This case involved claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) concerning unpaid minimum wages and overtime compensation. The Plaintiffs were Robert Trevino, Jaime Pena, Israel Eduardo Olivarez, Jose Ramon Cantu, Alexander Cantu, Ivan Chavez, Rolando Trevino, Roberto Salazar, Otoniel Villareal and Yamilex Salazar. The Defendants were TFS Services, LLC and Texas Fabco Solutions, Inc. Plaintiffs contended that they were employees subject to the FLSA, but the Defendants had classified them as independent contractors in order to avoid paying them minimum wages or overtime compensation. In this case, the Defendant moved to exclude the testimony of Plaintiffs’ labor standards expert witness Juan M. Garcia.
While addressing the issue of excluding the testimony of Plaintiffs’ labor standards expert witness Juan M. Garcia, the Court noted that under the Federal Rules of Evidence, expert testimony is controlled by the Rules which extend to all experts, whether scientific or not. When the factual basis, data, principles, methods or application of an expert are sufficiently questioned by the Defendants, as here, the Court must undertake a preliminary assessment of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and can be properly applied to the facts at issue. The trial judge must ensure that any scientific testimony admitted is not only relevant, but reliable.
Experts qualified by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education may present opinion testimony to the jury only if the testimony is based on sufficient facts, is the product of reliable principles and methods, and the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case. The proponent of the expert testimony must prove its reliability by a preponderance of evidence, and cannot rely on generic assurances alone. The existence of sufficient underlying facts is mandatory in all cases.
Labor Standards Expert Witness
Juan Manuel Garcia is a consulting expert with 22 years of experience at the Department of Labor as a Senior Investigator, specializing in Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) cases.
Discussions by the Court
The Defendant, Texas Fabco Solutions, Inc., filed a motion to compel the Plaintiffs to respond to its requests for production, which had gone unanswered. The Court granted this motion, ordering the Plaintiffs to properly respond to the requests no later than August 31, 2023. The Court also ordered Texas Fabco to notify it of the reasonable expenses incurred in making the motion, including attorney’s fees, so that the Court could assess sanctions against the Plaintiffs under Rule 37(b)(2)(C).
The Defendants also filed a motion to exclude the testimony of the Plaintiffs’ labor standards expert witness, Juan M. Garcia. The Court had previously denied the Defendants’ first motion to exclude Garcia’s testimony, instead ordering the Plaintiffs to submit an amended expert report. The Court found that the amended expert report submitted by the Plaintiffs failed to state the basis and reasons for the expert’s opinions, as required. The report merely stated the opinion was formed based on the expert’s understanding of FLSA regulations, but did not elaborate on that understanding or explain how the regulations were applied. The report lacked any application of facts to the methods used, rendering the opinions conclusory and devoid of analytical undertaking.
While the report mentioned facts and data the expert reviewed, the Defendants asserted no discovery had yet been exchanged for the expert to rely upon. Thus, even if the expert had properly applied methods to facts, the opinion would still rely on unavailable facts. Additionally, the report failed to list any exhibits that would summarize or support the opinions. Though the expert claimed to have reviewed certain documents, none were identified as exhibits.
Garcia’s report mentioned that he was a consulting expert with 22 years of experience at the Department of Labor as a Senior Investigator, specializing in Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) cases. The Court noted that Mr. Garcia’s educational background was not included in the report, and there was a failure to provide a list of all publications, if any, authored in the previous 10 years. Finally, it did not list other recent cases involving his expert testimony.
Given these deficiencies, the Court found the amended report did not comply with the requirements of Rule 26(a)(2)(B). As the Plaintiffs had already been given a chance to amend and still failed to cure the issues, the Court held that exclusion of the expert’s testimony in its entirety was the necessary remedy.
The Court has broad discretion in assessing expert testimony. While disputed facts can be relied upon, unsubstantiated assertions cannot. The Court must ensure the opinions comport with professional standards and have a reliable basis in the discipline’s knowledge and experience. However, perfect compliance with standards is not required for admissibility. The emphasis is on the reliability of the methods and analysis used to reach opinions.
Here, the lack of analytical undertaking, use of facts not available through discovery, failure to identify supporting exhibits, and lack of stated qualifications rendered the proposed testimony unreliable under Rule 702 and Daubert. With no insight into the expert’s methodology, data and qualifications, the Court could not assess the validity or rigor of the opinions. This analytical gap warranted exclusion. Given the prior chance to amend, excluding the insufficient testimony was the proper remedy.
Given that the Plaintiffs had already been given an opportunity to amend the report, and the amended report was still insufficient, the Court excluded Garcia’s testimony in its entirety. The Court found this to be the necessary remedy.
The Court granted the Defendants’ motion to compel, ordering the Plaintiffs to respond to the requests for production by August 31, 2023. The Court also ordered Texas Fabco to submit its expenses so sanctions could be imposed on the Plaintiffs. Finally, the Court granted the Defendants’ motion to exclude the testimony of the Plaintiffs’ expert Juan M. Garcia. The case still awaits final resolution since the remaining issues remain unsolved.
This case demonstrates the importance of ensuring expert witness reports fully comply with Rule 26 disclosure requirements. The report must contain a detailed explanation of the expert’s opinions and methodology, as well as the facts, data, exhibits, qualifications, publications, and prior testimony relied upon. Conclusory opinions and unsubstantiated assertions are insufficient under Daubert.
The Court will assess whether the reasoning and methodology are scientifically valid and can be properly applied to the facts at issue. Compliance with professional standards is important but not necessarily required for admissibility. However, some analytical basis must be shown.
Disputed facts can be relied upon, but facts not yet available through discovery cannot serve as the predicate. Failure to identify supporting exhibits or provide qualifications makes it difficult to assess the testimony’s validity.
If the report lacks key elements like methodology and analytical undertaking, exclusion may be warranted, especially if the expert was already given an opportunity to amend. Compliance with disclosure requirements helps avoid exclusion. Thoroughly demonstrating the basis for opinions is key.