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Woodbine Production Corp. v. Eagle Tubulars, L.L.C.

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Tyler Division

November 1, 2017

EAGLE TUBULARS, L.L.C., Defendant.



         Before the Court is Defendant Eagle Tubulars, LLC's ("Defendant") Motion to Exclude the Expert Testimony of Plaintiff Woodbine Production Corp.'s ("Plaintiff) Expert. (Doc. No. 66.) Plaintiff responded. (Doc. No. 67.)


         Plaintiff rented a work-string and a PH6 and P110 pipe from Defendant to clean out an existing well. (Doc. No. 66 at 1.) The work-string became stuck in the well and when Plaintiff tried to free it, the pipe parted, resulting in sections stuck in the well. Id. at 1-2. Plaintiff brought this action alleging Defendant's pipe and work-string were not fit for their particular purpose as set forth by the API[1] standards. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 6-10.) Plaintiff identified Donnie Jones ("Jones") as a petroleum engineer who will testify at trial as an expert regarding "the reasonable and customary standards, duties and responsibilities of an operator in the oil and gas industry." (Doc. No. 66-5 at 2 (Plaintiff Expert Disclosures).) Plaintiff expects Mr. Jones to "testify that the API limits were never exceeded on this job and the pipe should have never parted. The pipe was defective and not fit for its ordinary and intended use." Id.


         In accordance with Federal Rule of Evidence 104(a), when faced with expert testimony, the trial court acts as a "gatekeeper" and must perform "a preliminary assessment of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and of whether that reasoning or methodology properly can be applied to the facts in issue." Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 592-95 (1993).

         To admit expert testimony, a court "must determine at the outset, pursuant to Rule 104(a), whether the expert is proposing to testify to: (1) scientific knowledge that (2) will assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue." Daubert, 509 U.S. 579. Trial judges have traditionally been afforded wide discretion to admit or exclude expert evidence. See Peters v. Five Star Marine, 898 F.2d 448, 450 (5th Cir. 1990) (citing Eymard v. Pan American World Airways, 795 F.2d 1230, 1233 (5th Cir. 1986)); see also Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87 (1974).

         Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence governs the admissibility of expert testimony and reports. "Whether the situation is a proper one for the use of expert testimony is to be determined on the basis of assisting the trier." Peters, 898 F.2d at 449 (citing FED. R. EVID. 702 advisory committee's notes (2000)). Assisting the trier of fact means "the trial judge ought to insist that a proffered expert bring to the jury more than the lawyers can offer in argument." Salas v. Carpenter, 980 F.2d 299, 305 (5th Cir. 1992) (quoting Eymard, 795 F.2d at 1233); see also Matherne v. MISR Shipping Co., No. 88-2261, 1991 WL 99426, at *2 (E.D. La. 1991) (excluding expert whose testimony "would offer little more than argument"). The district court's responsibility "is to make certain that an expert, whether basing testimony upon professional studies or personal experience, employs in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field." Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152(1999).

         When evaluating expert testimony, the overarching concern is generally focused on whether it is relevant and reliable. See Daubert, 509 U.S. 579. To be reliable and therefore admissible under Rule 702, expert testimony as to a scientific, technical, or other specialized area must: (1) assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; (2) be based upon sufficient facts or data; (3) be the product of reliable principles and methods; (4) and have reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts. Fed.R.Evid. 702. "[T]he test of reliability is 'flexible, ' and the Daubert factors neither necessarily nor exclusively apply to all experts or in every case. Rather, the law grants a district court the same broad latitude when it decides how to determine reliability as it enjoys in respect to its ultimate reliability determination." Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 151.

         As a general rule, questions relating to the bases and sources of an expert's opinion affect the weight to be assigned that opinion rather than its admissibility. See FED. R. EVID. 702 Advisory Committee's Notes, 2000 Amendments (citing Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44, 61 (1987)). While the district court must act as a gatekeeper to exclude all unreliable expert testimony, "the rejection of expert testimony is the exception rather than the rule." FED. R. EVID. 702 advisory committee's notes (2000) (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. 579; Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. 137). Importantly, in a jury trial setting, the Court's role under Daubert is not to weigh the expert testimony to the point of supplanting the jury's fact-finding role; rather, the Court's role is limited to that of a gatekeeper, ensuring that the evidence in dispute is at least sufficiently reliable and relevant to the issue before the jury that it is appropriate for the jury's consideration. See Micro Chem., Inc. v. Lextron, Inc., 317 F.3d 1387, 1391-92 (Fed. Cir. 2003) (applying Fifth Circuit law) ("When, as here, the parties' experts rely on conflicting sets of facts, it is not the role of the trial court to evaluate the correctness of facts underlying one expert's testimony."); Pipitone v. Biomatrix, Inc., 288 F.3d 239, 249-50 (5th Cir. 2002) ("'[t]he trial court's role as gatekeeper [under Daubert\ is not intended to serve as a replacement for the adversary system). As the Supreme Court explained in Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596, "[v]igorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible evidence." See Mathis v. Exxon Corp., 302 F.3d 448, 461 (5th Cir. 2002).


         I. Qualifications

         Defendant contends that Jones does not have the knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education to offer expert testimony concerning the pipe at issue. (Doc. No. 66 at 5.) Defendant argues that Jones has no significant experience with work-string pipe, and almost no experience with the PI 10 grade pipe. Id. Defendant states that Jones did not have the experience to assess how the conditions in the well affected the work-string's strength. Id. at 6. Defendant further argues that Jones is unqualified because he has no training in metallurgy and is not a professional engineer. Id. at 7. Plaintiff counters that Jones is qualified because he has a degree in petroleum engineering and has worked since 1977 in the East Texas oil patch. (Doc. No. 67 at 4.) Plaintiff maintains that he is familiar with, and has researched, the specifications used with the pipe strings used during the workover and to "fish" out the pipe. Id. Plaintiff argues that due to his experience and his review of the reports and other documentations, Jones is qualified to give his opinion. Id. at 5. Plaintiff states Jones has specialized expertise in the area that is in question and has prior experience dealing with similar matters. Id. Plaintiff concludes that Jones does not have to be a metallurgical expert before he can testify why the pipe failed. Id. at 7.

         Whether testimony will aid the trier of fact is the standard a court uses to determine an expert's qualifications to testify at trial. Peters, 898 F.2d at 449. A trial court has broad discretion in ruling on the qualifications of an expert. Banks v. McGougan,717 F.2d 186, 190 (5th Cir. 1983). Courts have found that extensive experience in an industry can qualify an individual to testify as an expert. See U.S. v. Austin Radiological Ass'n., No. A-10-cv-914, 2014 WL 2515696, at *2 (W.D. Tex. June 4, 2014) (citing Huval v. Offshore Pipelines, Inc., 86 F.4d 454, 457-58 (5th Cir. 1996)); Texas Capital Bank, N.A. v. Dallas Roadster, Ltd., No. 5:13-cv-625, 2015 WL 12911344, at *2 (E.D. Tex. Mar. 31, 2015) ...

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