Agahi et al v. Kelly et al

Filing 145

ORDER that Defendants' Motion to Exclude Steven Garfinkel's Expert Report and Testimony (Doc. 109 ) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART as explained herein. See document for complete details. Signed by Judge Douglas L Rayes on 9/19/2022. (RMV)

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1 WO 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 9 Bob Agahi, et al., Plaintiffs, 10 11 v. 12 Kevin Richard Kelly, et al., 13 No. CV-21-01369-PHX-DLR ORDER Defendants. 14 15 16 Before the Court is Defendants’ Motion to Exclude Steven Garfinkel’s Expert 17 Report and Testimony. (Doc. 109.) The motion is fully briefed (Docs. 129, 135) and, for 18 the reasons set forth herein, is granted in part and denied in part. 19 Plaintiffs allege that Defendants made false and defamatory statements on five 20 websites, namely claiming Plaintiffs have ties to and/or affiliations with organized crime. 21 Plaintiffs bring claims of defamation per se and false light invasion of privacy. Defendants 22 have moved, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow 23 Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), to exclude the opinions of Plaintiffs’ expert, 24 Steven Garfinkel, on two issues: (1) “the duty and care the FBI uses when engaging with 25 the media to avoid besmirching an individual’s character on the basis of highly attenuated 26 and meaningless information;” and (2) “why Bob Agahi is not associated with organized 27 crime and would not be someone that any reasonable person in law enforcement would 28 1 consider having ‘links’ to organized crime based upon the information provided in the 2 websites published by Kevin R. Kelly.” (Doc. 109 at 3-4.) 3 Daubert requires the Court to act as a “gatekeeper,” excluding expert opinions if 4 they do not meet the standards of reliability required under Rule 702. 5 accomplishes this by making a preliminary determination that the proffered evidence is 6 both relevant and reliable. Daubert, 509 U. S. at 589-95. “[A] trial court may consider 7 one or more of the more specific factors that Daubert mentioned when doing so will help 8 determine that testimony’s reliability. But, as the Court stated in Daubert, the test of 9 reliability is flexible, and Daubert's list of specific factors neither necessarily nor 10 exclusively applies to all experts or in every case. Rather, the law grants a district court 11 the same broad latitude when it decides how to determine reliability as it enjoys in respect 12 to its ultimate reliability determination.” Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 13 141-42 (1999) (quotation omitted). The Court 14 Experts may establish the validity of their opinions by explaining how they reached 15 them and pointing to some objective source to show that they have followed the scientific 16 method, as it is practiced by a recognized minority in their field. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593- 17 94. “[T]he evidentiary rationale that underlay the Court’s basic Daubert gatekeeping 18 determination [is not] limited to scientific knowledge. Daubert pointed out that Federal 19 Rules 702 and 703 grant expert witnesses testimonial latitude unavailable to other 20 witnesses on the assumption that the expert’s opinion will have a reliable basis in the 21 knowledge and experience of his discipline. The Rules grant that latitude to all experts, 22 not just to scientific ones.” Kumho, 526 U.S. at 148 (1999) (quotations and citation 23 omitted). Where the expert’s opinions are non-scientific but are based on the knowledge 24 and experience of the expert, the Daubert factors of peer review, publication, potential 25 error rates, etc. are not applicable. Hangarter v. Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co., 373 26 F.3d 998, 1017 (9th Cir. 2004). 27 The first expert opinion which Defendants seek to exclude is the opinion pertaining 28 to the policies and procedures adopted by the FBI to avoid “besmirching” an individual’s -2- 1 character when engaging with the media. Plaintiffs argue, among other things, that the 2 relevance is established by Defendants’ published websites, which reference federal 3 investigators, the FBI, court filings, and “Fed Scrutiny.” (Doc. 116 at 75.) Defendants 4 point out that the FBI is mentioned only once on each of the websites, which state: “two 5 other sources on Wall Street say that Supinsky may have been questioned by investigators 6 who are building a case against Phillip Abramo, described by the FBI in court papers as 7 capo in the DeCavalcante crime family.” (Doc. 135 at 5.) 8 Garfinkel’s tesitmony about the FBI’s rules and practices to avoid disclosure of 9 information of investigations is relevant to the likelihood of the FBI releasing information 10 of a criminal investigation, of Supinsky having been questioned by the FBI, and whether 11 the FBI was building a case against Philip Abramo. It is relevant to a determination of 12 whether the FBI was the source of the information contained in the article, which is tied to 13 the issues of the substantial truth of the information contained in the websites and whether 14 Defendants acted reasonably in attempting to discover the truth or falsity of the alleged 15 defamatory statements. Garfinkel has experience in the FBI and relies on an FBI manual. 16 Either would provide a reliable basis for his testimony about the FBI’s procedures to 17 protect the disclosure of investigations. 18 The second objection is to Garfinkel’s opinion that the articles linked to the 19 webpages do not contain evidence of Agahi’s association with organized crime. His 20 opinions about what information or lack of information in the articles is evidence of 21 association with organized crime is relevant and may assist the jury. Garfinkel’s definition 22 of associate does not warrant exclusion of his opinion, which can be explored in cross 23 examination. 24 associate and what the average lay person might think are not supported by a reasonable 25 basis and are not helpful to the jury. Those determinations do not require the assistance of 26 an expert. Garfinkel may not testify that Agahi is or is not linked to organized crime or 27 about the understanding or inferences that a lay person might take away from reading the 28 website. However, Garfinkel’s opinions that Ahahi is not an organized crime -3- 1 IT IS ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion to Exclude Steven Garfinkel’s Expert 2 Report and Testimony (Doc. 109) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART as 3 explained herein. 4 Dated this 19th day of September, 2022. 5 6 7 8 9 Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -4-

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