Expert Article Library

Expert Evidence Found Unreliable Under Daubert Standard

Case Name: Mike’s Train House, Inc v. Lionel, L.L.C. (Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit; on appeal from District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit

Date: December 14, 2006

Expert: Dr. Jeffrey L. Stein, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Michigan.

Issues: Did the district court err in admitting the expert evidence of Dr. Stein. Specifically, was the expert’s evidence unreliable or improper under Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 703

Summary of case: Mike’s Train House, Inc. (“MTH”) brought an action against Lionel and others for misappropriation of trade secrets and unjust enrichment. MTH claimed that Lionel’s model train designs had been copied from drawings that a third party produced for MTH. In the district court a jury found in favor of MTH. Lionel appealed arguing, amongst other things, that the district court abused its discretion in admitting the testimony of Dr. Stein.

Role of the expert: Dr. Stein testified that Lionel’s design drawings were copied from drawings completed by a third party for MTH. Stein compared two sets of design drawings for 10 different train types, one set from Lionel/Lionel’s manufacturer and one set from MTH/MTH’s manufacturer. He compared the design drawings using 21 self-selected criteria, including the part numbers used in the drawings. Stein testified that he found copying in 55% of the drawings. Stein also testified that he had reviewed a report produced by Professor Lee (a Korean engineering expert who testified in separate proceedings before a Korean court). Stein testified that he had independently corroborated Lee’s analysis, and that his conclusions were similar to those reached by Professor Lee.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: On appeal Lionel argued that the district court erred in admitting Dr. Stein’s evidence because Stein’s testimony was unreliable and his testimony about Professor Lee’s findings was improper. The Court of Appeals agreed that Stein’s testimony was unreliable and improper. The Court stated that the district court erred by failing to properly apply the Daubert reliability principles to Stein’s testimony. The methodology used by Stein to determine copying was never tested or peer reviewed and did not have general acceptance. Stein’s testimony indicated a limited understanding of the Korean design industry and his methodology was specifically created for the litigation. The Court also found that it was a violation of Rule 703 for Stein to testify about Professor Lee’s conclusions (Lee’s report had not been introduced into evidence).

Summary prepared by R. Zapparoni