EvidenceProf Blog

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

Friday, August 13, 2021

Eastern District of Missouri Denies Motion for Appointment of Court Expert

Federal Rule of Evidence 706(a) provides that

On a party’s motion or on its own, the court may order the parties to show cause why expert witnesses should not be appointed and may ask the parties to submit nominations. The court may appoint any expert that the parties agree on and any of its own choosing. But the court may only appoint someone who consents to act.

But does a judge have to appoint a court expert upon request by one of the parties? That was the question addressed by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in its recent opinion in Holt v. Qualified Trucking Services, Inc., 2021 WL 3525179 (E.D.Mo. 2021).

In Holt, plaintiffs Tabitha Holt and Clyde Sutherland's son was killed in a motor vehicle accident involving a commercial motor vehicle owned by Defendant Qualified Trucking Service Trucking, Inc. The plaintiffs subsequently brought a suit alleging negligence claims against Qualified.

Thereafter, plaintiff Clyde Sutherland invoked Federal Rule of Evidence 706 and sought to have the court appoint Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate the automobile crash that claimed the life of his son. The court responded by noting that

[c]ourts have wide discretion in determining whether a Rule 706 appointment is warranted....Courts generally will not appoint an expert in the absence of compelling circumstances, since “[t]he appointment of experts under Rule 706...should be reserved for exceptional cases in which the ordinary adversary process does not suffice.” 

The court then concluded that

the ordinary adversary process will suffice. Mr. Sutherland previously was represented by counsel. The other Plaintiff, Ms. Holt, remains represented by counsel, and Defendant also is represented by counsel. All had the ability to retain experts to use at trial, and indeed, Mr. Sutherland, through his previous counsel, has designated an expert witness....While the varying reports on the collision issued by the Missouri State Highway Patrol in this case....make this case unique in that regard, the Court does not view that as a compelling circumstance to appoint yet another expert. The parties still have their expert witnesses and can examine and cross-examine any relevant and material witnesses from the Missouri State Highway Patrol to the extent the parties see fit. Considering the claims and record before the Court, this case does not present the compelling circumstances that justify the Court's appointment of an expert witness.



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