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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. Michael Baden [Dkt. 277]. 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).


         Plaintiff retained forensic pathologist Michael Baden, M.D., to “assist the jury in understanding the critical cause of death issue.” (Dkt. 338 at 2). Dr. Baden is the former Chief Medical Examiner of New York City and the former Chief Forensic Pathologist of the New York State Police. He has performed over 20, 000 autopsies in his forty-five years as a medical examiner and has authored or co-authored more than 80 professional articles and books on forensic medicine. He has served as President of the Society of Medical Jurisprudence and Vice President of the American Academy of Forensic Science and has been a consultant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Veteran's Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Drug Enforcement Agency and the United States' Department of Justice. He also has testified at over 60 trials and depositions. (See Dkt. 338-1 at 1-32).

         After reviewing the Medical Examiner's file, including an autopsy report, toxicology and neuropathology reports, autopsy x-rays, microscopic slides, scene and autopsy photographs, scene videos, microscopic slides as well as expert reports, depositions, and police and witness statements, Dr. Baden offered the following opinions:

Opinion 1: Mr. Godinez did not die from cocaine and alcohol toxicity.
Opinion 2: Mr. Godinez' autopsy revealed evidence of asphyxia.
Opinion 3: Mr. Godinez died as a result of the restraint techniques used on him by police. (Dkt. 338-4 at 1-8)

         Defendants do not challenge Dr. Baden's overall qualifications but focus their arguments on the reliability of his opinions in his report and testimony. Defendants take issue with Dr. Baden's “ultimate” cause of death opinion that “Mr. Godinez's death was due to asphyxia-an inability to breathe-caused by the way in which he was restrained by police before and when he was placed in the van.” (Dkt. 277, citing Dkt. 277-1 at 8). Defendants argue that Dr. Baden's cause of death opinion and testimony should be barred because it: 1) ...

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