Bechak v. ATI Wah Chang, a Division of TDY, LLC et al
Order granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff's motions for order (Related Doc # 87 ) and (Related Doc # 88 ) and denying Defendants' motions for order (Related Doc # 106 ) and (Related Doc # 109 ), see Order for details. Judge John R. Adams on 10/11/17. (N,C)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
ATI WAH CHANG, et al.,
Case No. 4:15 CV 1692
JUDGE JOHN R. ADAMS
(Docs. ##87, 88, 106,109)
Now before the Court are four motions to exclude testimony pursuant to Daubert v. Merrell
Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 590, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). Plaintiff John
Bechak seeks to exclude the reports and testimony of Defense experts Richard J. Powals (Doc.
#87) and Lawrence G. Doucet (Doc. # 88). Defendants Veolia ES Technical Solutions, ATI Wah
Chang, and ATI Precision Finishing, LLC seek in two motions (Docs. #106 and 109) to exclude
testimony of Plaintiff’s expert Elizabeth C. Buc. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS
IN PART and DENIES IN PART the parties’ motions.
The large majority of the alleged facts in this matter remain in dispute. What follows is a
brief summary of the allegations relevant to this decision. Plaintiff was injured on December 17,
2011 in an explosion that killed his co-worker while the two men were preparing hazardous waste
material for incineration. Plaintiff’s employer, Heritage-WTI, Inc., is not a party to this suit.
Defendant ATI Precision Finishing, LLC was the generator of the hazardous waste involved in the
explosion. Defendant ATI Wah Chang was the owner of the hazardous waste who directed the
storage and treatment of the material before shipping it to Heritage-WTI, Inc. for incineration.
Defendant Veolia ES Technical Solutions, LLC acted as a waste broker between ATI Wah Chang
and Heritage-WTI, Inc. Veolia also provides waste disposal services. Defendant ATI Wah Chang
and Heritage-WTI, Inc. entered into a contract for hazardous waste disposal in 1999. Pursuant to
the 1999 contract, the covered waste was identified by Defendants as Waste Information Profile
No. 43443 and by Heritage-WTI, Inc. as Waste Profile No. 92796-1.
ATI Precision Finishing, LLC had an arrangement with AL Solutions, Inc., a metals
recycling facility in Cumberland, West Virginia, for the zirconium fines it generated. In December
2010, zirconium fines spontaneously ignited while being processed by AL Solutions causing an
explosion and ending AL Solutions’ zirconium recycling operations. As a result of the explosion
at AL Solutions, ATI Precision Finishing, LLC could no longer dispose of the zirconium waste it
generated in late 2010/early 2011. Thereafter, barrels of waste accumulated at ATI Precision
Finishing, LLC and were stored for a period of months, outside, in violation of waste permitting
regulations. The material was then shipped to ATI Wah Chang, where was held while ATI Wah
Chang attempted to make disposal arrangements.
In late 2011, Heritage-WTI, Inc. was approached by Defendant ATI Wah Chang who
inquired whether the facility could accept material pursuant to the 1999 contract for disposal of
Waste Information Profile No. 43443/ No. 92796-1, but in non-conforming quantities. HeritageWTI, Inc. indicated that it could accept the material but that it would be necessary to split the
material into quantities that its incinerator could handle. Upon receipt of the material, HeritageWTI, Inc. began splitting and incinerating it, but one of the first batches placed in the incinerator
ignited in the pre-chamber, halting operations. Heritage-WTI, Inc. investigated the cause and
attempted a solution. The remaining portion of the batch was incinerated without further incident.
Plaintiff was involved in splitting a further portion of the material when the explosion that
injured him occurred. The parties disagree as to whether the material was in fact generated by ATI
Precision Finishing, LLC, whether the material was properly identified and transported under
applicable regulations, whether the material conformed to Waste Information Profile No. 43443/
No. 92796-1, and whether the material was properly handled both before and after receipt by
Heritage-WTI, Inc., among other issues. The parties have retained experts to address the relative
burdens, regulatory and otherwise, they bear with regard to the identification and handling of the
material as well as the nature of the material itself. The Court will now address the parties’ four
pending motions to exclude expert reports and testimony with regard to these issues.
Federal Rule of Evidence 702 provides that 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.” Under Rule 702, a qualified expert’s testimony may be admissible, if:
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;
the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the
Fed. R. Evid. 702. The requirement that expert testimony be evaluated to determine its “reliability”
originates in the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc.,
509 U.S. 579, 590, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). In Daubert, the Supreme Court
Faced with a proffer of expert scientific testimony, ... the trial judge must determine
... whether the expert is proposing to testify to (1) scientific knowledge that (2) will
assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue. This entails a
preliminary assessment of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the
testimony is scientifically valid and of whether that reasoning or methodology
properly can be applied to the facts in issue.
Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592–93. The Daubert Court then set forth the following non-exhaustive list
of factors for trial courts to use in assessing the reliability of scientific expert testimony: (1)
whether the expert’s technique or theory can be or has been tested; (2) whether the technique or
theory has been subject to peer review and publication; (3) the known or potential rate of error of
the technique or theory when applied; (4) the existence and maintenance of standards and controls;
and (5) whether the technique or theory has been generally accepted in the scientific community.
Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593–94. The Daubert Court emphasized, “[m]any factors will bear on [this]
inquiry,” and there is no “definitive checklist or test.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 594–95. Rather, the
test for admissibility of expert testimony is a “flexible” one focused on the “principles and
methodology” of the expert. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 594–95.
In Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 119 S.Ct. 1167, 143 L.Ed.2d 238
(1999), the United States Supreme Court affirmed the application of Daubert’s principals more
generally to all expert testimony admissible under Rule 702. Id. at 148. At the same time, the
Court acknowledged that the Daubert factors do not perfectly address every type of testimony
admissible under Rule 702. Id. at 150. Nevertheless, whether or not the proffered expert testimony
may be classified as scientific, the trial court is required to review it for both relevance and
reliability. Surles ex rel. Johnson v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 474 F.3d 288, 295 (6th Cir. 2007) (“In
essence, Daubert and its progeny have placed the district courts in the role of gatekeeper, charging
them with evaluating the relevance and reliability of proffered expert testimony with heightened
care.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
When evaluating the admissibility of expert testimony under Daubert, a trial court’s
inquiry focuses on “principles and methodology, not on the conclusions that they generate.”
Daubert, 509 U.S. at 595. However, the United States Supreme Court has since clarified:
“conclusions and methodology are not entirely distinct from one another.” Gen. Elec. Co. v. Joiner,
522 U.S. 136, 146, 118 S.Ct. 512, 139 L.Ed.2d 508 (1997). The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals
explains that where non-scientific expert testimony is involved “the [Daubert] factors may be
pertinent” or “the relevant reliability concerns may focus upon personal knowledge or experience.”
First Tennessee Bank, Nat’l Assn. v. Barreto, 268 F.3d 319, 335 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Kumho
Tire, 526 U.S. at 150); see also Ellis v. Gallatin Steel Co., 390 F.3d 461, 470 (6th Cir. 2004) and
Surles, 474 F.3d at 295-296.
The gatekeeping inquiry is context-specific and “must be tied to the facts of a particular
case.” Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 150 (internal citations omitted); see also Surles, 474 F.3d at 295296. “[C]lose judicial analysis of expert testimony is necessary ‘because expert witnesses are not
necessarily always unbiased scientists.’” Nelson v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., 243 F.3d 244,
252 (6th Cir. 2001) (quoting Turpin v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 959 F.2d 1349, 1352 (6th Cir.
1992)). A touchstone of this analysis is whether a testifying expert “employs in the courtroom the
same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field.”
Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 152. Due to the numerous difficulties inherent in the gatekeeping role,
district courts possess broad discretion to make admissibility determinations. Pride v. BIC Corp.,
218 F.3d 566, 578 (6th Cir. 2000). Indeed, “the law grants a district court the same broad latitude
when it decides how to determine reliability as it enjoys in respect to its ultimate reliability
determination.” Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 142 (emphasis sic) (citing Joiner, 522 U.S. at 143). The
Sixth Circuit holds, “[a]s a baseline premise, ‘in rulings on the admissibility of expert opinion
evidence, the trial court has broad discretion and its rulings must be sustained unless manifestly
erroneous.’” Brainard v. American Skandia Life Assur. Corp., 432 F.3d 655, 663 (6th Cir. 2005)
(quoting Viterbo v. Dow Chem. Co., 826 F.2d 420, 422 (5th Cir. 1987)).
Although a district court has broad latitude, the Sixth Circuit has developed some guidance:
“Red flags that caution against certifying an expert include reliance on anecdotal evidence,
improper extrapolation, failure to consider other possible causes, lack of testing, and subjectivity.
Newell Rubbermaid, Inc. v. Raymond Corp., 676 F.3d 521, 527 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Best v.
Lowe's Home Ctrs., Inc., 563 F.3d 171, 177 (6th Cir. 2009)). The Sixth Circuit further cautions
“if a purported expert’s opinion was prepared solely for litigation, that may also be considered as
a basis for exclusion.” Newell Rubbermaid, 676 F.3d at 527. Finally, the proponent of an expert
bears the burden of demonstrating that the expert’s testimony satisfies Daubert. Nelson v.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., 243 F.3d 244, 251 (6th Cir. 2001).
ARGUMENT AND LAW
The parties have challenged the testimony of three expert witnesses. The Court will
consider each expert separately.
LAWRENCE G. DOUCET
Lawrence G. Doucet, P.E., D.E.E., is an engineer with experience in engineering, design,
and consulting involving incineration systems and equipment, air pollution control systems and
equipment, and the management, treatment, and disposal of hazardous and other waste types. He
has been responsible for providing technical and economic feasibility studies, system evaluations
and diagnostic assessments, environmental permitting, construction documents, and construction
administrative services. Mr. Doucet has produced numerous technical articles on incineration,
waste management, and environmental compliance, among other topics, including his textbook for
a seminar on the “Principles and Practices of Incineration.”
Plaintiff seeks to exclude the testimony and report of Mr. Doucet and contends they are an
unreliable product of flawed methodology. Defendants argue, pursuant to Jahn v. Equine Services,
PSC, 233 F.3d 382 (6th Cir. 2000), that Mr. Doucet’s methodology is sound and his testimony
admissible because he is not required to account for all possible causes of the explosion and any
omission in this regard goes to the weight of his testimony. The materials filed by both parties
with regard to Mr. Doucet focus primarily on the parties’ diverging theories of the case and offer
little concrete analysis of the reliability or relevance of the report. The parties do not dispute,
however, that Mr. Doucet’s evaluation was explicitly limited to when the waste was received by
Heritage. He was not asked to consider anything before that point.
The Court has reviewed Mr. Doucet’s report, the stated intention of which is “to provide
independent, objective evaluations of the role, liabilities, and responsibilities of Heritage-WTI,
Inc.” in connection with the December 17, 2011 explosion that resulted in Plaintiff’s injuries. Doc.
#87, Exhibit A, p. 2. The report begins with a summary of information described as “waste data”
that Mr. Doucet believes Heritage-WTI, Inc. “knew or should have known,” was “likely
indicated,” “derivable,” “readily available,” or “easily accessible.” Doc. #87, Exhibit A, p. 4-12.
This includes material in Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) data sheets and appearing on Material
Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) generated by a number of companies other than Defendants who are
not involved in the instant suit or otherwise identified as originators of the material involved. Doc.
#87, Exhibit A, p. 10-12. The report continues to reference the process Heritage-WTI, Inc. as a
Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility (“TSDF”) would have undertaken in 1999 to generate a
Waste Analysis Plan (“WAP”).
According to Mr. Doucet, a WAP must be submitted for approval by the Ohio
Environmental Protection Agency (“OEPA”) before implementation and would have been
necessary to allow Heritage-WTI, Inc. to dispose of the material identified by Defendants as Waste
Information Profile No. 43443 and by Heritage-WTI, Inc., as Waste Profile No. 92796-1. Doc.
#87, Exhibit A, p. 12-16. Mr. Doucet then summarizes the content of the WAP generated by
Heritage-WTI, Inc. pursuant to the 1999 contract. Doc. #87, Exhibit A, p. 12-16. There is no
dispute between the parties that Heritage-WTI, Inc. applied for and received the proper permit to
dispose of waste pursuant to the 1999 contract.
Having summarized “a wide array of on-line and published technical documents, reference
materials, and information sources, such as MSDS and CAS profiles, handbooks and textbooks,
government publications, technical standards, and the like” that exist and are “readily and easily
accessible” and the WAP process he concedes was “likely . . . conducted in 1999,” Mr. Doucet
then offers his opinion that WTI Heritage-WTI, Inc. was “totally and completely responsible” for
the December 17, 2011 explosion and “all events and actions leading up to it.” Doc. #87, Exhibit
A, p. 26.
Mr. Doucet, who is not a materials engineer or fire investigator, has conducted no testing
and offers no analysis explaining his conclusions. Instead, he makes statements “based on his
experience” that articulate Defendants’ version of disputed facts, including: (1) the material was
properly categorized as waste profile #43443/92796-1; (2) handling of the material before it was
delivered to Heritage-WTI, Inc. is irrelevant; (3) Heritage-WTI, Inc.’s decision to drain the
material in a “unique way served to ensure that its flammable metal constituents were far drier
than typical and thus far more ignitable”; (3) Heritage-WTI, Inc. misidentified the cause of the
pre-chamber event which was actually caused by draining and splitting the material; (4) HeritageWTI, Inc.’s negligent handling caused the explosion; and (5) the immediate cause of the explosion
was a spark from the tools used by Heritage-WTI, Inc. employees. Doc. #87, Exhibit A, p. 17-27.
Mr. Doucet does not explain how his training or experience led to these conclusions or identify a
source he relied on in reaching them.
Defendants cite Jahn and Hartley v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 118 F. App’x 914
(6th Cir. 2004) in support of their contention that Mr. Doucet’s testimony satisfies what they
conceive of as a diminished Daubert standard applicable to non-scientific expert testimony.
Hartley, offers no explanation of relevant facts or law that supports Defendants’ contentions.
Defendants’ conclusory statements that Mr. Doucet is “qualified,” offers testimony “grounded in
the relevant standard of care,” and supported by factual evidence, and therefore satisfies “all that
Daubert requires” for “testimony deriving from practical expertise” is flawed.
As the Advisory Committee Notes for the 2000 Amendments make clear, Rule 702 “does
not distinguish between scientific and other forms of expert testimony.” The Advisory Committee
explains: “While the relevant factors for determining reliability will vary from expertise to
expertise, the amendment rejects the premise that an expert’s testimony should be treated more
permissively simply because it is outside the realm of science.” Fed. R. Evid. 702, Advisory
Committee Notes to the 2000 Amendments. The Committee notes that where the proffered
expertise relies “solely or primarily on experience, then the witness must explain how that
experience leads to the conclusion reached, why that experience is a sufficient basis for the
opinion, and how that experience is reliably applied to the facts.” Fed. R. Evid. 702, Advisory
Committee Notes to the 2000 Amendments. Finally, when a proponent of expert testimony
presents “only the experts’ qualifications, their conclusions and their assurances of reliability,” the
Committee emphasizes, “[u]nder Daubert, that’s not enough.” Fed. R. Evid. 702, Advisory
Committee Notes to the 2000 Amendments (internal citations omitted). Thus, this Court’s review
and gatekeeping role are in no way diminished by the nature of the proffered expert report and
Defendants’ assertion that Mr. Doucet’s testimony is clearly admissible under Jahn is
equally mistaken. The Sixth Circuit rejected the trial court’s analysis of the doctors’ expert
testimony in Jahn, explaining that “[s]cientific knowledge establishes the standard of evidentiary
reliability, and to be considered appropriately scientific, the expert need not testify to what is
known to a certainty but must only state an inference or assertion . . . derived by the scientific
method.” Jahn, 233 F.3d at 388 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The Sixth Circuit
concluded that although the doctors were hampered by the lack of a complete medical record,
“[l]ooking at the records of test results and physical symptoms to infer the presence of an infection
is not a methodologically unsound ‘assumption’ or ‘guess’—it is a diagnosis.” Jahn, 233 F.3d at
391 (emphasis in the original). Because the record in Jahn demonstrated that the proffered
testimony was generated using the same principals of diagnosis ordinarily used by physicians to
identify and treat infection, the Sixth Circuit found that the supporting methodology was sound.
Defendants do not identify any indicia of reliability or an identifiable methodology in support of
the material generated by Mr. Doucet. A blanket assertion that he is not required to explore all
possible causes in no way remedies these deficiencies.
Instead, Mr. Doucet’s report reflects the same flaws the Advisory Committee cautioned
against, as well as those that led the Sixth Circuit to affirm the district court’s decision to exclude
the testimony of Dr. Erik Beckman in Shahid v. City of Detroit, 889 F.2d 1543 (6th Cir. 1989).
In Shahid, the Sixth Circuit concluded it was proper to exclude the expert’s opinion on an ultimate
issue—not because the opinion embraced an ultimate issue—but because the opinion was “based
on plaintiff’s version of events.” Shahid, 889 F.2d at 1547. The Sixth Circuit explained:
The trial judge correctly stated that it was the jury’s province to determine disputed
facts, such as whether the officers made the required inspection every half hour . .
. based upon the credibility of testimony. . . The district court did not exclude the
testimony because it related to the ultimate issue in the case, but because the court
determined that it would prejudicially confuse the jury to hear an expert witness
base his opinion of the ultimate issue on facts that were for the jury to determine.
Id. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s conclusion and continued to state an “additional
reason for our view on the issue is the fact that the expert’s opinion as to the ultimate issue here
amounts to a ‘legal conclusion’” which the Circuit has found to be an “impermissible” delegation
of a judge’s role. Shahid, 889 F.2d at 1547, see also U.S. v. Zipkin, 729 F.2d 384, 387 (6th Cir.
1984) (“However, it is not for the witnesses to instruct the jury as to applicable principles of law,
but for the judge.” (internal quotation omitted)). Both defects are present in Mr. Doucet’s report:
he assumes Defendants’ version of disputed facts and then opines on causation and liability based
on those facts. As such, it does not appear that the large majority of Mr. Doucet’s report and
resulting conclusions are based on sufficient facts or data nor do they appear to be the product of
reliable principles and methods. Moreover, they reflect all of the red flags identified by the Sixth
Circuit in Newell Rubbermaid: reliance on anecdotal evidence, improper extrapolation, failure to
consider other possible causes, lack of testing, and subjectivity. Newell Rubbermaid, 676 F.3d at
Defendants emphasize that Mr. Doucet’s testimony is based on “practical expertise” not
The Court acknowledges Mr. Doucet’s extensive experience with
incineration, waste disposal systems, and environmental compliance. However, the Court finds
that Mr. Doucet’s opinions on causation contain a material analytical gap, i.e., he links his
evaluation of Heritage-WTI, Inc.’s alleged regulatory and policy failures to causation findings
regarding the explosion and how the contents of the barrels responded to handling. However, he
did not handle the material and is not a materials engineer or a fire expert. As such, he does not
appear objectively qualified to make the latter conclusions. This error is compounded by the
degree to which his conclusions are wholly dependent on Defendants’ version of disputed facts.
The facts on which Mr. Doucet relies are those that a jury would be required to determine. As
such, it appears the proffered testimony would prejudicially confuse a jury. Accordingly, the Court
finds Mr. Doucet’s causation opinion is unreliable. Thus, the Court will GRANT Plaintiff’s
Motion to exclude Mr. Doucet’s Report.
With regard to his testimony, the Court will GRANT IN PART AND DENY IN PART
Plaintiff’s motion to exclude Mr. Doucet’s testimony. Accordingly, Mr. Doucet’s testimony will
be limited as follows:
(1) he will not be permitted to opine on the cause of the explosion;
(2) he will not be permitted to testify as to whether the material involved in the December
2011 explosions conformed to waste profile #43443/92796-1; and
(3) he will not be permitted to testify as to what information about flammable solids he
believes could be inferred from reference materials not demonstrated to have been used by
Mr. Doucet will be permitted to testify about the regulations and industry standards that applied to
hazardous waste disposal facilities in December 2011. Mr. Doucet will also be permitted to testify
as to whether, in his opinion, Heritage-WTI, Inc.’s stated policies conformed to those regulations
and standards in place at the time.
ELIZABETH C. BUC
Elizabeth C. Buc, Ph.D., P.E., C.F.I., is a materials and metallurgical engineer and Certified
Fire Investigator with multiple chemistry degrees whose areas of expertise include chemistry,
hazardous materials, metallurgical and plastics failure analysis, and fire and explosion
investigations. Dr. Buc engages in a variety of research and engineering activities involving heat,
fire, and explosion investigations, evaluations of the interaction of heat with numerous materials,
and hazard assessments of organic and inorganic materials including powder metals, oxidizers,
composites, and industrial waste. She is also a presenter, instructor, and conference participant on
topics including “Hazardous Waste TSDF Fire Problem and Gap Analysis” and “Inspecting
Facilities with Combustible Particulate Solids,” as well as “Fire Investigation and Hazardous
Defendants ATI Wah Chang and ATI Precision Finishing, L.L.C. have filed a joint motion
seeking to exclude opinions 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 as well as potions of opinions 2, 10, and 11
offered in Dr. Buc’s report. Defendants do not challenge Dr. Buc’s qualifications as a chemist,
engineer, or fire investigator. Instead, Defendants state that she does not possess the relevant
industry experience necessary to opine on the duties imposed by the Resource Conservation and
Recovery Act (RCRA) and related regulations, the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act
(HMTA) and related regulations, or industry standards. Defendants further seek to exclude Dr.
Buc’s opinion that information received by Heritage was inaccurate, incomplete, and misleading.
Defendant Veolia ES Technical Solutions also seeks to exclude any adverse testimony from Dr.
Buc because she lacks expertise in the standard of care for waste brokers and experience in the
industry. Defendant Veolia does not challenge Dr. Buc’s qualifications as a chemist, engineer, or
Both parties cite a variety of cases where experts were asked to opine outside their area of
expertise and contend that this is what is being asked of Dr. Buc. See, e.g. United States v. Lee,
502 F.3d 691, 698 (7th Cir. 2007); Bloom v. ProMaxima Mfg. Co., 669 F. Supp. 2d 321, 329
(W.D.N.Y. 2009); Newell Rubbermaid, Inc. v. Raymond Corp., No. 5:08cv2632, 2010 WL
2643417 (N.D. Ohio July 1, 2010). The Court notes that although Defendant Veolia objects to Dr.
Buc as a “standard of care” expert for a waste broker, she stated in her deposition that she did not
offer “standard of care” testimony with regard to waste brokers and did not intend to do so. The
Court finds that the objections raised by all Defendants to Dr. Buc’s testimony more properly
address the weight such testimony should be given, not her ability to testify. Dr. Buc is a chemist
and materials engineer who, among other subjects, studies the handling and combustion of
hazardous materials. As such, it appears reasonably within her capabilities to identify the
properties of hazardous materials and their chemical constituents and assess where they fall in a
regulatory scheme used to classify hazardous chemicals. The fact that she does not regularly do
so or has, in this instance, potentially done so for the first time does not negate her demonstrated
competence with the materials at issue.
The Sixth Circuit has long held that the fact that a “proffered expert may be unfamiliar
with pertinent statutory definitions or standards is not grounds for disqualification. Such lack of
familiarity affects the witness’[s] credibility, not his qualifications to testify.”
Combustion Engineering, Inc., 742 F.2d 916 (6th Cir. 1984); see also, Barreto, 268 F.3d 319 (6th
Cir. 2001) (unfamiliarity with some aspects of banking relationships merely affects weight and
credibility, not admissibility); Surles ex rel. Johnson, 474 F.3d 288 (6th Cir. 2007) (expert with
experience in the threat management unit of the Los Angeles Police Department was qualified to
testify despite lacking specific experience in commercial bus line threat assessment). The proper
remedy for any perceived deficiencies in Dr. Buc’s testimony is “[v]igorous cross-examination,
presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof.” Daubert, 509
U.S. at 596. Defendants’ Motions to Exclude the testimony of Dr. Buc are DENIED.
RICHARD J. POWALS
Richard J. Powals is an engineer who has more than forty-five years of experience
preparing hazardous waste profiles, including developing forms for General Motors. He has
conducted commercial hazardous waste management broker activities for more than two hundred
waste brokers in the United States and Canada. Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Powals’ report is flawed
because he ignores the actions of Defendants ATI Precision Finishing, L.L.C. and ATI Wah
Chang, did not assess the role of Defendant Veolia ES Technical Solutions as a conduit of
information, and does not base his opinion on the “reasonable man standard.”
Mr. Powals’ brief opinion consists of a straightforward statement of what he, based on his
experience, considers to be the exclusive “standard of care” duties of a waste broker, his forceful
disagreement with Dr. Buc’s evaluation of Veolia ES Technical Solutions role, and his assessment
of the cause of the December 2011 explosion. Mr. Powals does not identify any specific source
of the stated duties apart from his personal experience. Defendants cite First Tennessee Bank Nat.
Assn. v. Barreto, in support of their contention that Mr. Powals’ experience is a sufficient basis for
his opinion. Barreto, 268 F.3d 319. In Barreto the Sixth Circuit concluded that the Daubert
standards were unhelpful in assessing expertise derived solely from practical experience and that
such expertise may be admissible where it is reliable and relevant. Id. at 335. Plaintiff identifies
no meaningful defect in Mr. Powals’ extensive experience, which includes many years of waste
broker operations throughout the United States and Canada. However, Plaintiff emphasizes that
its claims arise from a basic theory of negligence in the context of Defendant Veolia ES Technical
Solutions actual role as an information conduit, not from any standard of care unique to waste
The regulatory framework and industry practices involved in the activities of waste brokers
are specialized knowledge and Mr. Powals appears qualified to explain many aspects of that
knowledge. While Mr. Powals has succinctly described what appears to be the industry standard
responsibilities of a waste broker, those basic duties may vary by contract or conduct. For these
reasons, the Court concludes Mr. Powals will be permitted to testify as to the standard practices
and responsibilities of waste brokers within the hazardous waste industry. However, his testimony
will be limited to characterizing industry standards and customs. Any instruction as to a duty of
care in the context of negligence will be made by the Court.
With regard to causation and the role of Heritage-WTI, Inc., Mr. Powals’ report evidences
the same defects the Court identified in Mr. Doucet’s report. Accordingly, Mr. Powals, who offers
no analysis or explanation, did not handle the material, is not a materials engineer or a fire expert,
and does not appear objectively qualified to evaluate the cause of the explosion, will not be
permitted to testify as to the cause of the December 2011 explosion. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s
motion to exclude the report and testimony of Mr. Powals is GRANTED as to the report, and
GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART as to the testimony.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s motions to exclude the reports and testimony of
Richard J. Powals (Doc. #87) and Lawrence G. Doucet (Doc. # 88) are GRANTED IN PART
AND DENIED IN PART. Defendants Veolia ES Technical Solutions, ATI Wah Chang, and ATI
Precision Finishing, LLC motions to exclude testimony of Plaintiff’s expert Elizabeth C. Buc
(Docs. #106 and 109) are DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/ John R. Adams
U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
Date: October 11, 2017
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