Ninth Circuit Affirms Rule 702 Exclusion of Dr David Egilman in Diacetyl Case

On June 17, 2011, the Ninth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals affirmed a district judge’s decision to exclude Dr David S. Egilman from testifying in a consumer-exposure diacetyl case.  Newkirk v. Conagra Foods Inc. (9th Cir. 2011).

Plaintiff claimed to develop bronchiolitis obliterans from having popped and eaten an Homeric quantity of microwavable popcorn.  The case was thus a key test of “consumer” diacetyl exposure.  Another case, also involving Egilman, just finished a Daubert hearing in Colorado, last week.

To get the full “flavor” of this diacetyl case, you may have to read the district court’s opinion, which excluded Egilman and other witnesses, and entered summary judgment for the defense. Newkirk v. Conagra Foods, Inc., No. CV-08-273, 2010 WL 2680184 (E.D. Wash. July 2, 2010).

Plaintiff appealed, and so did Egilman.  (See attached Egilman Motion Appeal Diacetyl Exclusion 2011 and Egilman Declaration Newkirk Diacetyl Appeal 2011.)  In what some may consider scurrilous pleading, Egilman attacked the district judge for having excluded him from testifying.  If Egilman’s challenge to the trial judge was not bizarre enough, Egilman also claimed a right to intervene in the appeal by advancing the claim that the Rule 702 exclusion hurt his livelihood.  The following language is from paragraph 11 of Dr. Egilman’s declaration in support of his motion:

“The Daubert ruling eliminates my ability to testify in this case and in others. I will lose the opportunity to bill for services in this case and in others (although I generally donate most fees related to courtroom testimony to charitable organizations, the lack of opportunity to do so is an injury to me). Based on my experience, it is virtually certain that some lawyers will choose not to attempt to retain me as a result of this ruling. Some lawyers will be dissuaded from retaining my services because the ruling is replete with unsubstantiated pejorative attacks on my qualifications as a scientist and expert. The judge’s rejection of my opinion is primarily an ad hominem attack and not based on an actual analysis of what I said – in an effort to deflect the ad hominem nature of the attack the judge creates ‘straw man’ arguments and then knocks the straw men down, without ever addressing the substance of my positions.”

Egilman Declaration at Paragraph 11.

Egilman tempers his opinion about the prejudice he will suffer in front of judges in future cases.  Only judges who have not seen him before would likely be persuaded by Judge Peterson’s decision in Newkirk.  Those judges who have heard him testify before would, no doubt, see him for the brilliant crusading avenger that he is:

“This will generally not occur in cases heard before Judges where I have already appeared as a witness. For example a New York state trial judge has praised plaintiffs’ molecular-biology and public-health expert Dr. David Egilman as follows: ‘Dr. Egilman is a brilliant fellow and I always enjoy seeing him and I enjoy listening to his testimony . . . . He is brilliant, he really is.’ [Lopez v. Ford Motor Co., et al. (120954/2000; In re New York City Asbestos Litigation, Index No. 40000/88).]”

Egilman Declaration at p. 9 n. 2.

It does not appear as though Egilman’s attempt to intervene helped plaintiff before the Ninth Circuit, which may not have thought that he was as brilliant as the unidentified trial judge in Lopez.

The Newkirk case is interesting for several reasons.

First, the Circuit correctly saw that general causation must be shown before the plaintiff can invoke a differential etiology analysis.

Second, the Circuit saw that it is not sufficient that the substance in question can cause the outcome claimed; the substance must do so at the levels of exposure that were experienced by the plaintiff.  In Newkirk, even by consuming massive quantities of microwave popcorn, plaintiff had not shown exposure levels to diacetyl equivalent to the exposures among factory workers at risk for bronchiolitis obliterans.  The affirmance of the district court is a strong statement that exposure matters in the context of the current understanding of diacetyl causation.

Third, the Circuit was not intimidated or persuaded by the tactics of Dr David Egilman, expert witness.

Fourth, having dealt with the issues deftly, the Ninth Circuit issued a judgment from which there will be no appeal.

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