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Parenti v. County of Monterey

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

May 3, 2017

JACOB PARENTI, et al., Plaintiffs,
COUNTY OF MONTEREY, et al., Defendants.


          BETH LAB SON FREEMAN, United States District Judge

         This action arises out of the death of thirty-three year old Jacob Parenti, who died in his cell at the Monterey County Jail where he was being held on a probation violation. Plaintiffs are the Estate of Jacob Parenti, Mr. Parenti's minor son, and Mr. Parenti's mother. Plaintiffs assert violations of federal and state law by Monterey County, Sheriff Scott Miller, and Deputy Collins (“County Defendants”), as well as California Forensic Medical Group and Dr. Taylor Fithian (“CFMG Defendants”).

         Plaintiffs assert that the CFMG Defendants have designated an excessive number of retained and non-retained experts who offer duplicative and/or inadmissible opinions, and that the CFMG Defendants' disclosures of non-retained experts did not comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26. Plaintiffs also assert that the County's retained experts offer inadmissible opinions. Plaintiffs ask the Court to (1) limit the CFMG Defendants to one retained expert on the topics of cause of death and adequacy of medical care, (2) exclude inadmissible opinions of experts retained by the CFMG Defendants and the County Defendants, and (3) prohibit testimony by the CFMG Defendants's non-retained experts who were not adequately disclosed as required by Rule 26.

         For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART, and the Rule 26 disclosure issues are REFERRED to Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen for disposition.

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. CFMG Defendants' Retained Experts - Duplication

         Plaintiffs contend that the CFMG Defendants have designated multiple retained healthcare professionals who will offer duplicative and cumulative opinions regarding the cause of Mr. Parenti's death and whether the medical services provided to Mr. Parenti met the standard of care. Plaintiffs ask the Court to exercise its discretion to limit CFMG to a single retained expert on these topics. In response, the CFMG Defendants assert that their retained experts come from different backgrounds and thus offer different bases for their opinions, and that no one expert's opinion overlaps in its entirety with any other opinion.

         “The court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of . . . needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 403. Moreover, the Court has authority to limit the extent of discovery otherwise allowed by federal or local rules if “the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C)(i).

         The Court finds it impossible to determine based on the current record whether exclusion of any of CFMG's experts is appropriate under these standards. Trial is not set to commence for eighteen months, and none of the experts has yet been deposed. The Court understands that Plaintiffs brought this motion at least in part for the very purpose of avoiding the costs of those depositions. See Olney Decl. ¶ 4 (“To even depose each of CFMG's experts at their required rates of up to $650 per hour, Plaintiffs' costs and fees could easily exceed $30, 000.”), ECF 76-1. However, the CFMG Defendants have the right to designate the experts of their choice, and it does not appear - at least on this record - that there is complete overlap with respect to any one expert witness which would justify that expert's exclusion. There is no suggestion that the disclosure is in bad faith or for any improper purpose. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' request that the Court limit the CFMG Defendants to a single retained expert on the issues of cause of death and standard of care is DENIED.

         The Court does, however, direct the parties to meet and confer regarding the order of the depositions so that the retained experts who are most likely to testify are deposed first. Plaintiffs may wish to depose the one or two experts most likely to testify and seek permission to conduct late depositions of the other experts after the close of discovery in the event such depositions become necessary. In the event that experts who appeared most likely to testify are not called at trial, the Court would entertain a motion by Plaintiffs for cost-shifting with respect to the depositions of those experts.

         B.CFMG Defendants' Retained Experts - Admissibility

         Plaintiffs also challenge the admissibility of certain aspects of the opinions offered by two of the CFMG Defendants' retained experts, Kimberly Pearson, R.N., and Frank Sheridan, M.D.

         1. Ms. Pearson

         Ms. Pearson, a Registered Nurse, offers opinions regarding the standard of medical care provided to Mr. Parenti by the CFMG nursing staff and the cause of Mr. Parenti's death. See Pearson Report, Exh. 2 to Olney Decl., ECF 76-1. Plaintiffs do not dispute Ms. Pearson's qualifications to offer such opinions. However, Plaintiffs do object to Ms. Pearson's statements regarding other individuals' state of mind as well as statements that could be construed as legal opinion. For example, Ms. Pearson opines that the CFMG nursing staff “were not subjectively aware whether or not Mr. Parenti had a serious medical condition beyond signs and symptoms of an upper respiratory infection in January 2014, and they did not consciously disregard his healthcare needs.” Id. at 14. She also opines that “CFMG nursing staff did not attempt to harm Mr. Jacob Parenti.” Id. at 18. Those opinions would be inadmissible at trial. See Siring v. Oregon State Bd. of Higher Educ. ex rel. E. Oregon Univ., 927 F.Supp.2d 1069, 1077 (D. Or. 2013) (“Courts routinely exclude as impermissible expert testimony as to intent, motive, or state of mind.”); Pinal Creek Grp. v. Newmont Mining Corp., 352 F.Supp.2d 1037, 1043 (D. Ariz. 2005) (expert witness may not give an opinion on a question of law).

         Plaintiff's motion to exclude is GRANTED with respect to Ms. Pearson's opinions regarding the state of mind of other individuals or questions of law. Ms. Pearson may, however, testify regarding the conduct of individuals in response to properly stated questions.

         2. ...

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