LAWS PAGES

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U.S. Supreme Court
KUMHO TIRE CO. v. CARMICHAEL 526 U.S. 137 (1999)

  1. We further explain the way in which a trial judge “may” consider Daubert’s factors by applying these considerations to the case at hand, a matter that has been briefed exhaustively by the parties and their 19 amici. The District Court did not doubt Carlson’s qualifications, which included a masters degree in mechanical engineering, 10 years’ work at Michelin America, Inc., and testimony as a tire failure consultant in other tort cases. Rather, it excluded the testimony because, despite those qualifications, it initially doubted, and then found unreliable, “the methodology employed by the expert in analyzing the data obtained in the visual inspection, and the scientific basis, if any, for such an analysis.” Civ. Action No. 93—0860—CB—S (SD Ala., June 5, 1996), App. to Pet. for Cert. 6c. After examining the transcript in “some detail,” 923 F. Supp., at 1518—519, n. 4, and after considering respondents’ defense of Carlson’s methodology, the District Court determined that Carlson’s testimony was not reliable. It fell outside the range where experts might reasonably differ, and where the jury must decide among the conflicting views of different experts, even though the evidence is “shaky.” Daubert, 509 U.S., at 596. In our view, the doubts that triggered the District Court’s initial inquiry here were reasonable, as was the court’s ultimate conclusion. For one thing, and contrary to respondents’ suggestion, the specific issue before the court was not the reasonableness in general of a tire expert’s use of a visual and tactile inspection to determine whether overdeflection had caused the tire’s tread to separate from its steel-belted carcass. Rather, it was the reasonableness of using such an approach, along with Carlson’s particular method of analyzing the data thereby obtained, to draw a conclusion regarding the particular matter to which the expert testimony was directly relevant. That matter concerned the likelihood that a defect in the tire at issue caused its tread to separate from its carcass. The tire in question, the expert conceded, had traveled far enough so that some of the tread had been worn bald; it should have been taken out of service; it had been repaired (inadequately) for punctures; and it bore some of the very marks that the expert said indicated, not a defect, but abuse through overdeflection. See supra, at 3—5; App. 293—294. The relevant issue was whether the expert could reliably determine the cause of this tire’s separation.

    Nor was the basis for Carlson’s conclusion simply the general theory that, in the absence of evidence of abuse, a defect will normally have caused a tire’s separation. Rather, the expert employed a more specific theory to establish the existence (or absence) of such abuse. Carlson testified precisely that in the absence of at least two of four signs of abuse (proportionately greater tread wear on the shoulder; signs of grooves caused by the beads; discolored sidewalls; marks on the rim flange) he concludes that a defect caused the separation. And his analysis depended upon acceptance of a further implicit proposition, namely, that his visual and tactile inspection could determine that the tire before him had not been abused despite some evidence of the presence of the very signs for which he looked (and two punctures).

    For another thing, the transcripts of Carlson’s depositions support both the trial court’s initial uncertainty and its final conclusion. Those transcripts cast considerable doubt upon the reliability of both the explicit theory (about the need for two signs of abuse) and the implicit proposition (about the significance of visual inspection in this case). Among other things, the expert could not say whether the tire had traveled more than 10, or 20, or 30, or 40, or 50 thousand miles, adding that 6,000 miles was “about how far” he could “say with any certainty.” Id., at 265. The court could reasonably have wondered about the reliability of a method of visual and tactile inspection sufficiently precise to ascertain with some certainty the abuse-related significance of minute shoulder/center relative tread wear differences, but insufficiently precise to tell “with any certainty” from the tread wear whether a tire had traveled less than 10,000 or more than 50,000 miles. And these concerns might have been augmented by Carlson’s repeated reliance on the “subjective[ness]” of his mode of analysis in response to questions seeking specific information regarding how he could differentiate between a tire that actually had been overdeflected and a tire that merely looked as though it had been. Id., at 222, 224—225, 285—286. They would have been further augmented by the fact that Carlson said he had inspected the tire itself for the first time the morning of his first deposition, and then only for a few hours. (His initial conclusions were based on photographs.) Id., at 180.

    Moreover, prior to his first deposition, Carlson had issued a signed report in which he concluded that the tire had “not been … overloaded or underinflated,” not because of the absence of “two of four” signs of abuse, but simply because “the rim flange impressions . . . were normal.” Id., at 335—336. That report also said that the “tread depth remaining was 3/32 inch,” id., at 336, though the opposing expert’s (apparently undisputed) measurements indicate that the tread depth taken at various positions around the tire actually ranged from .5/32 of an inch to 4/32 of an inch, with the tire apparently showing greater wear along both shoulders than along the center, id., at 432—433.

    Further, in respect to one sign of abuse, bead grooving, the expert seemed to deny the sufficiency of his own simple visual-inspection methodology. He testified that most tires have some bead groove pattern, that where there is reason to suspect an abnormal bead groove he would ideally “look at a lot of [similar] tires” to know the grooving’s significance, and that he had not looked at many tires similar to the one at issue. Id., at 212—213, 214, 217.

    Finally, the court, after looking for a defense of Carlson’s methodology as applied in these circumstances, found no convincing defense. Rather, it found (1) that “none” of the Daubert factors, including that of “general acceptance” in the relevant expert community, indicated that Carlson’s testimony was reliable, 923 F. Supp., at 1521; (2) that its own analysis “revealed no countervailing factors operating in favor of admissibility which could outweigh those identified in Daubert,” App. to Pet. for Cert. 4c; and (3) that the “parties identified no such factors in their briefs,” ibid. For these three reasons taken together, it concluded that Carlson’s testimony was unreliable.

    Respondents now argue to us, as they did to the District Court, that a method of tire failure analysis that employs a visual/tactile inspection is a reliable method, and they point both to its use by other experts and to Carlson’s long experience working for Michelin as sufficient indication that that is so. But no one denies that an expert might draw a conclusion from a set of observations based on extensive and specialized experience. Nor does anyone deny that, as a general matter, tire abuse may often be identified by qualified experts through visual or tactile inspection of the tire. See Affidavit of H. R. Baumgardner 1—2, cited in Brief for National Academy of Forensic Engineers as Amici Curiae 16 (Tire engineers rely on visual examination and process of elimination to analyze experimental test tires). As we said before, supra, at 14, the question before the trial court was specific, not general. The trial court had to decide whether this particular expert had sufficient specialized knowledge to assist the jurors “in deciding the particular issues in the case.” 4 J. McLaughlin, Weinstein’s Federal Evidence ¶702.05[1], p. 702—33 (2d ed. 1998); see also Advisory Committee’s Note on Proposed Fed. Rule Evid. 702, Preliminary Draft of Proposed Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Evidence: Request for Comment 126 (1998) (stressing that district courts must “scrutinize” whether the “principles and methods” employed by an expert “have been properly applied to the facts of the case”).

    The particular issue in this case concerned the use of Carlson’s two-factor test and his related use of visual/tactile inspection to draw conclusions on the basis of what seemed small observational differences. We have found no indication in the record that other experts in the industry use Carlson’s two-factor test or that tire experts such as Carlson normally make the very fine distinctions about, say, the symmetry of comparatively greater shoulder tread wear that were necessary, on Carlson’s own theory, to support his conclusions. Nor, despite the prevalence of tire testing, does anyone refer to any articles or papers that validate Carlson’s approach. Compare Bobo, Tire Flaws and Separations, in Mechanics of Pneumatic Tires 636—637 (S.  Clark ed. 1981); C. Schnuth et al., Compression Grooving and Rim Flange Abrasion as Indicators of Over-Deflected Operating Conditions in Tires, presented to Rubber Division of the American Chemical Society, Oct. 21—24, 1997; J. Walter & R. Kiminecz, Bead Contact Pressure Measurements at the Tire-Rim Interface, presented to Society of Automotive Engineers, Feb. 24—28, 1975. Indeed, no one has argued that Carlson himself, were he still working for Michelin, would have concluded in a report to his employer that a similar tire was similarly defective on grounds identical to those upon which he rested his conclusion here. Of course, Carlson himself claimed that his method was accurate, but, as we pointed out in Joiner, “nothing in either Daubert or the Federal Rules of Evidence requires a district court to admit opinion evidence that is connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit of the expert.” 522 U.S., at 146.

    Respondents additionally argue that the District Court too rigidly applied Daubert’s criteria. They read its opinion to hold that a failure to satisfy any one of those criteria automatically renders expert testimony inadmissible. The District Court’s initial opinion might have been vulnerable to a form of this argument. There, the court, after rejecting respondents’ claim that Carlson’s testimony was “exempted from Daubert-style scrutiny” because it was “technical analysis” rather than “scientific evidence,” simply added that “none of the four admissibility criteria outlined by the Daubert court are satisfied.” 923 F. Supp., at 1522. Subsequently, however, the court granted respondents’ motion for reconsideration. It then explicitly recognized that the relevant reliability inquiry “should be ‘flexible,’ ” that its “ ‘overarching subject [should be] … validity’ and reliability,” and that “Daubert was intended neither to be exhaustive nor to apply in every case.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 4c (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S., at 594—595). And the court ultimately based its decision upon Carlson’s failure to satisfy either Daubert’s factors or any other set of reasonable reliability criteria. In light of the record as developed by the parties, that conclusion was within the District Court’s lawful discretion.

    In sum, Rule 702 grants the district judge the discretionary authority, reviewable for its abuse, to determine reliability in light of the particular facts and circumstances of the particular case. The District Court did not abuse its discretionary authority in this case. Hence, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is Reversed.