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Tchatat v. City of New York

Area of Law:

42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights. Plaintiff brought this case against police officers after he was arrested for shoplifting. Plaintiff alleged false arrest, malicious prosecution, as well as other constitutional and state law claims.

Grounds:

Plaintiff moved to exclude the report of defendants’ expert, psychiatrist Jonathan M. Raines, M.D., in its entirety, because: (1) it “invades the province of the jury in opining on Plaintiff’s credibility and on the ultimate issues in the case”; (2) it is “scientifically invalid and unreliable under Daubert,” largely because Dr. Raines did not personally interview the plaintiff; and (3) it should be precluded under Fed. R. Evid. 403.

Outcome:

Granted. The court excluded Dr. Johnson's opinions as irrelevant, not helpful to the jury, speculative, and unreliable.

Analysis:

Because the court found that either the second or the third grounds were sufficient to decide this motion, it did not rule on the first ground.

At the outset, the court noted that the report’s narration of the factual information about plaintiff’s personal life, medical history, his time in custody, deposition testimony, and previous diagnoses by itself was not an expert opinion and would not have been admissible.

As to the second ground, the court found that the expert’s failure to examine plaintiff alone was sufficient to exclude the report. Dr. Raines opined on plaintiff’s mental state, including that plaintiff’s “disordered mental state . . . emanates from the depositions like an illuminated penumbra and therefore Mr. Tchatat’s testimony was not rendered by an individual of sound mind.” Dr. Raines based his opinion only on his review of documentary evidence, including plaintiff’s medical records and deposition testimony. The court found that plaintiff made “a cogent argument, supported by citations to practices in the psychiatric profession, that it is generally accepted practice in the field of psychiatry for a diagnosis to be made based on an examination of the individual being assessed.” Slip op. at 7. Neither Dr. Raines nor any other expert provided any admissible evidence that a review exclusively of written records is an accepted method for making this kind of psychiatric diagnosis. Dr. Raines said nothing about the reliability of his methodology. Defendants’ counsel’s argument that the written records provided sufficient support was a statement of counsel and not evidence. Thus the court concluded that the record was devoid of any admissible evidence to support the expert’s opinion.

As to the second ground, the court found that the expert’s opinions regarding plaintiff’s mental state had little probative value and were too prejudicial. “What little value they have is far outweighed by the danger that the jury would accord too much weight to such opinions because they come from the mouth of a medical professional.” Slip op. at 10. The jury would have ample opportunity to learn about plaintiff’s experiences with delusions and hallucinations from other evidence in the case, including the very records and deposition testimony on which Dr. Raines relied.