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LAPPE v. AMERICAN HONDA MOTOR CO.

July 14, 1994

STEVEN LAPPE, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN HONDA MOTOR CO., INC., HONDA RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT LTD. OF JAPAN, HONDA MOTOR CORPORATION LTD., "JOHN DOE", (names of fictitious manufacturers designers and/or distributors), "ABC CO." Defendants.


Hurd


The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID N. HURD

United States Magistrate Judge

 MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

 Pending before this court is defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; and plaintiff's motion for a transfer of venue pursuant to 28 U.S.C ยง 1404(a). Oral argument was heard on June 9, 1994, and the court reserved decision at that time. The following constitutes the court's decision on both motions.

 In the first motion, Honda Motor Co., et. al., ("defendants") request that the reports and testimony of plaintiff's expert be excluded from the trial on the grounds that: (1) he lacks the expertise required in this litigation under Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence; (2) the expert's theories are unsupported under Fed. R. Evid. 703; and (3) plaintiff allegedly failed to produce materials in a timely manner in compliance with a court scheduling order. *fn1" Defendants claim that plaintiff cannot go forward in this litigation without expert testimony, and therefore, move for summary judgement.

 In the second motion, Steven Lappe ("plaintiff") moves for a change of venue to accommodate his medical and financial limitations. For the following reasons, both motions are denied.

 FACTS

 This case is a product liability and negligence action arising out of a single vehicle automobile accident which occurred in Wilton, New York, in the early morning hours of April 9, 1989. Plaintiff was not wearing his seatbelt at the time, and was ejected from his 1984 Honda Civic when he either fell asleep, became unconscious, or lost control of the vehicle. Plaintiff was taken to Saratoga Hospital in Saratoga, New York, where he was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury that has left him permanently quadriplegic. Plaintiff claims that his neck was broken when the roof of his car collapsed, and that the injury occurred before he was thrown from the vehicle.

 Plaintiff's statement of claims alleges that the defendants were responsible for designing, manufacturing and distributing a defective automobile which caused plaintiff serious injury. Plaintiff's claims are based on the reports and testimony of his liability expert who argues that Honda's vehicle was defective with respect to the arrangement, size, and positioning of its foot pedals, and its susceptibility to excessive roof crush. The design and placement of the pedals allegedly caused plaintiff to confuse the brake and accelerator pedals as he attempted to regain control of his vehicle.

 Counsel for plaintiff originally filed a complaint against the defendants in New Jersey state court on January 3, 1991. Defendants removed the matter to the U.S.D.C. for the District of New Jersey and later moved to change venue to the Northern District of New York. Over plaintiff's objections, Magistrate Judge Joel A. Pisano recommended a change of venue on July 2, 1993, which was adopted by District Judge H. Lee Sarokin.

 Defendants previously sought to ban plaintiff's expert from the trial as a sanction for plaintiff's alleged failure to comply with a court order for production of documents. *fn2" Their motion was denied by Magistrate Judge Pisano. In addition to renewing their argument for a court sanction which would bar the expert, defendants now move to block his participation at trial on the grounds that he lacks expertise under Fed. R. Evid. 702 and fails to properly support his theories under Fed. R. Evid. 703.

 SUMMARY JUDGMENT

 A. The Summary Judgment Standard.

 A motion for summary judgment may be granted only when the moving party carries its burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56; Goldman, Antonetti, Ferraiuoli, Axtmayer & Hertell, Partnership v. Medfit Int'l Inc., 982 F.2d 686, 689 (1st Cir. 1993); Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir. 1990) (citations omitted). "Ambiguities or inferences to be drawn from the facts must be viewed in a light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion." Project Release v. Prevost, 722 F.2d 960, 968 (2d Cir. 1983). In other words, a motion for summary judgment shall be granted only "when the pleadings, evidence obtained through discovery, and affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact," Lang v. Retirement Living Pub. Co., 949 F.2d 576, 580 (2d Cir. 1991), and the evidence is such that a "reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).

 "In determining how a reasonable jury would decide, the Court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences against the moving party." Lang, 949 F.2d at 580. However, when the moving party has met the burden, the nonmoving party must do more than "simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986); see also Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 247-48. At that point, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. The court's function "is not . . . to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter," Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249, but "to determine whether there does indeed exist a genuine issue for trial." Id.

 B. Fed. R. Evid. 702.

 Defendants argue that the development of feasible alternative automotive designs (allegedly required for this litigation) is a task reserved for a true automotive design engineer. Since plaintiff's expert is not an automotive engineer by trade, defendants argue that he lacks expertise in automobile design, and is therefore unqualified to testify in this litigation under Fed. R. Evid. 702.

 District courts are accorded broad discretion in determining the competency of expert witnesses. United States v. DiDomenico, 985 F.2d 1159, 1163 (2d Cir. 1993). The principle guiding that discretion is Fed. R. Evid. 702, which provides:

 
If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.

 Fed. R. Evid. 702. The Notes of the Advisory Committee on Fed. R. Evid. 702 explain that "whether the situation is a proper one for the use of expert testimony is to be determined on the basis of assistance [to] the trier of fact." Fed. R. Evid. 702 advisory committee note; see also, United States v. Locascio, 6 F.3d 924, 936 (2d Cir. 1993). The Advisory Committee notes also indicate that the "expert is viewed, not in a narrow sense, but as a person qualified by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education." Id. Thus, Fed. R. Evid. 702 requires two determinations on the part of the court. First, the court must decide whether expert testimony could assist the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or determining a fact. MICHAEL H. ...


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