Property Management Expert Oversteps by Offering Legal Conclusions

Zach Barreto

Written by
— Updated on April 2, 2020

Property Management Expert Oversteps by Offering Legal Conclusions

Court: United States District Court for the Southern District of California
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Elliott v. Versa CIC, LP
Citation: 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 197221

Facts

This case involves alleged housing discrimination at a senior living community. The plaintiffs, an 89-year-old Alzheimer’s patient and her daughter acting as a self-appointed guardian, filed the suit against the owner and operator of a senior living apartment complex. The plaintiff’s daughter had leased a studio apartment on behalf of her mother and had made several accommodation requests to aid her mother’s care. She alleges the defendant refused all reasonable accommodation requests and singled her out for poorer treatment. The defendant retained a property management expert to help support her defense.

The Property Management Expert Witness

The property management expert had a background in real estate and property management. He was currently active as an expert witness and consultant. His experience was in the property ownership and management issues for commercial and residential real estate. The plaintiffs argued the property management expert was not qualified to offer his testimony because he was not an expert in real estate law. The plaintiffs claimed the expert was offering a legal opinion regarding breach of statute and this opinion was outside the scope of property management. The plaintiffs alleged the expert was offering fact witness testimony in the guise of expert witness testimony.

Discussion

The court observed that there were only two liability issues left for trial. The first was whether the defendant said anything that could be considered discriminatory concerning selling or renting a dwelling. The second was whether the defendant intentionally treated the plaintiffs disparately and discriminated against them. The court noted that there was no need for expert testimony because a jury is competent to understand the facts and issues without needing the help of expert witness testimony, citing Brink v. Union Carbide Corp.

The court also explained that the property manager expert witness’s testimony was a fact witness testimony since he had put forth legal conclusions on whether the defendant had broken any laws. The court noted that even though the expert had a background in the field of property management and real estate did not mean he had expertise relevant to the assessment of housing or disability discrimination claims. Further, the expert’s report did not mention any experience specifically evaluating disability discrimination or housing discrimination cases at the core of the lawsuit.

Held

The property management expert witness’s testimony was found to be inadmissible because he was not qualified to offer the opinions in his report.

 

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