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Brown v. Primerica Life Insurance Co.

April 29, 2006

CAROLYN H. BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PRIMERICA LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, D/B/A PRIMERICA, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, Chief District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter comes before the court on the motion of Defendant Primerica Life Insurance Company ("Primerica") to strike the supplemental affidavit and to exclude any testimony of putative handwriting expert Curtis Baggett. For the reasons set forth herein, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Carolyn Brown ("Carolyn") is the widow of Terrance Brown ("Terrance"), son of Alberta Brown ("Alberta"). Before Carolyn and Terrance were married, Terrance purchased a life insurance policy from Primerica. Initially, Alberta was the named beneficiary of the policy. In 2000, after the couple married, Terrance substituted Carolyn as the beneficiary. Approximately two years later, Terrance and Carolyn separated, and Terrance moved into his mother's home.

On August 23, 2002, a man identifying himself as Terrance Brown entered a Primerica office in Chicago. He informed the agent, Francis Giroux, that he wished to change the beneficiary of his life insurance policy from Carolyn back to Alberta. He also stated that he wanted to make his premium payment. Giroux elicited the necessary biographical information to complete the form, which was then signed. He did not request that the man produce any form of identification. A premium payment was also made via Western Union money order.

About two weeks later, Terrance drowned off the coast of Massachusetts. According to the terms of the policy, a change of beneficiary is effective on the date that Primerica receives written notice from the insured that the change is desired. Based on the form Giroux submitted as well as an informal internal investigation, Primerica determined that a change of beneficiary had been effected on August 23 and that Alberta was the beneficiary of the policy at the time of Terrance's death. Accordingly, the proceeds of the policy were paid to Alberta.

Carolyn disputes the validity of the August 23 change of beneficiary. She contends that the man at Giroux's office was not Terrance and thus that the form he executed has no legal effect on the terms of the policy. According to Carolyn, the operative document is the 2000 change of beneficiary, which names her, not Alberta, as the designated recipient of the policy proceeds. After various unfruitful conversations with Primerica in which she advanced the theory that the August 23 form was a forgery, Carolyn filed the instant suit, alleging that Primerica breached its contractual obligations under the policy by paying to Alberta rather than her.

Discovery was initially set to close on July 11, 2003. It was extended three times, to September 15, then November 17, and finally to December 1. On December 8, 2003, Primerica moved for summary judgment, and Carolyn followed suit at the end of the following February. In support of her motion, Carolyn supplied a four-paragraph affidavit from Baggett wherein he conclusorily opined that the August 23 signature was in fact a forgery. Primerica moved to strike the affidavit on the grounds that it was insufficient to satisfy Fed. R. Evid. 702. In conjunction with the reply for her motion for summary judgment, Carolyn filed a "supplemental" affidavit from Baggett, which set forth the same opinion embodied in the prior affidavit and provided some indication of the methods Baggett used to come to his conclusions. We ordered that Carolyn produce Baggett for a voir dire hearing to allow us to determine if Baggett was qualified to provide expert testimony. The hearing was postponed a number of times and as yet has not taken place.

Primerica filed the instant motion attacking the admissibility of Baggett's second affidavit for two reasons.*fn1 First, it argues that the opinion was not submitted in a timely fashion, making its exclusion mandatory under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(1). Second, it continues to press arguments with respect to the sufficiency of Baggett's qualifications and his proffered opinion.

LEGAL STANDARDS

Rule 26(a)(2)(B) provides that expert witnesses must prepare and sign a written report containing a complete statement of all opinions to be expressed. The statement must provide the basis and reasons for the opinions, the data the expert considered in reaching the opinion, the witness's qualifications, and other specified information. Rule 26(e)(1) provides that if any correction or addition is necessary to provide complete disclosure of an expert opinion, that process must take place before the time for disclosure has expired under Rule 26(a)(3). The sanction for failure to abide by these rules can be substantial; Rule 37(c)(1) states that "[a] party that without substantial justification fails to disclose information required by Rule 26(a) or 26(e)(1) . . . is not, unless such failure is harmless, permitted to use as evidence at trial, at a hearing, or on a motion any witness or information not so disclosed."

Admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Fed. R. Evid. 702. The rule provides that if "(1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case," the expert will be allowed to offer testimony regarding his or her opinion. When expert scientific testimony is proffered, the court must serve as a gatekeeper and exclude the testimony unless the expert's testimony is based on scientific knowledge rather than speculation, and the testimony will assist the trier of fact in determining a factual issue in the case. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 591 (1993); Chapman v. Maytag Corp., 297 F.3d 682, 686 (7th Cir. 2002). Professed scientific knowledge will not be acceptable unless the expert employs the scientific method and supports the outcome with appropriate validation. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590. The term "scientific" indicates "a grounding in the methods and procedures of science" and the term "knowledge" indicates "more than subjective belief or unsupported speculation." Porter v. Whitehall Laboratories, Inc., 9 F.3d 607, 613 (7th Cir. 1993). In determining whether testimony is based upon scientific knowledge and thus is reliable, the court should consider whether the hypothesis can and has been tested, whether the hypothesis has been the subject of peer review and publication, the "known or potential rate of error" for the method or theory, and whether the scientific community generally accepts the hypothesis as true. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 594.

With these principles in mind, we turn to the ...


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