OSHA Expert’s Testimony Found Irrelevant in Labor Camp Case

    OSHA Expert’s Testimony Found Irrelevant in Labor Camp Case
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    Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Beaumont Division
    Jurisdiction: Federal
    Case Name: Marimuthu v. Signal Int’l
    Citation: 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 195157

    This case involves allegations of negligence in the defendant’s labor camps. On the surface, this appears to be an ideal fit for an OSHA expert. However, the court explains that the OSHA expert’s testimony fails to fulfill FRE 702’s requirement to aid the trier of fact. Specifically, the court determines the expert’s testimony does not provide any additional information beyond the plaintiffs’ own testimony. Therefore, the court moves to exclude the expert given the lack of valuable information offered from their specialized knowledge.

    Facts

    Following Hurricane Katrina, nearly 590 people—including four plaintiffs in this lawsuit—were allegedly trafficked to the United States. The defendant marine construction company relocated them to provide labor. In this suit, the plaintiffs argued that the defendant schemed and conspired to recruit them. The plaintiffs claimed they were led to believe the job guaranteed good pay and permanent residence in the United States. They also claimed that the reality of the job was unhygienic, disease-ridden, and overcrowded work camps resembling prisons. The plaintiffs said they were forced to continue working for the defendant due to significant debts back home and fears of deportation.

    A putative class action was brought on behalf of all workers allegedly trafficked to the United States to work at the defendant’s facilities. The court, in David v. Signal Int’l, denied class certification. As a result, individual class members filed suits where their alleged injuries occurred. In this case, the plaintiffs filed in a Texas court. Their case alleged that the defendant violated the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003. Further, the plaintiffs alleged negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract, and state law fraud.

    The Plaintiffs’ OSHA Expert Witness

    The plaintiffs retained an OSHA expert witness to opine on the case. The OSHA expert held an advanced degree in Environmental Sciences and a certificate in Industrial Hygiene. Further, he had served as Area Director of the Jackson, Mississippi division of OSHA for over 22 years. The OSHA expert sought to determine the applicability of—and the defendant’s compliance or noncompliance with—Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and regulations for temporary labor camps. The defendant moved to exclude the expert on two grounds. First, they claimed the expert’s OSHA opinions were irrelevant. Second, the defendant claimed the opinion included impermissible legal conclusions.

    The defendant further argued that the plaintiffs had never claimed an OSHA breach of their original complaint. Therefore, they claimed the expert’s opinions in this area were irrelevant. The plaintiffs argued their expert’s opinions were relevant because they backed their allegations of fraud and discrimination.

    Discussion

    The court noted that no cause of action relied on the defendant’s failure to comply with OSHA. The plaintiffs also failed to explain how the expert’s findings supported claims of racial discrimination. Further, the court stated the plaintiffs failed to explain how the alleged OSHA infringements supported their fraud claim. The court explained that it was up to the plaintiffs to prove why their expert’s opinion was admissible. However, the court also said that proving OSHA violations was not necessary. This was because the plaintiffs’ own testimony about their living/working conditions had already demonstrated this violation.

    Finally, the court acknowledged that, at first glance, excluding the expert may appear to contradict the decisions in Joseph v. Signal and Samuel v. Signal. In those cases, the court found that the plaintiffs’ OSHA expert’s testimony fulfilled the helpfulness aspect of Rule 702. But the court differentiated those cases from the present one even though the plaintiffs had retained the same OSHA expert witness. In the previous cases, the defendant had not challenged the admissibility of the expert testimony. In deciding whether the OSHA expert’s opinions were helpful here, the court had to assume the expert would testify again on the various ways the defendant breached OSHA regulations.

    Ruling

    The defendant’s motion to exclude the testimony of the plaintiff’s OSHA expert witness was granted.

    Key Takeaways for Experts

    This case demonstrates the importance of expert testimony providing additional, helpful evidence to the triers of fact. Here, the expert’s testimony was deemed to be duplicative of the plaintiffs’ testimonies.