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Saunders v. Clinic

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

February 24, 2015

Priscilla Saunders and Jason Branden, Plaintiffs,
Mayo Clinic, Defendant.

Heather M. Gilbert, Gilbert Law PLLC, and Robert W. Roe, Rob Roe Law, LLC, appeared for Priscilla Saunders and Jason Branden.

Penelope J. Phillips and Randi J. Winter, Felhaber Larson, and Joanne L. Martin, Mayo Clinic, appeared for Mayo Clinic.


JOAN N. ERICKSEN, District Judge.

Priscilla Saunders sought care at Mayo Clinic in 2010 and 2011. She and her partner, Jason Branden, are deaf. Saunders and Branden brought this action against Mayo Clinic, claiming that Mayo Clinic had failed to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The case is before the Court on Mayo Clinic's Motion for Summary Judgment, as well as the parties' motions to exclude certain evidence. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Mayo Clinic's Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court excludes certain evidence.

Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike Defendant's Expert Witness, Bruce L. Adelson, Esq.

Plaintiffs moved to exclude the report and testimony of Bruce Adelson, who described himself as the CEO of a law and consulting firm that has expertise regarding compliance with various federal laws. According to Adelson, he was retained by Mayo Clinic's attorneys "to render an opinion about the case at bar, the effectiveness of communications standards under ADA Title III, Mayo Clinic's and other health care providers' language services practices during the time period at issue, 2010 through the filing of [P]laintiffs' complaint in July 2013, and Mayo Clinic's efforts to accommodate Priscilla Saunders."

Plaintiffs argued that Adelson's report and testimony should be excluded because his "report contains legal opinions and opinions based on non-scientific, unreliable methods" and "his testimony would be unfairly prejudicial to Plaintiffs." Mayo Clinic responded that Plaintiffs had misrepresented the substance of Adelson's testimony, that their "attempt to exclude alleged legal opinions is premature, " that their claim that Adelson's testimony is irrelevant and unreliable "is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the law regarding expert witness testimony, " and that their assertion that Adelson's testimony is unfairly prejudicial is "nonsensical."

Although Mayo Clinic disclaimed any intention of asking Adelson, if called to testify at trial, "to quote from federal regulations, legal treatises, or case law during a direct examination, " Mayo Clinic derided Plaintiffs' challenge to Adelson's testimony regarding the state of the law:

In this case, Mr. Adelson proffers two forms of legal testimony: (1) testimony regarding the "state of law" in areas relating to the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act and (2) testimony regarding his application of that legal understanding to facts from the case. As to the first area, while Plaintiffs quibble with Mr. Adelson's use of phrases such as "well-recognized" or "well-settled, " Plaintiffs do not appear to challenge Mr. Adelson's characterization of the state of the law in these areas. Apparently, Plaintiffs would prefer that these undisputed statements of law come from the Court as opposed to Mr. Adelson.

A footnote that follows the quoted text serves only to confirm the impropriety of at least some of Adelson's anticipated testimony: "Indeed, to the extent Mr. Adelson's testimony as to these settled areas of law is excluded, Mayo intends to request a similar instruction of law from the Court."

"[E]xpert testimony on legal matters is not admissible. Matters of law are for the trial judge, and it is the judge's job to instruct the jury on them." S. Pine Helicopters, Inc. v. Phoenix Aviation Managers, Inc., 320 F.3d 838, 841 (8th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). To the extent Adelson opined on the state of law, his opinions are plainly inadmissible. The Court will consider whether Adelson's opinions should otherwise be excluded in connection with any motions in limine filed before trial. Plaintiffs' motion to strike Adelson is granted in part and denied in part.

Mayo Clinic's Motion to Exclude Portions of Expert Testimony

Mayo Clinic moved to exclude portions of the anticipated testimony of Judy A. Shepard-Kegl, Ph.D. Mayo Clinic did not object to her explanation of the various classifications and qualification standards of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, the explanation of her methodology for assessing the linguistic skills of individuals with hearing impairments, or her individual assessments of Saunders's and Branden's proficiency in ASL, English, and lip reading. Mayo Clinic did object to the factual recitation that appears in the background portion of Dr. Shepard-Kegl's report, as well as the portion of her report that recites her opinions on the questions posed to her. Mayo Clinic maintained that the anticipated testimony should be excluded because Dr. Shepard-Kegl based her opinions on a version of facts that assumes Plaintiffs' prediscovery allegations are true, she opined on the availability of interpreters and the standard practice in Minnesota regarding interpreters hired to work in hospital settings without sufficient foundation or knowledge, she opined on the "ideal" or "best" mode of communication instead of whether the communications at issue were effective, and she opined on what Mayo Clinic could and should have done to accommodate Plaintiffs.

Mayo Clinic asserted that it was not attacking the weight to be afforded Dr. Shepard-Kegl's opinion but rather the admissibility of the challenged testimony. Nevertheless, Mayo Clinic's arguments are directed more to weight than admissibility. None persuade the Court that the wholesale exclusion of the challenged portions is appropriate. Mayo Clinic's motion to exclude portions of Dr. Shepard-Kegl's testimony is denied without ...

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