Thus, while the Federal Rules of Evidence allow district courts to admit a somewhat broader range of scientific testimony than would have been admissible under Frye, they leave in place the “gatekeeper” role of the trial judge in screening such evidence. A court of appeals applying “abuse of discretion” review to such rulings may not categorically distinguish between rulings allowing expert testimony and rulings which disallow it. Compare Beech Aircraft Corp v. Rainey, 488 U.S. 153, 172 (1988) (applying abuse of discretion review to a lower court’s decision to exclude evidence) with United States v. Abel, supra at 54 (applying abuse of discretion review to a lower court’s decision to admit evidence). We likewise reject respondent’s argument that because the granting of summary judgment in this case was “outcome determinative,” it should have been subjected to a more searching standard of review. On a motion for summary judgment, disputed issues of fact are resolved against the moving party–here, petitioners. But the question of admissibility of expert testimony is not such an issue of fact, and is reviewable under the abuse of discretion standard. 

We hold that the Court of Appeals erred in its review of the exclusion of Joiner’s experts’ testimony. In applying an overly “stringent” review to that ruling, it failed to give the trial court the deference that is the hallmark of abuse of discretion review. See, e.g., Koon v. United States, 518 U.S. ____, ____ (1996)(slip op., at 14—15).


We believe that a proper application of the correct standard of review here indicates that the District Court did not abuse its discretion. Joiner’s theory of liability was that his exposure to PCBs and their derivatives “promoted” his development of small cell lung cancer. In support of that theory he proffered the deposition testimony of expert witnesses. Dr. Arnold Schecter testified that he believed it “more likely than not that Mr. Joiner’s lung cancer was causally linked to cigarette smoking and PCB exposure.” App. at 107. Dr. Daniel Teitelbaum testified that Joiner’s “lung cancer was caused by or contributed to in a significant degree by the materials with which he worked.” Id. at 140.

Petitioners contended that the statements of Joiner’s experts regarding causation were nothing more than speculation. Petitioners criticized the testimony of the experts in that it was “not supported by epidemiological studies . . . [and was] based exclusively on isolated studies of laboratory animals.” Joiner responded by claiming that his experts had identified “relevant animal studies which support their opinions.” He also directed the court’s attention to four epidemiological studies2 on which his experts had relied.

The District Court agreed with petitioners that the animal studies on which respondent’s experts relied did not support his contention that exposure to PCBs had contributed to his cancer. The studies involved infant mice that had developed cancer after being exposed to PCBs. The infant mice in the studies had had massive doses of PCBs injected directly into their peritoneums3 or stomachs. Joiner was an adult human being whose alleged exposure to PCBs was far less than the exposure in the animal studies. The PCBs were injected into the mice in a highly concentrated form. The fluid with which Joiner had come into contact generally had a much smaller PCB concentration of between 0—500 parts per million. The cancer that these mice developed was alveologenic adenomas; Joiner had developed small-cell carcinomas. No study demonstrated that adult mice developed cancer after being exposed to PCBs. One of the experts admitted that no study had demonstrated that PCBs lead to cancer in any other species.

Respondent failed to reply to this criticism. Rather than explaining how and why the experts could have extrapolated their opinions from these seemingly far-removed animal studies, respondent chose “to proceed as if the only issue [was] whether animal studies can ever be a proper foundation for an expert’s opinion.” Joiner, 864 F. Supp. at 1324. Of course, whether animal studies can ever be a proper foundation for an expert’s opinion was not the issue. The issue was whether these experts’ opinions were sufficiently supported by the animal studies on which they purported to rely. The studies were so dissimilar to the facts presented in this litigation that it was not an abuse of discretion for the District Court to have rejected the experts’ reliance on them.  Next Page ->


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