The Plaintiffs, Joshua and Leah Debity and their minor son G.D., filed suit against the Defendant, Vintage Village Homeowners Association, alleging unlawful discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.
Plaintiff claimed that the Defendant had denied their request to install a six-foot wooden privacy fence around their property, which they asserted was necessary to accommodate their son G.D.’s special needs related to his disabilities. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Plaintiffs disclosed a list of medical providers who had treated G.D., including physician assistant expert witness Kristin Crabtree Gregory, PA-C, MMS. The Defendant moved to strike Gregory’s report and exclude any opinion testimony from her regarding the necessity of the fence.
Physician Assistant Expert Witness
Kristin Crabtree Gregory is a certified physician assistant (PA) based in Tennessee, with a strong educational background and extensive professional experience in healthcare. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in 2008 from Lee University and her Master of Medical Science in Physician Assistant Studies in 2011 from Lincoln Memorial University.
Discussions by the Court
The Defendant moved to exclude any opinion testimony from Gregory regarding the necessity of a six-foot wooden privacy fence. The Defendant argued that Gregory’s testimony should be excluded for two reasons.
First, the Defendant asserted that Gregory was not qualified to testify as to the types of fencing that could be needed for G.D. In response, the Plaintiffs stated that the purpose of Gregory’s testimony was to assist the Court in understanding G.D.’s medical conditions and need for accommodations, not to offer opinions about events. The Court found that as G.D.’s treating physician assistant since birth, Gregory was qualified to testify about her own diagnosis and treatment of G.D. However, the Court determined she was likely not qualified to offer opinion testimony outside the scope of her treatment. Because Gregory’s report was illegible, the Court could not ascertain whether she was qualified to offer the specific opinions at issue. Therefore, the Court granted the motion to exclude any opinions by Gregory outside the core of her treatment of G.D., but denied the motion to the extent her opinions were limited to such treatment.
Second, the Defendant argued that Gregory’s report lacked any basis or rationale to support her opinions about the proper fencing for G.D., and her opinions were based on speculation and subjective belief. In assessing reliability for a treating physician like Gregory, the Court looked to her personal knowledge and experience rather than the Daubert factors for scientific testimony. The Court found Gregory’s knowledge of her treatment of G.D. since birth was reliable. However, the Court determined she likely lacked the personal knowledge or experience to form a reliable opinion about whether a certain type of fence was necessary to accommodate G.D.’s needs.
In light of Gregory’s limited qualifications, the Court found any opinion based on matters outside of her actual treatment of G.D. would be presumptively unreliable. The Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that Gregory possessed sufficient knowledge or experience to opine on whether a specific fence was necessary. As a result, the Court granted the motion to exclude any opinion testimony from Gregory about whether the six-foot wooden privacy fence was required, finding such opinions would be unreliable.
In conclusion, the Court performed its gatekeeping role under Daubert to ensure the reliability of expert testimony. The Court excluded any opinions by Gregory about the necessity of the six-foot wooden fence, finding she lacked the qualifications and knowledge to opine on matters outside her direct treatment of G.D. However, the Court allowed Gregory to testify about her diagnosis and treatment of G.D., finding she had reliable personal knowledge based on treating him since birth. Through its nuanced ruling, the Court sought to limit expert testimony to opinions within the physician assistant witness’s expertise that had a reliable basis.
In conclusion, the Court granted the motion to exclude any opinions by Gregory about whether the six-foot wooden fence was needed, finding she was unqualified and such opinions would be unreliable. But the Court denied the motion to the extent Gregory’s testimony was limited to her actual treatment of G.D. Overall, the Court performed its gatekeeping role under Daubert to ensure expert opinions are relevant and reliable.
The Court has not arrived on an outcome for this case since the remaining issues involved in this case still await resolution.
This case highlights the importance of properly vetting and limiting expert witness testimony to stay within the boundaries of the expert’s knowledge and expertise. The Court demonstrated its “gatekeeping” role by excluding portions of a treating physician’s proposed testimony that strayed outside her direct treatment of the Plaintiff. The decision shows that while treating physicians need not provide an expert report, their testimony must still meet reliability and relevance standards under Daubert. Courts will assess reliability for treating physicians based on their personal knowledge and experience, rather than scientific factors. Here, the Court found the physician could reliably testify about her own treatment, but lacked the qualifications and foundation to opine on the Plaintiff’s need for an accommodation. This ruling underscores the need to carefully match expert opinions to the witness’s background to ensure reliability. Overall, the case provides a model for courts to constrain expert testimony while still allowing experts to testify on matters within their expertise.