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IDC Properties, Inc v. Chicago Title Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

November 3, 2017

IDC PROPERTIES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
CHICAGO TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          John J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge

         The Court need not remind the parties of the circuitous route this case has taken. Even after all of the decisions from trial and appellate courts at both the state and federal level, there are still unresolved issues rooted in an astounding disconnect between the parties' views of the breadth and depth of the Policy's coverage and how to determine what IDC's damages are. It has become clear to the Court that the parties must test their evidence and argument before a fact finder who is uniquely equipped to determine coverage under the Policy and the amount, if any, of damages IDC should recover. The question then is: will IDC's expert opinion be helpful to the fact finder in rendering its verdict such that the Court can find it admissible under Federal Rules of Evidence, Rule 702?

         Peter M. Scotti, a real estate appraiser, prepared a report in support of IDC Properties Inc.'s pursuit of the proceeds of a title insurance policy (Policy) it purchased from Defendant Chicago Title Insurance Company. Mr. Scotti opines about the value of IDC's airspace units and provides a dollar value he believes IDC is due. The Court previously excluded Mr. Scotti's report on two grounds, ruling that its valuation, opinion was unreliable because it impermissibly assumed that the Declaration of Condominium document (Declaration) complied with the unanimous consent requirement of the Rhode Island Condominium Act to value any new construction on the North, South and West units and that the correct loss measurement date was December 1997.

         The Court granted IDC leave to file a revised appraisal to reflect its rulings.[1] Mr. Scotti produced a revised appraisal to which Chicago Title again moves in limine on essentially the same grounds. ECF No. 128. Because the Court finds that Mr. Scotti's revised report cures the previously identified defects such that it is now the fact finder's turn to weigh the credibility and weight owed Mr. Scotti's opinion, the Court denies Chicago Title's motion.

         1. Rule 702

          A court's review of the admissibility of an expert witness' testimony is guided by Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Rule 702, which codified a line of United States Supreme Court cases including Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., states:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

See also Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). The court "serves as the gatekeeper for expert testimony by 'ensuring that [it]... both rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand.'" Milward v. Rust-Oleum Corp., 820 F.3d 469, 473 (1st Cir. 2016) (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 597). The court's role is to evaluate the expert testimony's admissibility, as opposed to its weight. See Ruiz-Troche v. Pepsi-Cola of PR. Bottling Co., 161 F.3d 77, 85 (1st Cir. 1998) (weight determination is for the fact finder to make). "A district court may exclude expert testimony where it finds that the testimony has no foundation or rests on obviously incorrect assumptions or speculative evidence." Casas Office Macb., Inc. v. Mita Copy star Am., Inc., 42 F.3d 668, 681 (1st Cir. 1994).

         The court's inquiry "is a flexible one, and there is no particular procedure that the trial court is required to follow in executing its gatekeeping function." United States v. Diaz, 300 F.3d 66, 73 (1st Cir. 2002) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The court's focus should be on the methodology employed, not on the expert's conclusions. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 595. "In short, Daubert neither requires nor empowers trial courts to determine which of several competing scientific theories has the best provenance." Ruiz-Troche, 161 F.3d at 85. "As long as an expert's scientific testimony rests upon 'good grounds, based on what is known, ' it should be tested by the adversary process-competing expert testimony and active cross-examination-rather than, excluded .from jurors' scrutiny for fear that they will not grasp its complexities or satisfactorily weigh its inadequacies." Id. (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590).

         With these principles in mind, the Court will summarize Mr. Scotti's revised report and evaluate the parties' ...


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