A case from Douglas County, Nebraska, caught our eye this week for a couple of reasons. It’s a great Daubert order in an Accutane case in Nebraska state court. In addition to that, this blogger’s mother grew up on a farm in Douglas County, Nebraska. It was a lovely 80-acre parcel terraced into a gentle slope leading down to the Platte River. The Platte River is a shallow meandering river—a mile wide at the mouth and six inches deep, as some Nebraskans like to say—and it flows from west to east, eventually emptying into the Missouri River, and then on to the great Mississippi. It forms the western boundary of Douglas County.
The Platte River is no use as a commercial waterway, but because of the gradual slope of the Platte River Valley, it has been a highway into the Rocky Mountains for hundreds of years. Traders established trails through the Valley, followed by wagon trains carrying settlors and ultimately surveyors for the Trans-Continental Railroad. When the Trans-Continental Railroad was built, the government’s policy toward public lands was one of disposition. The government therefore divided parcels along the railroad’s route into 160-acre tracts and gave every other parcel to the railroad companies, with the government keeping the rest for sale to other private landowners. This checkerboard land ownership pattern persists to this day. We have not done the research, but we would wager a bushel of corn that some grantee around the turn of the twentieth century split his 160-acre grant in half and sold it to our great grandfather—resulting in our lovely 80-acre farm in Douglas County.
The Douglas County judge who decided Freeman v. Hoffman La Roche, Inc., No. CI 10-9312802, 2017 WL 385440 (Dist. Ct. Neb. Jan. 23, 2017), may or may not live within view of the Platte River, but she produced an extraordinarily exacting Daubert order that came to the correct result—the exclusion of causation opinion because the expert had not applied a reliable methodology. The plaintiff alleged that her Accutane use resulted in Crohn’s disease, which the defendants contested.
The battle came down to experts, and it is clear that this case is not the first rodeo for these experts or the lawyers. The plaintiff’s causation expert was Dr. David Sachar, who has been a plaintiffs’ expert for 15 years. He offered the opinion that Accutane caused the plaintiff’s Crohn’s disease, but he did not follow any accepted scientific method. Instead, he purported to rely on “lines of evidence” to draw his conclusions.
What are “lines of evidence”? Well, it’s not all that clear to us, but the expert identified nine categories of information: (1) Animal studies; (2) class effect; (3) biological plausibility; (4) dose relationship; (5) clinical studies; (6) adverse event and challenge/de-challenge/re-challenge reports; (7) the defendants’ internal documents; (8) published medical literature; and (9) epidemiological studies. Id. at *8. This list looks good on its face, but it does not disclose a scientific method, let alone application of a scientific method to draw a valid conclusion. Put another way, this expert was probably able to produce a nice long report—assuming that expert reports are required and/or permitted under Nebraska procedure. But a long-winded report is not necessarily good science.