Coleman v. United States, No. 17-51135 (5th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Federal Rule of Evidence 601 requires federal courts to apply state rules of witness qualification when determining the competency of expert witnesses to testify regarding medical malpractice claims that turn on questions of state substantive law. Plaintiff filed suit challenging the district court's grant of summary judgment on some of her claims and the dismissal of her other claims brought against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The Fifth Circuit held that the district court was correct in its determination that Rule 601 requires that plaintiff's proffered expert witness must satisfy the state law standards for expert witness competency in addition to the Federal Rule of Evidence 702 standards for the admissibility of expert witness testimony. However, the district court erred in its assertion that it was "undisputed" that the expert was not "practicing medicine" as the term is used in Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. 74.401. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's judgment deeming it to be undisputed that the expert was not competent to testify as a medical expert and remanded for the dispute to be adjudicated in the first instance. The court also held that the district court erred in analyzing plaintiff's privacy-related allegations as federal Privacy Act claims brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, but the district court nonetheless did not err by dismissing the claims. The district court did not err by granting summary judgment for the government on the three privacy-related claims that it construed as Privacy Act claims and considered on the merits. Although the district court erred by holding plaintiff's claim of assault and battery was jurisdictionally-barred, summary judgment was nevertheless appropriate.