EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Monday, January 18, 2021

Middle District of Florida Finds Doctor's Proposed Testimony Inadmissible Under Rule 704(a)

Federal Rule of Evidence 704(a) states that

An opinion is not objectionable just because it embraces an ultimate issue.

However, while Rule 704(a) allows experts to offer factual conclusions, it does not allow them to offer legal conclusions. So, on which side of this divide did an expert's proposed testimony fall in Clarke v. HealthSouth Corporation, 2021 WL 129821 (M.D.Fla. 2021)?

In Clarke, Dr. Darius Clarke alleged that his termination from HealthSouth was not voluntary, but rather that HealthSouth "constructively discharged him."  In support of his claim, Dr. Clarke offered testimony by Suzanne Groah, M.D., who would have said, inter alia, that (1) the working conditions at HealthSouth were "professionally intolerable; and (2) HealthSouth acted "fraudulently" or "made fraudulent claims."

In finding this testimony inadmissible under Rule 704(a), the court concluded that

whether the working conditions at HealthSouth were “professionally intolerable,” and thus would force any “reasonable” person to resign, is the very question that a jury would decide should this case go to trial.....By concluding that HealthSouth's actions were “professionally intolerable,” Dr. Groah “merely tell[s] the jury what result to reach” in the case....Such testimony is not helpful to the trier of fact and is therefore excluded.....

Second, Dr. Groah's opinion that HealthSouth acted “fraudulently” or “made fraudulent claims” must be excluded. (Doc. # 184-2 at 4-5). Expert witnesses “are prohibited from testifying as to questions of law regarding the interpretation of a statute, the meaning of terms in a statute, or the legality of conduct.”...Instead, “[t]he determination of which law applies and what the law means is for the Court to decide.”...

By concluding that HealthSouth acted fraudulently, Dr. Groah renders a legal opinion that HealthSouth violated the FCA. An expert “may not testify to the legal implications of conduct; the court must be the jury's only source of law.”...Accordingly, the Court excludes Dr. Groah's testimony on the legality of HealthSouth's conduct.

-CM

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2021/01/federal-rule-of-evidence-704a-states-that-an-opinion-is-not-objectionable-just-because-it-embraces-an-ultimate-issue.html

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Comments

I assume that it would be proper to allow the witness to describe the conditions at the facility that were professionally intolerable and fraudulent, as she seems to be a person with personal knowledge.

Posted by: Fred Moss | Jan 22, 2021 10:34:17 AM

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