA(x)) may help differentiate symptomatic patients with silicone breast implants from patients with classical rheumatological disease,” 210 Curr. Topics Microbiol. Immunol. 327 (1996)

Nir Kossovsky, et al., “Preservation of surface-dependent properties of viral antigens following immobilization on particulate ceramic delivery vehicles,” 29 J. Biomed. Mater. Res. 561 (1995)

E.A. Mena, Nir Kossovsky, C. Chu, and C. Hu, “Inflammatory intermediates produced by tissues encasing silicone breast prostheses,” 8 J. Invest. Surg. 31 (1995)

Nir Kossovsky, “Can the silicone controversy be resolved with rational certainty?” 7 J. Biomater. Sci. Polymer Ed. 97 (1995)

Nir Kossovsky & C.J. Freiman, “Physicochemical and immunological basis of silicone pathophysiology,” 7 J. Biomater. Sci. Polym. Ed. 101 (1995)

Nir Kossovsky, et al., “Self-reported signs and symptoms in breast implant patients with novel antibodies to silicone surface associated antigens [anti-SSAA(x)],” 6 J. Appl. Biomater. 153 (1995), and “Erratum,” 6 J. Appl. Biomater. 305 (1995)

Nir Kossovsky & J. Stassi, “A pathophysiological examination of the biophysics and bioreactivity of silicone breast implants,” 24s1 Seminars Arthritis & Rheum. 18 (1994)

Nir Kossovsky & C.J. Freiman, “Silicone breast implant pathology. Clinical data and immunologic consequences,” 118 Arch. Pathol. Lab. Med. 686 (1994)

Nir Kossovsky & C.J. Freiman, “Immunology of silicone breast implants,” 8 J. Biomaterials Appl. 237 (1994)

Nir Kossovsky & N. Papasian, “Mammary implants,” 3 J. Appl. Biomater. 239 (1992)

Nir Kossovsky, P. Cole, D.A. Zackson, “Giant cell myocarditis associated with silicone: An unusual case of biomaterials pathology discovered at autopsy using X-ray energy spectroscopic techniques,” 93 Am. J. Clin. Pathol. 148 (1990)

Nir Kossovsky & R.B. Snow RB, “Clinical-pathological analysis of failed central nervous system fluid shunts,” 23 J. Biomed. Mater. Res. 73 (1989)

R.B. Snow & Nir Kossovsky, “Hypersensitivity reaction associated with sterile ventriculoperitoneal shunt malfunction,” 31 Surg. Neurol. 209 (1989)

Nir Kossovsky & Ram Kossowsky, “Medical devices and biomaterials pathology: Primary data for health care technology assessment,” 4 Internat’l J. Technol. Assess. Health Care 319 (1988)

Nir Kossovsky, John P. Heggers, and M.C. Robson, “Experimental demonstration of the immunogenicity of silicone-protein complexes,” 21 J. Biomed. Mater. Res. 1125 (1987)

Nir Kossovsky, John P. Heggers, R.W. Parsons, and M.C. Robson, “Acceleration of capsule formation around silicone implants by infection in a guinea pig model,” 73 Plastic & Reconstr. Surg. 91 (1984)

John Heggers, Nir Kossovsky, et al., “Biocompatibility of silicone implants,” 11 Ann. Plastic Surg. 38 (1983)

Nir Kossovsky, John P. Heggers, et al., “Analysis of the surface morphology of recovered silicone mammary prostheses,” 71 Plast. Reconstr. Surg. 795 (1983)