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Karnofsky v. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

February 25, 2016

Roberta Karnofsky, Plaintiff,
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Defendant.



This matter is before the Court on Defendant’s Motions in Limine to Exclude Testimony of Mary Fuller and Oliver Wood (ECF Nos. 46 & 47). For the reasons set forth herein, both motions are granted in part and denied in part.


Defendant filed its motions in limine on August 28, 2015. Plaintiff filed a response to both motions on September 29, to which Defendant replied on October 9. This matter is now ripe for consideration.


The introduction and admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which provides as follows:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:
(a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Fed. R. Evid. 702. The party offering the expert witness testimony bears the burden of demonstrating “its admissibility by a preponderance of proof.” Cooper v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 259 F.3d 194, 199 (4th Cir. 2001).

The Supreme Court has recognized that, under Rule 702, trial judges serve as gatekeepers to “ensure that any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable.” Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993). This “basic gatekeeping obligation” identified in Daubert, and now embraced by Rule 702, applies to all expert testimony. Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147 (1999). The gatekeeping obligation, like other determinations of the admissibility of evidence, requires the trial judge to exercise an informed and broad discretion, “guided by the overarching criteria of relevance and reliability.” Oglesby v. Gen. Motors Corp., 190 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1999). Although the trial court is granted broad discretion, see Cooper, 259 F.3d at 199, the rejection of proposed expert witness testimony is the exception rather than the rule, see SMD Software, Inc. v. EMove, Inc., 945 F.Supp.2d 628, 634-35 (E.D. N.C. 2013) (citing Fed.R.Evid. 702 advisory committee’s note (2000)); see also United States v. Crisp, 324 F.3d 261, 269-70 (4th Cir. 2003) (“The Supreme Court emphasized in Daubert that ‘vigorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible evidence.’” (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596)).


I. Mary Fuller

Plaintiff has proffered Mary Fuller as an expert witness on insurance industry standards and what constitutes bad faith. Defendant objects to Ms. Fuller’s testimony on the grounds that it (1) is based on an incorrect understanding of South Carolina’s duty of good faith and fair dealing, (2) relies on irrelevant Market Conduct Examinations (“MCEs”) and Regulatory Settlement Agreements (“RSAs”), (3) contains impermissible legal conclusions, (4) is unnecessary on the subject of bad faith, (5) is not expert testimony, (6) is too vague, and (7) contains medical testimony, which Fuller is unqualified to give. Defendant does not challenge Ms. Fuller’s qualifications or reliability. The Court will address each ground seriatim.

A. Incorrect Understanding of South Carolina’s Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing[2]

First, the Court is not inclined to exclude Fuller’s opinions on the basis that she was unaware of the precise interpretation South Carolina courts have applied to the duty of good faith and fair dealing. Although she periodically refers to industry standards and how they relate to good or bad faith, the Court will not permit her to testify as to legal conclusions. Here, Ms. Fuller is using her knowledge and expertise to opine on Defendant’s handling of Plaintiff’s claim, and the Court will not wholly exclude her testimony because she is unaware of the intricacies of South Carolina bad-faith ...

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