Daubert v. Merrell Dow

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No. 92-102


509 U.S. 579; 113 S. Ct. 2786; 125 L. Ed. 2d 469; 1993 U.S. LEXIS 4408; 61 U.S.L.W. 4805; 27 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1200; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P13,494; 93 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4825; 93 Daily Journal DAR 8148; 23 ELR 20979; 7 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 632

March 30, 1993, Argued
June 28, 1993, Decided


DISPOSITION: 951 F.2d 1128, vacated and remanded.

DECISION: “General acceptance” of principle underlying scientific evidence held not to be necessary precondition to admissibility of such evidence under Federal Rules of Evidence.

SUMMARY: A minor child and his parents, together with another minor child and his mother, brought suit in a California state court against a drug company which had marketed the prescription drug Bendectin. The plaintiffs alleged that the children’s birth defects had been caused by the mothers’ ingestion of Bendectin during pregnancy. The suit was removed, on diversity grounds, to the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. The company moved for summary judgment and submitted, in support of the motion, the affidavit of an epidemiologist to the effect that no published epidemiological (human statistical) study had demonstrated a statistically significant association between Bendectin and birth defects. In response, the plaintiffs offered expert opinion testimony based on (1) test-tube and live-animal studies that had allegedly found a link between Bendectin and birth defects; (2) pharmacological studies that allegedly showed similarities between the chemical structure of Bendectin and that of substances known to cause birth defects; and (3) the reanalysis, or recalculation, of previously published epidemiological studies. The District Court, granting summary judgment in favor of the company, expressed the view that (1) scientific evidence is admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence only if the principle on which such evidence is based is sufficiently established to have general acceptance in the field to which it belongs; (2) epidemiological studies were the most reliable evidence of causation of birth defects; (3) the testimony based on test-tube, live-animal, and pharmacological studies was inadmissible because such testimony was not based on epidemiological evidence; and (4) the testimony based on reanalyses was inadmissible because the reanalyses (a) apparently had never been published or subjected to peer review, and (b) failed to show a statistically significant association between Bendectin and birth defects (727 F Supp 570). The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, affirming on appeal, expressed the view that (1) expert opinion based on a scientific technique is inadmissible if the technique is not generally accepted as reliable in the relevant scientific community; and (2) under the general acceptance standard, the plaintiffs’ evidence provided an insufficient foundation to allow admission of expert testimony that Bendectin caused birth defects (951 F2d 1128).

On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. In an opinion by Blackmun, J., expressing the unanimous view of the court as to holding 1 below, and joined by White, O’Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Thomas, JJ., as to holdings 2 and 3 below, it was held that (1) the “general acceptance” test of Frye v United States (1923) 54 App DC 46, 293 F 1013, 34 ALR 145, was superseded by the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE), and thus general acceptance is not a necessary precondition to the admissibility of scientific evidence under the FRE, given that (a) nothing in the text of Rule 702 of the FRE, governing expert testimony, establishes general acceptance as an absolute prerequisite to admissibility, and (b) there is no indication that Rule 702 or the FRE as a whole were intended to incorporate a general acceptance standard; (2) under the FRE, a federal trial judge must insure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence is not only relevant but reliable; and (3) in a federal case involving scientific evidence, evidentiary reliability is based on scientific validity.

Rehnquist, Ch. J., joined by Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part, (1) agreed that (a) the Frye “general acceptance” rule did not survive the enactment of the FRE, and (b) Rule 702 of the FRE confides to the trial judge some gatekeeping responsibility in deciding questions of the admissibility of proffered expert testimony; but (2) expressed the view that the Supreme Court should have left the further development of the area of the law in question to future cases.

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