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GE v. Joiner

Supreme Court of the United States

October 14, 1997, Argued ; December 15, 1997, Decided

No. 96-188

Opinion

 [**515]  [***514]  [*138]    CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

 We granted certiorari in this case to determine ] what standard an appellate court should apply in reviewing [****6]  a trial  [*139]  court's decision to admit or exclude expert testimony under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469, 113 S. Ct. 2786 (1993). We hold that abuse of discretion is the appropriate standard. We apply this standard and conclude that the District Court in this case did not abuse its discretion when it excluded certain proffered expert testimony.

Respondent Robert Joiner began work as an electrician in the Water & Light Department of Thomasville, Georgia (City) in 1973. This job required him to work with and around the City's electrical transformers, which used a mineral-based dielectric fluid  [**516]  as a coolant. Joiner often had to stick his hands and arms into the fluid to make repairs. The fluid would sometimes splash onto him, occasionally getting into his eyes and mouth. In 1983 the City discovered that the fluid in some of the transformers was contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are widely considered to be hazardous to human health. Congress, with limited exceptions, banned the production and sale of PCBs in 1978. See 90 Stat. 2020, 15 U.S.C. § 2605(e)(2)(A).

Joiner was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer in 1991. He 1 sued petitioners in Georgia [****7]  state court the following year. Petitioner Monsanto manufactured PCBs from 1935 to 1977; petitioners General Electric and Westinghouse Electric manufactured transformers and dielectric fluid. In his complaint Joiner linked his development of cancer to his exposure to PCBs and their derivatives, polychlorinated dibenzofurans (furans) and polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (dioxins). Joiner had been a smoker for approximately eight years, his parents had both been smokers, and there was a history of lung cancer in his family. He was thus perhaps already at a heightened risk of developing lung cancer eventually. The suit alleged that his exposure to PCBs "promoted"  [*140]  his cancer;  [***515]  had it not been for his exposure to these substances, his cancer would not have developed for many years, if at all.

Petitioners removed the case to federal court. Once there, they moved for summary judgment. They [****8]  contended that (1) there was no evidence that Joiner suffered significant exposure to PCBs, furans, or dioxins, and (2) there was no admissible scientific evidence that PCBs promoted Joiner's cancer. Joiner responded that there were numerous disputed factual issues that required resolution by a jury. He relied largely on the testimony of expert witnesses. In depositions, his experts had testified that PCBs alone can promote cancer and that furans and dioxins can also promote cancer. They opined that since Joiner had been exposed to PCBs, furans, and dioxins, such exposure was likely responsible for Joiner's cancer.

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522 U.S. 136 *; 118 S. Ct. 512 **; 139 L. Ed. 2d 508 ***; 1997 U.S. LEXIS 7503 ****; 66 U.S.L.W. 4036; 97 Cal. Daily Op. Service 9355; 18 OSHC (BNA) 1097; 97 Daily Journal DAR 15051; 48 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 1; 28 ELR 20227; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P15,120; 1997 Colo. J. C.A.R. 3361; 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 284

GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. ROBERT K. JOINER ET UX.

Prior History:  [****1]  ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT.

Disposition: 78 F.3d 524, reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

exposure, studies, cancer, district court, lung cancer, court of appeals, methodology, dioxins, furans, exposed, expert testimony, scientific, abuse of discretion, reliable, animal, promoted, fluid, plant, scientific evidence, court's decision, manufactured, gatekeeper, proffered, genuine, admit, statistically significant, scientific testimony, summary judgment, expert witness, trial judge

Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, Abuse of Discretion, Evidence, Admissibility, Expert Witnesses, Daubert Standard, Scientific Evidence, Standards for Admissibility, Testimony, General Overview, Expert Witnesses, Criminal Law & Procedure, Abuse of Discretion, Evidence, Procedural Matters, Rulings on Evidence, Summary Judgment, Motions for Summary Judgment, Summary Judgment Review, Standards of Review, Entitlement as Matter of Law