02/10/2016 - New Jersey District Court as Gatekeeper in I.N.S. Expert Witness Case

The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey entered, on June 25, 2007, their decision in a Daubert case involving the admissibility of proposed expert testimony pursuant to the Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 702. The objective of Rule 702 "is to ensure the reliability and relevancy of expert testimony" and "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". Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., 509 U.S. 579 (U.S. 1993).

In an action ongoing for ten years involving defendants Esmor Correctional Services and some of its employees and plaintiffs, eight undocumented immigrant detainees at the I.N.S. facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the district court ruled on limitations of testimony of certain expert witnesses. Various complaints involving abysmal living conditions and mistreatment to the point of torture were brought by the plaintiffs under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Religious Freedom from Restoration Act. Plaintiffs moved on Daubert grounds to strike or limit the testimony of three expert witnesses testifying on plaintiff's psychiatric condition and medical treatment, and on detention facilities in general. Defendants moved to exclude testimony concerning plaintiff's psychological condition from one plaintiff's expert witness. After review of the evidence and arguments in support of the parties’ briefs, the court conducted a hearing.

The judge considered all the testimony of the contested experts in light of Rule 702 and relevant case citations, determining point by point the admissibility of the opinions and findings expressed in the reports of the experts under scrutiny. The judge allowed evidence that conformed to the guidelines, thus discharging his role as arbitrator and gatekeeper.

The other issue at bar was spoilage of evidence in the form of lack of sufficient communication to ensure preservation of likely discoverable documents and working papers in support of a defense expert's final report. The judge found no deliberate wrongdoing on the part of the defendants, but error by omission in that the defendant's attorneys did not sufficiently ensure preservation. Based on this finding, the judge granted the plaintiffs' motion to strike the expert's report to the extent that plaintiffs were awarded attorney fees and costs associated with attempting to obtain the defendant's compliance with discovery rules. See: Hawa Abdi Jama v. Esmor Corr. Servs., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45706 (D.N.J. June 25, 2007); Case no. 2:97-cv-03093.