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ADM International Sarl v. River Ventures, L.L.C.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 14, 2019

ADM INTERNATIONAL SARL
v.
RIVER VENTURES, LLC ET AL.

         Reference: All Cases SECTION “L” (3)

          ORDER & REASONS

          ELDON E. FALLON, U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Proposed Testimony of Tom Stakelum Regarding the Navigation of Vessels. R. Doc. 103. The motion is opposed. R. Doc. 104. Plaintiff filed a reply. R. Doc. 109. The Court now rules as follows.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff ADM International SARL (“ADM”) alleges that in March of 2018, the M/V HARVEST MOON, a ship owned and operated by ADM, was attempting to anchor when the M/V FREEDOM, a tug owned and operated by Defendant River Ventures, LLC (“River Ventures”), cut across the bow of the HARVEST MOON. R. Doc. 103-1 at 1. The FREEDOM was pushing crane barge RANDY W, a stevedoring barge owned and operated by Defendant Associated Marine Equipment, LLC (“Associated Marine”), and the FREEDOM was also using the assist tug M/V ST. ELMO, owned and operated by Defendant Marquette Transportation Company Gulf-Inland, LLC (“Marquette”), at the time of the collision. R. Doc. 1 at 2; R. Doc. 12 at 1; R. Doc. 103-1 at 2; R. Doc. 104 at 2. ADM further alleges that after the FREEDOM cut across the bow of the HARVEST MOON, the FREEDOM turned up into the current, stalled due to inadequate horsepower, and released the ST. ELMO. R. Doc. 103-1 at 2. ADM then contends the HARVEST MOON asked the FREEDOM to push ahead, but it could not because of inadequate horsepower and failure to use its assist tug, and although the FREEDOM agreed to widen out to the opposite bank, it did not do so. R. Doc. 103-1. As a result of the collision, ADM alleges it sustained damages including physical repairs, loss of its starboard anchor, down time, tug expenses, pilot expenses, and other losses. R. Doc. 1 at 5. Accordingly, ADM brought suit against Defendants. R. Doc. 1.

         River Ventures contests this description of events and the cause of the collision, arguing the HARVEST MOON failed to anchor at mile marker 137 of the Lower Mississippi River, almost struck a moored vessel, and “spun out of control into the middle of the river channel to collide with the M/V FREEDOM . . . and its tow, the C/B RANDY W.” R. Doc. 104 at 1-2. River Ventures states the FREEDOM's assist tug, the ST. ELMO, was able to pull away in time to avoid the collision. R. Doc. 104 at 2. River Ventures further contends the “HARVEST MOON continued out of control and collided with a barge fleet on the opposite side of the river, owned by claimant, Ingram Barge Company (“Ingram”), who has sued to recover its damages from ADM.” R. Doc. 104 at 2. Defendant Associated Marine also answered Plaintiff ADM's complaint, bringing a counterclaim against ADM. R. Doc. 15. Associated Marine alleges the collision and resulting damages sustained by Associated Marine were caused by HARVEST MOON's unseaworthiness and ADM's negligent operation of the vessel. R. Doc. 15 at 7-8. Defendant Marquette, meanwhile, was dismissed from this lawsuit. R. Docs. 84, 86.

         II. PENDING MOTION

         In this motion, Plaintiff ADM that the Court should exclude the proposed testimony of Tom Stakelum regarding the navigation of vessels. R. Doc. 103 at 1. Specifically, ADM contends Mr. Stakelum is not a navigation expert and lacks the qualifications to render opinions on the navigational decisions of the HARVEST MOON pilot. R. Doc. 103-1 at 2. In opposition, Defendant River Ventures argues Mr. Stakelum qualifies as a marine expert and his testimony should be allowed at trial. R. Doc. 104 at 1. ADM filed a reply to River Ventures' opposition, stating that ADM “fully disputes that Mr. Stakelum is a marine expert in the area of navigation of vessels” and his opinions go far beyond the area of marine electronics and into opinions on navigational decisions that he is not qualified to offer. R. Doc. 109 at 1.

         III. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which provides that:

If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.

         Fed. R. Evid. 702. This rule codifies the Supreme Court's decisions in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) and Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999).

         The Court must act as a “gate-keeper” to ensure the proffered expert testimony is “both reliable and relevant.” Wells v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 601 F.3d 375, 378 (5th Cir. 2010). However, “[t]he primary purpose of the Daubert filter is to protect juries from being bamboozled by technical evidence of dubious merit.” SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Apotex Corp., 247 F.Supp.2d 1011, 1042 (N.D. Ill. 2003). Accordingly, the Court's “gate-keeper” role is diminished in a bench trial because there is no need to protect the jury and risk tainting the trial by exposing the jury to unreliable evidence. See Whitehouse Hotel Ltd. V. P'ship v. Comm'r, 615 F.3d 321, 330 (5th Cir. 2010). Although the “gate-keeper” role may be diminished, the Court is still required to perform its gate-keeping function. Metavante Corp. v. Emigrant Sav. Bank, 2010 WL 3385961 (7th Cir. 2010).

         The threshold question in determining whether an individual may offer expert testimony under Rule 702 is whether the individual is qualified to do so. Fed.R.Evid. 702. Apart from determining the qualifications of the expert, the Court's gate-keeping role also generally includes ensuring the proffered expert testimony is “both reliable and relevant.” Wells v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 601 F.3d 375, 378 (5th Cir. 2010). Because Plaintiff only contests ...


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