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Godinez v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 18, 2019

JANET GODINEZ, on behalf of herself and as administrator of the estate of her brother, HERIBERTO GODINEZ, Deceased, Plaintiff,


          MARY M. ROWLAND United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Janet Godinez brings this excessive force and wrongful death action on behalf of her brother, Heriberto Godinez, against Defendant the City of Chicago ("the City") and Defendant Officers. Before the Court is the City's motion to bar the testimony of Plaintiff's retained expert, Dr. Jan Leestma [Dkt. 275]. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is DENIED.


         Under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), the requirements of Federal Rule of Evidence 702 must be met before an expert can testify. “In performing its gatekeeper role under Rule 702 and Daubert, the district court must engage in a three-step analysis before admitting expert testimony. It must determine whether the witness is qualified; whether the expert's methodology is scientifically reliable; and whether the testimony will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” Gopalratnam v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 877 F.3d 771, 779 (7th Cir. 2017) (internal citations and quotations omitted). District courts have “significant discretion under the flexible Daubert inquiry.” Lapsley v. Xtek, Inc., 689 F.3d 802, 818 (7th Cir. 2012). The burden is on the party seeking to admit the expert to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the expert meets the requirements of Rule 702 and Daubert. Gopalratnam, 877 F.3d at 782.[1]

         As the Seventh Circuit has explained:

(t)he purpose of the Daubert inquiry is to scrutinize proposed expert witness testimony to determine if it has ‘the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field' so as to be deemed reliable enough to present to a jury. Kumho Tire Co. v. Car-michael, 526 U.S. 137, 152, 119 S.Ct. 1167, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999). A Daubert inquiry is not designed to have the district judge take the place of the jury to decide ultimate issues of credibility and accuracy. If the proposed expert testimony meets the Daubert threshold of relevance and reliability, the accuracy of the actual evidence is to be tested before the jury. Lapsley, 689 F.3d at 805.

         Because “there are many different kinds of experts, and many different kinds of expertise, . . . the gatekeeping inquiry must be ‘tied to the facts' of a particular case.” Kumho Tire Co., 526 U.S. at 150 (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 591). Courts therefore review each conclusion of the expert in relation to the expert's education, skill, and training, and ask “not whether an expert witness is qualified in general, but whether his qualifications provide a foundation for [him or her] to answer a specific question.” Gayton v. McCoy, 593 F.3d 610, 617 (7th Cir. 2010) (internal citations and quotations omitted). With regard to reliability, “the key to the gate is not the ultimate correctness of the expert's conclusions. Instead, it is the soundness and care with which the expert arrived at her opinion.” C.W. v. Textron, Inc., 807 F.3d 827, 834 (7th Cir. 2015) (internal citations and quotations omitted).


         A. Background

         Plaintiff retained forensic neuropathologist Jan Leestma, M.D., to offer a cause of death opinion. (Dkt. 339 at 2). Dr. Leestma has practiced forensic neuropathology and medicine for over 40 years. He has served as the Assistant Medical Examiner in neu-ropathology at the Office of the Cook County Medical Examiner, the Director of Neu-ropathology at Northwestern University Medical Center, Chief of Neuropathology at Children's Memorial Hospital, Executive Director of Research of the Chicago Institute of Neurosurgery and Neuroresearch. He has performed over 20, 000 brain autopsies and 8, 000 spinal cord dissections, has testified at over 100 trials and depositions, and has authored or co-authored 116 books and articles on forensic medicine and neuropathology. (See Dkt. 339-8 at 1-8; Dkt. 339-8 at 22-26, 190-91).

         After reviewing the medical examiner's file, including radiology, x-rays, and toxicology and neuropathology consults; the investigation file, including police officer and witness statements; brain and spinal cord slides, Drs. Watkins' and Denton's reports; a police dash cam video (“video”), and personally observing the brain and spinal cord cutting and examination, Dr. Leestma offered the following opinions in this matter:

Opinion 1: Before his death, Mr. Godinez's brain was deprived of blood flow and/or oxygen intermittently or all at once causing him to suffer hypoxia-ischemic brain injury.
Opinion 2: Mr. Godinez suffered trauma to the neck that made his neck hypermobile and probably unstable which made him vulnerable to a spinal cord injury during transport.
Opinion 3: Mr. Godinez suffered a spinal cord injury in the region of the C2-C4 vertebrae, which ultimately paralyzed him from the neck down and caused him ...

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