The Joiner Finale

“This is the end
Beautiful friend

This is the end
My only friend, the end”

Jim Morrison, “The End” (c. 1966)


The General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136 (1997), case was based upon polychlorinated biphenyl exposures (PCB), only in part. The PCB part did not hold up well legally in the Supreme Court; nor was the PCB lung cancer claim vindicated by later scientific evidence. SeeHow Have Important Rule 702 Holdings Held Up With Time?” (Mar. 20, 2015).

The Supreme Court in Joiner reversed and remanded the case to the 11th Circuit, which then remanded the case back to the district court to address claims that Mr. Joiner had been exposed to furans and dioxins, and that these other chemicals had caused, or contributed to, his lung cancer, as well. Joiner v. General Electric Co., 134 F.3d 1457 (11th Cir. 1998) (per curiam). Thus the dioxins were left in the case even after the Supreme Court ruled.

After the Supreme Court’s decision, Anthony Roisman argued that the Court had addressed an artificial question when asked about PCBs alone because the case was really about an alleged mixture of exposures, and he held out hope that the Joiners would do better on remand. Anthony Z. Roisman, “The Implications of G.E. v. Joiner for Admissibility of Expert Testimony,” 1 Res Communes 65 (1999).

Many Daubert observers (including me) are unaware of the legal fate of the Joiners’ claims on remand. In the only reference I could find, the commentator simply noted that the case resolved before trial.[1] I am indebted to Michael Risinger, and Joseph Cecil, for pointing me to documents from PACER, which shed some light upon the Joiner “endgame.”

In February 1998, Judge Orinda Evans, who had been the original trial judge, and who had sustained defendants’ Rule 702 challenges and granted their motions for summary judgments, received and reopened the case upon remand from the 11th Circuit. In March, Judge Evans directed the parties to submit a new pre-trial order by April 17, 1998. At a status conference in April 1998, Judge Evans permitted the plaintiffs additional discovery, to be completed by June 17, 1998. Five days before the expiration of their additional discovery period, the plaintiffs moved for additional time; defendants opposed the request. In July, Judge Evans granted the requested extension, and gave defendants until November 1, 1998, to file for summary judgment.

Meanwhile, in June 1998, new counsel entered their appearances for plaintiffs – William Sims Stone, Kevin R. Dean, Thomas Craig Earnest, and Stanley L. Merritt. The docket does not reflect much of anything about the new discovery other than a request for a protective order for an unpublished study. But by October 6, 1998, the new counsel, Earnest, Dean, and Stone (but not Merritt) withdrew as attorneys for the Joiners, and by the end of October 1998, Judge Evans entered an order to dismiss the case, without prejudice.

A few months later, in February 1999, the parties filed a stipulation, approved by the Clerk, dismissing the action with prejudice, and with each party to bear its own coasts. Given the flight of plaintiffs’ counsel, the dismissals without and then with prejudice, a settlement seems never to have been involved in the resolution of the Joiner case. In the end, the Joiners’ case fizzled perhaps to avoid being Frye’d.

And what has happened since to the science of dioxins and lung cancer?

Not much.

In 2006, the National Research Council published a monograph on dioxin, which took the controversial approach of focusing on all cancer mortality rather than specific cancers that had been suggested as likely outcomes of interest. See David L. Eaton (Chairperson), Health Risks from Dioxin and Related Compounds – Evaluation of the EPA Reassessment (2006). The validity of this approach, and the committee’s conclusions, were challenged vigorously in subsequent publications. Paolo Boffetta, Kenneth A. Mundt, Hans-Olov Adami, Philip Cole, and Jack S. Mandel, “TCDD and cancer: A critical review of epidemiologic studies,” 41 Critical Rev. Toxicol. 622 (2011) (“In conclusion, recent epidemiological evidence falls far short of conclusively demonstrating a causal link between TCDD exposure and cancer risk in humans.”

In 2013, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC), an independent scientific advisory body in the United Kingdom, published a review of lung cancer and dioxin. The Council found the epidemiologic studies mixed, and declined to endorse the compensability of lung cancer for dioxin-exposed industrial workers. Industrial Injuries Advisory Council – Information Note on Lung cancer and Dioxin (December 2013). See also Mann v. CSX Transp., Inc., 2009 WL 3766056, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106433 (N.D. Ohio 2009) (Polster, J.) (dioxin exposure case) (“Plaintiffs’ medical expert, Dr. James Kornberg, has opined that numerous organizations have classified dioxins as a known human carcinogen. However, it is not appropriate for one set of experts to bring the conclusions of another set of experts into the courtroom and then testify merely that they ‘agree’ with that conclusion.”), citing Thorndike v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 266 F. Supp. 2d 172 (D. Me. 2003) (court excluded expert who was “parroting” other experts’ conclusions).


 

[1] Morris S. Zedeck, Expert Witness in the Legal System: A Scientist’s Search for Justice 49 (2010) (noting that, after remand from the Supreme Court, Joiner v. General Electric resolved before trial)

 

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