Shanika Hill v. Stephen MillsAnnotate this Case
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF MISSISSIPPI
SHANIKA HILL AND BRIAN THOMAS,
INDIVIDUALLY AND AS WRONGFUL DEATH
BENEFICIARIES OF THEIR DECEASED CHILD
STEPHEN MILLS, M.D.
DATE OF JUDGMENT:
COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED:
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT:
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE:
NATURE OF THE CASE:
HON. DAVID H. STRONG, JR.
LINCOLN COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT
JENNIFER INGRAM WILKINSON
JOHN F. HAWKINS
CARROLL H. INGRAM
J. ROBERT RAMSAY
CIVIL - MEDICAL MALPRACTICE
AFFIRMED IN PART; REVERSED AND
REMANDED IN PART - 01/28/2010
MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:
DICKINSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:
The primary issue presented by the plaintiff in this medical-negligence case is whether
the trial court properly applied Mississippi Rule of Evidence 702 (sometimes referred to as
the Daubert1 standard) to exclude the opinions offered by her expert, leading to dismissal of
all of her claims. We are also asked to review the trial judge’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579, 593-94, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 125 L.
Ed. 2d 469 (1993). This Court adopted the Daubert (federal court) approach to expert testimony
by amending Mississippi Rule of Evidence 702 in 2000 and 2003.
BACKGROUND FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS
On May 8, 2002, Shanika Hill presented to King’s Daughters Medical Center,
complaining of lower abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. Dr. Richard Rushing admitted
her for overnight observation. Upon review of an ultrasound, Dr. Rushing determined Hill
was fifteen weeks pregnant. After instructing Hill to remain on bed and pelvic rest and to
follow up with the Health Department in a week, Dr. Rushing discharged her from King’s
Daughters. As instructed, Hill presented to the Health Department on May 16, 2002, where
she again complained of spotting and vaginal bleeding.
On May 27, 2002, Hill returned to the King’s Daughters Emergency Department,
complaining of abdominal cramping, passing of large clots, and passing of one specimen that
appeared to be products of conception. She was treated by Dr. Stephen Mills, who found
Hill’s cervix to be closed, with no active bleeding. Nurses were unable to determine the
existence of fetal heart tones during auscultation.
Dr. Mills informed Hill she had experienced a complete abortion.2 He did not order
an ultrasound, and discharged Hill from King’s Daughters with instructions to return if there
was any reoccurrence of abdominal cramping or vaginal bleeding.
On June 8, 2002, Hill returned to King’s Daughters with symptoms of severe
abdominal pain and heavy vaginal bleeding. Prior to arriving at the emergency room, she
had been vomiting blood and bleeding from her nose. Hill testified she had feared for her
life. She informed the emergency department personnel that she had miscarried on May 27,
but she was having heavy cramping in her legs and lower abdomen. While waiting for
treatment, Hill delivered a nineteen-week fetus, weighing 205 grams. The attending nurse
noted a fetal heartbeat, which stopped after five minutes. A second heartbeat was noted by
a lab technician, but it stopped before the attending nurse could verify the heartbeat.
Hill and Brian Thomas, the father of the baby, brought a civil action against Dr. Mills,
King’s Daughters, and every physician who treated Hill from May 8, 2002, through June 2,
2002. They voluntarily dismissed all defendants other than Dr. Mills.
According to a medical treatise, a portion of which was admitted into the record, a complete
abortion occurs when there is “complete detachment [of the placenta from the uterus] and expulsion
of the conceptus,” after which “the internal cervical os closes.” F. Cunningham, Kenneth Levero,
Steven Bloom, John Hauth, Larry Gilstrap, Katherine Wenstrom, Williams Obstetrics 9, p. 246
(22nd ed. 2005). “Abortion is the termination of pregnancy, either spontaneously or intentionally,
before the fetus develops sufficiently to survive. By convention, abortion is usually defined as
pregnancy termination prior to 20 weeks’ gestation or less than 500-g birthweight. . . . Abortion
occurring without medical or mechanical means to empty the uterus is referred to as spontaneous.
Another widely used term is miscarriage.” Williams Obstetrics, at p. 232. In reference to the
termination of Hill’s pregnancy, the term “abortion” is used to refer to a spontaneous abortion or
miscarriage throughout this opinion and does not refer to the more commonly used definition of the
word “abortion”– an intentional termination of pregnancy through medical or mechanical means.
The plaintiffs engaged Dr. Paul G. Fuselier to examine the records and serve as their
expert witness. In his deposition, Dr. Fuselier testified that Dr. Mills had breached the
standard of care by failing to order an ultrasound on May 27. Specifically, Dr. Fuselier
opined that, had Dr. Mills ordered the ultrasound, he would have discovered the pregnancy
and, had the pregnancy been discovered,
there [was] a great probability that with proper instruction, proper
medication[,] proper surveillance that her pregnancy could have been
extended. . . . Based on 25 years of obstetrical experience, residency training,
et cetera, that given these circumstances, there is a great probability that the
pregnancy could have been extended possibly to a point where there would be
enough fetal maturity for the baby to survive.
When asked how old a fetus would have to be to survive outside the womb, Dr.
Fuselier testified, “The closer you are to 32 weeks, the better off you are. That seems to be
the cut off. But after 28 weeks the – if you’re in a bell-shaped curve, those babies – a lot of
those babies with the current modalities we have of treating survive.” When asked whether
Hill’s pregnancy could have been extended an additional eight or nine weeks, Dr. Fuselier
answered, “Or more.”
Dr. Fuselier’s deposition notice required him to produce “all published or unpublished
articles or any other materials relied upon by [him] or otherwise supporting his opinions.”
In response to the notice, Dr. Fuselier produced no articles or other materials. When asked
in deposition if he could provide any evidence-based scientific literature to support his
opinion that bed rest was effective in preventing an early second-trimester miscarriage, Dr.
Fuselier testified, “I don’t have that information with me nor do I recall reading that.” When
asked if he was aware of any support within the scientific community for his opinion
concerning the value of tocolytics 3 in extending pregnancy, Dr. Fuselier testified, “I am not
familiar with that literature at all.” When asked if he had ever looked at the literature on
subchorianic hematomas, 4 Dr. Fuselier responded “not recently.” Near the end of his
deposition, Dr. Fuselier was asked, “Do you contend that any such evidence-based literature
exists to support your statements?” He responded, “I’m not aware today. I’m not sure that
I couldn’t find something.”
After deposing Dr. Fuselier, Dr. Mills filed a motion to exclude Dr. Fuselier’s
opinions pursuant to Rule 702, using the Daubert standard. Additionally, Dr. Mills moved
for summary judgment. In support of the motion to exclude Dr. Fuselier’s testimony, Dr.
Mills provided the expert opinions of Dr. John C. Morrison, who testified that Dr. Mills did
not breach the standard of care by failing to perform an ultrasound. He reasoned that, even
had the ultrasound revealed that Hill was still pregnant, there was nothing Dr. Mills could
have done to save the pregnancy. With respect to Dr. Fuselier’s testimony that Hill’s
pregnancy could have been extended, Dr. Morrison stated:
Dr. Fuselier’s “opinions” that bed rest, surveillance with both acute and
maintenance tocolytic therapy, if necessary, could possibly have extended Ms.
Hill’s 17 3/7 week pregnancy for an additional 8 or 9 weeks or more following
her May 27, 2002, visit to King’s Daughters Medical Center Emergency
Department, are totally unsupported in the scientific literature.
The term “tocolytics” refers to drugs which “inhibit myometrial contractions. . . [and] can
be administered either parenterally or orally.” Management of Preterm Labor, 43 ACOG Practice
Bulletin: Clinical Management Guidelines for Obstetrician-Gynecologist 534 (May 2003).
A subchorionic hematoma is a type of blood clot found between the pregnancy membranes
and the wall of the uterus.
At the hearing on Dr. Mills’s motion for summary judgment, Hill’s attorney asked Dr.
[W]ould it not be prudent to perform an ultrasound at [the time Hill presented
to the emergency room with what appeared to be products of conception]? If
you cannot palpate the uterus and you cannot be for certain you did not see a
fetus in what was brought in, shouldn’t you perform an ultrasound to verify
Dr. Morrison responded, “no, ma’am, not necessarily.” And when asked whether giving an
ultrasound at that point in diagnosis is the standard of care, Dr. Morrison replied:
It certainly isn’t the standard of care. You can do the $150.00 test if you want
to, but I usually do not. If I believe that it’s a completed miscarriage and I
believe in my heart if I had been given this information and she had presented
to me, or any of my colleagues at University Medical Center, that’s what we
would have done. We would have said I’m so sorry; you’ve lost your baby.
Neither Dr. Morrison nor Dr. Fuselier presented any medical literature addressing the
efficacy or error of Dr. Fuselier’s opinion that Dr. Mills should have performed the
With respect to Dr. Fuselier’s opinion that bed rest, surveillance, and tocolytic therapy
could have extended Hill’s 17 3/7-week pregnancy, Dr. Morrison testified:
We could not have saved that baby . . . . There’s no therapy for it. So if a
baby’s going to miscarry, it’s because something is wrong with the baby or the
placenta and it cannot survive . . . . there is absolutely nothing we can do. You
have to put this in God’s hands and if He carries the pregnancy or she carries
the pregnancy, then that’s fine, but we can’t do anything . . . . doctors have
tried for years, bed rest, giving you fluids, making you drink a lot of water,
giving you hormones like progesterone, etc. We’ve never prescribed
tocolytics but we’ve prescribed those other things and they do not work. And
it’s as simple as that . . . . But for them to think that they are doing something
or that I’m doing something when we’re really just fooling the patient, I think,
is unconscionable. So you need to be honest with the patient and tell them and
you only know that through the literature . . . . Now I will say back in the
seventies when not as many of these studies had been done – most of these
studies that we’re quoting that say it doesn’t work have been done in the
eighties and the nineties --and I was taught, we do bed rest, progesterone, all
this stuff. We now know that doesn’t work. So if you go back early enough,
the sixties, seventies, fifties, I think that was the standard of care. After the
eighties, it was not the standard of care to do that. Again, I don’t mean to say
that you can’t do it, that you’re below the standard of care to do it. What I’m
saying is, that if you don’t do it, that’s not below the standard of care.
Although he produced no literature or authoritative publications contradicting Dr.
Fuselier’s opinion that the standard of care required Dr. Mills to perform an ultrasound, Dr.
Morrison did produce substantial peer-reviewed industry literature 5 which contradicted Dr.
Fuselier’s opinion that Dr. Mills could have extended the pregnancy and possibly saved the
life of the baby.
Motion to Recuse.
Prior to proceeding with the hearing on Dr. Mills’s motion to exclude Dr. Fuselier’s
opinions and the motion for summary judgment, the trial judge informed both parties that his
court administrator had recently disclosed to him that Dr. Mills was her personal physician.
After advising he would allow Hill’s counsel one week to consider whether to file a motion
for recusal, the trial judge proceeded with the hearing, following which he took Dr. Mills’s
motions under advisement.
Based upon the trial judge’s disclosure concerning his court administrator – and the
additional revelation that the trial judge’s father was a physician who had practiced at King’s
Robert L. Goldenberg, M.D., The Management of Preterm Labor, High-Risk Pregnancy:
An Expert’s View, 43 American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Practice Bulletin: Clinical
Management Guidelines for Obstetricians-Gynecologists (May 2003); Obstetrics in Broad
Perspective, Williams Obstetrics 1 (21st ed. 2001); Abortion, Williams Obstetrics 9 (22nd ed. 2005);
Preform Birth, Williams Obstetrics 36 (22nd ed. 2005).
Daughters some ten years previously – Hill’s counsel filed a motion for recusal which the
trial judge denied, stating:
I don’t know if my father knows Dr. Mills because I’ve never talked to my
father about this case or, quite frankly, any other case that’s on my docket . .
. . I thought he had retired in 1998. It’s been at least ten years since he’s
practiced medicine in this community, and I don’t think that my father having
once been a physician in the community requires recusal. . . .[T]he only time
I’ve ever seen Dr. Mills was when we had the motion hearing in Pike County
a couple of months ago. I don’t know his family; never met his family. And
for the Record [sic], other than Ms. Brill telling me that Dr. Mills was her
doctor, we have never more [sic] had a conversation in which Dr. Mills’ name
came up except with regard to scheduling in this case, and quite frankly, will
never have a conversation in that regard.
Following his bench ruling denying Hill’s motion for recusal, the trial judge requested
from both parties proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law relative to Dr. Mills’
motions. After receipt of the proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial judge
granted Dr. Mills’s motion to exclude Dr. Fuselier’s testimony and his motion for summary
[T]he plaintiff’s expert has been unable to identify, produce or cite any
scientific or peer review literature in support of his expert opinion. To the
contrary, the testimony of Dr. John C. Morrison cites the Management of
Preterm Labor from the ACOG Practice Bulletin, No. 43, May 2003, as well
as Williams Obstetrics, 21st and 22nd Editions, which contradict the expert
testimony of Dr. Fuselier. There is no evidence in the record of any medical
treatise or journal which substantiates Dr. Fuselier’s opinion. To the contrary,
all medical literature produced in this cause contradicts Dr. Fuselier’s opinion.
For the foregoing reasons, as well as the considerable record in this case, the
motion to exclude the expert testimony of Dr. Paul Fuselier and the
defendant’s motion for summary judgment are hereby granted.
Hill’s counsel filed a motion for reconsideration of the summary judgment order, and
for clarification as to whether her wrongful-death claim was the only claim that had been
dismissed, and whether her other claims were still viable.
The trial judge issued a second memorandum order and judgment adopting in toto Dr.
Mills’s proposed memorandum order and judgment. The second memorandum order stated:
While the opinions of Dr. Fuselier, that the standard of care required that an
ultrasound be performed by Dr. Mills on May 27, 2002, under the exigent
circumstances, is a matter in dispute, Dr. Fuselier’s opinions that the standard
of care required bed rest, pelvic rest and/or hydration for a threatened abortion
and/or as to causality i.e. that bed rest, pelvic rest and/or hyrdration would
have prolonged this pregnancy for any period of time, is not supported
anywhere in the reliable medical literature submitted to this Court.
The order confirmed the summary judgment. Aggrieved, Hill timely filed her notice of
Hill asserts the trial court erred in excluding Dr. Fuselier’s expert testimony, in
summarily dismissing all of her claims, and in refusing to recuse. In Mississippi, summary
judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of
material fact.” Miss. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In addition, “a summary judgment motion is only
properly granted when no genuine issue of material fact exists.” Jackson Clinic for Women
v. Henley, 965 So. 2d 643, 649 (Miss. 2007) (quoting PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc. v.
Lowery, 909 So. 2d 47, 49 (Miss. 2005)).
This Court has held that, “after viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the
nonmoving party, this Court will only reverse the decision of the trial court if triable issues
of fact exist.” Bowie v. Montfort, 861 So. 2d 1037, 1041 (Miss. 2003) (citing Travis v.
Stewart, 680 So. 2d 214, 216 (Miss. 1996)). In order to defeat a motion for summary
judgment, the party opposing the motion must set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue
of material fact exists. Id. (citing Drummond v. Buckley, 627 So. 2d 264, 267 (Miss. 1993)).
The general rule in medical-negligence claims is “that negligence cannot be
established without medical testimony that the defendant failed to use ordinary skill and
care.” Troupe v. McAuley, 955 So. 2d 848, 856 (Miss. 2007) (quoting Brooks v. Roberts,
882 So. 2d 229, 232 (Miss. 2004)). In Troupe, we held:
To present a prima facie case of medical malpractice, a plaintiff, (1) after
establishing the doctor-patient relationship and its attendant duty, is generally
required to present expert testimony (2) identifying and articulating the
requisite standard of care; and (3) establishing that the defendant physician
failed to conform to the standard of care. In addition, (4) the plaintiff must
prove the physician's noncompliance with the standard of care caused the
plaintiff's injury, as well as proving (5) the extent of the plaintiff's damages.
Troupe, 955 So. 2d at 856 (quoting Cheeks v. Bio-Medical Applications, Inc., 908 So. 2d
117 (Miss. 2005)).
Applying Daubert and our Rule 702, the trial judge excluded all of Dr. Fuselier’s
opinions and, consequently, granted summary judgment to Dr. Mills on all issues. Thus, we
must first address whether the trial judge abused his discretion in excluding all of Dr.
In addressing the Daubert issues, it is important to note at the outset that Dr. Fuselier
opined that Dr. Mills had committed two basic errors, both of which (according to Dr.
Fuselier) had breached the standard of care. The first alleged error was that Dr. Mills did not
perform an ultrasound on May 27, 2002. The second was that, had Dr. Mills ordered bed
rest, pelvic rest, and hydration, he could have extended the pregnancy. If either of these
opinions was improperly excluded, and assuming there are material issues of triable fact as
to whether such alleged negligence proximately caused damages, then summary judgment
Our analysis must be guided by Rule 702, which addresses the admissibility of expert
If scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of
fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness
qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education,
may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony
is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of
reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles
and methods reliably to the facts of the case.
Miss. R. Evid. 702.
The United States Supreme Court has held that experts – unlike lay witnesses – are
given a wide berth when offering opinions within their expertise. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592.
If the expert’s testimony involves scientific, technical, or any other special knowledge, the
trial judge – as gatekeeper – must determine whether the expert’s opinions will help the trier
of fact determine the issue in question. Id. at 589-591.
However, for expert opinions to qualify as scientific knowledge, the expert’s
testimony must be supported and based on what is known, and the expert must have
knowledge that is more than subjective or unsupported speculation. Id. In that regard, the
Daubert Court enumerated for a trial judge’s consideration several factors,6 the application
The five non-exclusive factors include: 1) whether the expert’s theory can be or has been
tested; 2) whether the theory has been subjected to peer review and publication; 3) the known or
potential rate of error of a technique or theory when applied; 4) the existence and maintenance of
standards and control; and 5) the degree to which the technique or theory has been generally
accepted in the scientific community. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593-94.
of which in a particular case depends on the nature of the issue, the expert’s expertise, and
the subject of the testimony offered by the expert. Miss. Transp. Comm’n v. McLemore, 863
So. 2d 31, 37 (Miss. 2003).
The objective of the trial court’s gate-keeping responsibilities pursuant to Daubert is
to ensure the reliability and relevancy of expert testimony. Kumho Tire Co. v. Patrick
Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137,152, 119 S. Ct. 1167, 143 L. Ed. 2d 238 (1999). It goes without
saying that an unqualified expert’s opinions are per se unreliable and, in that regard, we note
that Dr. Mills presented the trial judge no challenge to Dr. Fuselier’s qualifications as an
expert in the fields of obstetrics and gynecology. Dr. Mills attacks Dr. Fuselier’s opinions,
rather than his qualifications, and it is to those opinions that we now turn.
Opinion regarding bed rest, pelvic rest, and hydration extending pregnancy.
Dr. Fuselier opined that, had Dr. Mills given Hill the proper instructions, her baby
possibly could have been saved. Specifically, Dr. Fuselier stated that
there is a great probability that with proper instruction, proper medication[,]
proper surveillance that her pregnancy could have been extended. . . . Based
on 25 years of obstetrical experience, residency training, et cetera, that given
these circumstances, there is a great probability that the pregnancy could have
been extended possibly to a point where there would be enough fetal maturity
for the baby to survive.
Dr. Morrison disagreed with Dr. Fuselier on this point. This disagreement appears at first
blush simply to be a traditional “battle of the experts” which occurs when two experts have
differing opinions. This Court has held that the winner in a battle of the experts is to be
decided by a jury. See, e.g., Bickham v. Grant, 861 So. 2d 299, 307 (Miss. 2003).
However, Dr. Mills’s challenge to Dr. Fuselier’s opinion (that the pregnancy probably
could have been extended) was not limited to Dr. Morrison’s opposite opinion. Dr. Mills
(through Dr. Morrison) also claimed that the opinion was not reliable because it was not
accepted in the scientific community. In support of this claim, Dr. Morrison submitted
substantial medical literature, including authoritative medical journals and texts (see note 5,
supra), all of which contradicted Dr. Fuselier’s opinion. In response to this attack on the
reliability of his opinion, Dr. Fuselier presented nothing.
An expert whose opinions are under scrutiny may not ignore allegations of
unreliability and nonacceptance within the scientific community, but rather must respond
with some evidence that the opinions are, in fact, accepted within the scientific community.
We said as much recently in Smith v. Clement, 983 So. 2d 285 (Miss. 2008), in which the
plaintiff’s expert – a highly qualified engineer – opined that certain copper tubing which
caused a school bus fire was the same copper tubing that had been installed by the defendant
fourteen years earlier. Had the defendant’s expert simply disagreed, the case would have
presented a battle of the experts. Id. at 289. However, the defendant’s qualified expert not
only disagreed with the plaintiff’s expert, but also challenged the reliability of the opinion
by testifying under oath that “there are no reliable, or valid, scientific principles or methods
that could be utilized by any engineer, or any other specialist, that would enable that person
to give [that opinion].” Id.
Thus, the defendant in Smith produced evidence through expert testimony that the
plaintiff’s expert opinion was unsupported within the scientific and engineering community.
During the five-month period following this challenge to the reliability of her expert’s
opinion, the plaintiff neither contradicted the evidence of unreliability nor offered any
evidence of reliability or acceptance within the scientific or engineering communities. In
other words, this challenge to the reliability of the expert opinion went unrebutted. “Thus,
as to whether [the plaintiff’s expert’s] opinion was properly grounded in science, the only
evidence before the trial court [at the summary judgment hearing] was [the defendant’s
expert’s] affidavit, which clearly stated that it was not.” Id. at 290.
In holding that the Smith trial judge properly excluded the expert’s opinion, we stated
that the plaintiff was on notice of the defendant’s challenge to the reliability of her expert,
and she had a fair opportunity to respond. Because she did not, we held the trial court did
not abuse “its discretion in finding, from the evidence in the record, that [the plaintiff’s
expert’s opinions] should be stricken.” Id.
It is important to note that Smith did not present a traditional “battle of the experts.”
The plaintiff’s expert opined that the copper pipe present when the bus caught on fire was
the same copper pipe which was installed by the defendant fourteen years earlier. The
defendant’s expert did not dispute this assertion, but rather stated that there was no scientific
way to tell. Such challenges to the reliability of expert opinions are squarely within the focus
of Daubert and Rule 702 of the Mississippi Rules of Evidence.
Justice Chandler’s disagreement with our holding today focuses on an expert’s
qualifications rather than acceptance (or lack thereof) of an expert’s specific opinions within
the scientific community. Were we to hold (as Justice Chandler’s separate opinion suggests)
that any qualified expert with twenty-five years experience may render any opinion –
regardless of how contrary and repugnant that opinion may be to accepted science within the
discipline – we would return our courts to the pre-Daubert days when trials were tainted by
unreliable junk science purchased from professional witnesses. We think the better practice
is, when an expert (no matter how qualified) renders an opinion that is attacked as not
accepted within the scientific community,7 the party offering that expert’s opinion must, at
a minimum, present the trial judge with some evidence indicating that the offered opinion has
some degree of acceptance and support within the scientific community.
Dr. Morrison provided a sworn affidavit and testimony with citations to peer-reviewed
literature which explained in detail – not only that no scientifically reliable literature
supported Dr. Fuselier’s opinion regarding the efficacy of therapies to prolong the pregnancy
– but also that all of the authorities and peer-reviewed literature was to the contrary.8 As
already stated, Dr. Fuselier presented nothing in response to this attack on the reliability of
Indeed, Dr. Fuselier agreed that he could produce no support for his opinion, other
than his own personal experience. Hill argued that Dr. Fuselier’s experience should be
enough, and that, in excluding Dr. Fuselier’s testimony, the trial court applied a standard too
rigid and restrictive to comply with Daubert. However, the trial court noted that Dr. Fuselier
We again point out that an attack based on lack of acceptance within the scientific
community (an issue for the trial judge) is not the same as one expert’s opinion disagreeing with the
opinion of another, which generally creates a dispute of fact to be decided by the jury. In other
words, had Dr. Morrison simply said, “I disagree with Dr. Fuselier,” no Daubert hearing or
evaluation would have been necessary.
We do not speak to the question of whether an expert must respond to an attack which says
nothing more than that the scientific community is silent on the issue. Our opinion today – as in
Clement – addresses an opinion under attack by the scientific community’s rejection, and not mere
was required to produce at his deposition any and all published or unpublished material
supporting his opinions, and he produced none.
The trial judge stated in his Memorandum Opinion and Order on April 9, 2008:
[T]he plaintiff's expert has been unable to identify, produce or cite any
scientific or peer review literature in support of his expert opinion. To the
contrary, the testimony of Dr. John C. Morrison[9 ] cites the Management of
Preterm Labor from the ACOG Practice Bulletin, No. 43, May 2003, as well
as Williams Obstetrics, 21st and 22nd Editions, which contradict the expert
testimony of Dr. Fuselier. There is no evidence in the record of any medical
treatise or journal which substantiates Dr. Fuselier’s opinion. To the contrary,
all medical literature produced in this cause contradicts Dr. Fuselier’s opinion.
Hill argues that, even though her expert could produce no peer-reviewed literature to
support Dr. Fuselier’s opinions, this alone should not render his opinions inadmissible. In
support of this argument, she cites Poole v. Avara, 908 So. 2d 716, 724 (Miss. 2005), in
which we held that peer-reviewed literature is helpful when presented, but that peer-reviewed
materials are not an absolute requirement, and their absence does not constitute automatic
We do not today retreat in any respect from our holding in Poole. We find it
completely distinguishable. Unlike the present case, the challenged opinion at issue in Poole
had not been the subject of peer-reviewed articles. Consequently, the defendant in Poole did
not challenge the expert’s opinions by producing peer-reviewed articles or authorities which
contradicted the opinions. Thus, Poole stands for the proposition that there exists no per se
requirement that an expert’s opinion be supported by peer-reviewed articles.
Dr. Morrison testified that the standard of care based on the situation that occurred on May
27, 2002, did not warrant an ultrasound, especially where the vaginal bleeding had subsided, the
cervical os was closed, and there were no fetal heart tones.
In contrast to Poole, the subject matter of the expert opinion in the case before us
today has been extensively explored and documented, and one hundred percent of
documentation presented to the trial judge contradicts Dr. Fuselier’s opinion. Thus, we
cannot say that the trial judge abused his discretion in finding that, under Rule 702, Dr.
Fuselier’s opinions regarding available interventions to prolong Hill’s pregnancy were
unreliable and inadmissible.
We restate for emphasis that, when the reliability of an expert’s opinion is attacked
with credible evidence that the opinion is not accepted within the scientific community, the
proponent of the opinion under attack should provide at least a minimal defense supporting
the reliability of the opinion. Smith, 983 So. 2d at 290. The proponent of the expert cannot
sit on the side lines and assume the trial court will ignore the unrebutted evidence and find
the expert’s opinion reliable. Id. Were we automatically to allow introduction of expert
opinions which are based upon nothing more than personal experience in cases where those
opinions are contradicted in the scientific literature, we would effectively render Rule 702
and Daubert a nullity.
We hold the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding Dr. Fuselier’s
testimony regarding the efficacy of interventions to prolong Hill’s pregnancy.
Opinion regarding the ultrasound.
Dr. Fuselier also testified that Dr. Mills had breached the standard of care by failing
to perform an ultrasound on May 27, 2002. Dr. Morrison testified that the standard of care
did not require Dr. Mills to perform an ultrasound. Thus, the trial court was presented with
contradictory opinions from two qualified experts. This presents what has been described
above as the classic “battle of the experts” as to the ultrasound.
At the Daubert hearing on Dr. Mills’s motion for summary judgment, Dr. Mills’s
Now, it is contended that on that occasion Dr. Mills, even though he performed
a pelvic exam, he should have performed an ultrasound. That is not before the
Court today. That is a matter in dispute and while certainly it will be our
position and our expert’s testimony that that was not a deviation from the
standard of care, that does come under rival opinions of experts and is not a
subject of a Daubert motion.
Dr. Mills, while denying that failure to perform the ultrasound constituted negligence, argues
that the unrebutted scientific literature clearly establishes that it would have made no
difference, that is, the pregnancy could not have been prolonged. However, Dr. Mills does
not allege that the scientific literature contradicts Dr. Fuselier’s opinion.
Dr. Mills’s position is that, because Hill’s baby could not have been saved, performing
the ultrasound would have made no difference. However, this argument overlooks Hill’s
claims of damages which are unrelated to her wrongful-death claim. We glean from the
complaint, the discovery, and Hill’s presentation at oral argument that she claims Dr. Mills’s
failure to perform an ultrasound and discover that she was still pregnant deprived her of her
right (despite the insurmountable odds) to try everything remotely possible to save her
pregnancy. She also argues that Dr. Mills’s failure to perform the ultrasound further
deprived her of the option of choosing a less traumatic method of terminating the pregnancy,
and that the events which occurred on the way to, and in, the emergency room on June 8,
2002, caused her avoidable mental anguish and emotional distress.
Specifically, she claims that – believing she was no longer pregnant – she vomited
blood and was bleeding from her nose, and that she feared for her life on June 8. She claims
that, while waiting for treatment in the emergency room (as opposed to the delivery suite in
the hospital), she delivered a live, nineteen-week fetus, weighing 205 grams, and that she
suffered mental anguish and emotional distress associated with being mentally and
emotionally unprepared to deliver a live baby, only to have it die minutes later. Her theory
is that, had Dr. Mills told her she was still pregnant on May 27, 2002 – even if he had told
her there was no hope for the pregnancy – she would have had the option of preparing herself
for the termination of the pregnancy and, even if she had chosen not to do so, she would have
been prepared for what was to occur in the emergency room.
Without commenting on the merits of her claims, and given what was presented to the
trial judge at the Daubert hearing,10 we find Hill has articulated a cause of action for
negligence which is separate and apart from her wrongful-death claim. Under the facts and
circumstances of this case, the trial judge committed reversible error in holding that Dr.
Fuselier could not testify that Dr. Mills had breached the standard of care by failing to
perform an ultrasound. Consequently, the trial judge erred in granting summary judgment
to Dr. Mills on this issue.
By our holding today, we take no position, one way or the other, on whether Dr.
Fuselier’s opinion (that Dr. Mills should have performed an ultrasound) meets the Daubert
standard of reliability. That question was simply not before the trial court during the hearing,
and it is not before us on appeal.
The final issue asserted by Hill concerns the matter regarding the trial judge’s failure
to recuse himself. Hill asserts that – under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 16A,11 Rule
1.15 of the Uniform Circuit and County Court Rules,12 and Cannon 3(E) of the Code of
Judicial Conduct13 – the trial judge should have recused himself. Hill further asserts that the
trial judge should have recused himself because his father had been a practicing physician
in the area, and had at one point practiced at King’s Daughters.
This Court has held that the decision to recuse or not is one left to the sound discretion
of the judge. Collins v. Joshi, 611 So. 2d 898, 901 (Miss. 1992) (citing Nationwide Mut. Ins.
Co. v. Evans, 553 So. 2d 1117, 1119 (Miss. 1989)). The test set forth in determining whether
a judge should recuse is: “Would a reasonable person, knowing all of the circumstances,
harbor doubts about the judge’s impartiality?” Copeland v. Copeland, 904 So. 2d 1066,
1071 (Miss. 2004) (quoting In re Conservatorship of Bardwell, 849 So. 2d 1240, 1247
(Miss. 2003); Bredemeier v. Jackson, 689 So. 2d 770, 774 (Miss. 1997)).
Hill has failed to produce any evidence regarding either allegation of impropriety.
This Court has more than once held that the party requesting the judge’s recusal must
“Motions seeking the recusal of judges shall be timely filed with the trial judge and shall
be governed by procedures set forth in the Uniform Rules of Circuit and County Court Practice . .
.” Miss. R. Civ. P. 16A.
“Any party may move for the recusal of a judge of the circuit or county court if it appears
that the judge’s impartiality might be questioned by a reasonable person knowing all the
circumstances, or for other grounds provided in the Code of Judicial Conduct or otherwise as
provided by law. . . .” Miss. Unif. Cir. & Cty. R. 1.15.
“Judges should disqualify themselves in proceedings in which their impartiality might be
questioned by a reasonable person knowing all the circumstances . . . . ” Canon 3(E)(1), Miss Code
of Judicial Conduct.
produce evidence that would demonstrate a reasonable doubt as to a judge’s impartiality. Id.
(quoting Dodson v. Singing River Hosp. Sys., 839 So. 2d 530, 533 (Miss. 2003)).
Hill produced no evidence that the court administrator had any material input into the
court’s judicial decisions. The relationship between a court administrator and a judge differs
from one to the next, and Hill submitted no evidence that the relationship between the trial
judge in this case and his court administrator was anything more than a typical
employer/employee relationship, or that his court administrator influenced his judicial
Additionally, Hill argues that recusal was necessary because the trial judge’s father’s
had a previous professional relationship with King’s Daughters. Hill argues that the trial
judge’s family connection to the local medical community could make a reasonable person
believe bias exists. However, at the time of the hearing, King’s Daughters was no longer a
named defendant in the suit against Dr. Mills.14 In addition, the trial judge’s father had
retired from practicing medicine in 1998, and Hill failed to show any reason why a
reasonable person could see a potential bias after ten years.
For these reasons, it is the opinion of this Court that the trial judge did not abuse his
discretion in denying Hill’s motion for recusal.
For the foregoing reasons, we hold that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion by
excluding the medical testimony of Dr. Fuselier regarding the efficacy of any therapies to
extend the pregnancy, but that he did err by excluding the testimony regarding Dr. Mills’s
King’s Daughters Medical Center was dismissed on November 8, 2007.
alleged negligence in failing to perform an ultrasound. Because Hill could not establish any
of the required elements of her wrongful-death claim without expert testimony, the dismissal
of that claim was proper.
However, because the reliability of Dr. Fuselier’s opinion that Dr. Mills should have
performed an ultrasound was unchallenged, the trial judge erred in excluding that testimony,
and further erred in granting summary judgment on Hill’s claims for damages unrelated to
Finally, we find the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Hill’s motion for
recusal. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court in part, and remand this matter for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
AFFIRMED IN PART; REVERSED AND REMANDED IN PART.
CARLSON, P.J., RANDOLPH, LAMAR, KITCHENS AND PIERCE, JJ.
CONCUR. WALLER, C.J., SPECIALLY CONCURS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN
OPINION. CHANDLER, J., CONCURS IN PART AND DISSENTS IN PART WITH
SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY GRAVES, P.J.
WALLER, CHIEF JUSTICE, SPECIALLY CONCURRING:
I agree with the result reached by the majority. I am compelled to write because of
what I believe to be a misplaced reliance on Smith v. Clement, 983 So. 2d 285 (Miss. 2008).
The majority relies heavily on Smith to support its finding that the trial court did not
abuse its discretion in excluding Dr. Fuselier’s testimony regarding the efficacy of
interventions to prolong Hill’s pregnancy. Citing Smith, the majority states that “when the
reliability of an expert’s opinion is attacked with credible evidence that the opinion is not
accepted within the scientific community, the proponent of the opinion under attack should
provide at least a minimal defense supporting the reliability of the opinion.” I fully agree.
But Smith does not provide support for this reasoning.
In Smith, the defendant’s expert challenged the plaintiff’s expert’s opinion as not
being supported by sound scientific principles.
Smith, 983 So. 2d at 287.
defendant’s expert offered no scientific principles or other evidence to support this attack—it
was merely one expert’s opinion versus another expert’s opinion. Id. at 290-92 (Waller, P.J.,
dissenting). There was no “credible evidence” attacking the plaintiff’s expert’s opinion. Id.
Here, in contrast, Dr. Morrison offered credible evidence to attack Dr. Fuselier’s
assertions that certain therapies could have prevented Hill’s spontaneous abortion. Dr.
Morrison presented ample peer-reviewed literature to refute Dr. Fuselier’s opinion on this
point. Dr. Fuselier failed to rebut this challenge with a minimal defense to support the
reliability of his opinion.
Because of the factual differences between the two cases, I find nothing inconsistent
with my dissent in Smith and my concurrence in this case. I find the majority’s reliance on
Smith to be unfounded.
CHANDLER, JUSTICE, CONCURRING IN PART AND DISSENTING IN
I concur with the majority, with the exception that I would reverse the trial court’s
exclusion of the testimony of Dr. Paul G. Fuselier as to wrongful death and the grant of
summary judgment on Hill’s wrongful-death claim. Dr. Fuselier testified that, if Hill’s
pregnancy had been diagnosed when she presented at the hospital with bleeding and cramping
on May 27, 2002, the standard of care would have required Dr. Mills to admit Hill to the
hospital and order bed rest, pelvic rest, hydration, and tocolytic drugs to prevent labor
contractions. Dr. Fuselier testified to a reasonable degree of medical probability that, had
these measures been implemented, Hill’s pregnancy could have been extended to the point
of viability. Dr. Fuselier rendered these opinions based upon his twenty-five years of
experience as an obstetrician and gynecologist, and the defense never challenged his
qualifications as an expert in the field.
This Court has adopted the modified Daubert standard for the admission of expert
testimony. Miss. Transp. Comm’n v. McLemore, 863 So. 2d 31, 39 (Miss. 2003) (citing
Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharms., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1993);
Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 119 S. Ct. 1167, 143 L. Ed 2d 238 (1999)).
This standard requires the trial court to perform a two-pronged analysis to determine whether
expert testimony is admissible under Mississippi Rule of Evidence 702. Id. at 38. First, the
proffered expert testimony must be relevant, that is, it must “assist the trier of fact.” Id.
(quoting Mathis v. Exxon Corp., 302 F.3d 448, 460 (5th Cir. 2002)). Second, the proffered
testimony must be reliable. Id.
The trial court’s application of this two-pronged analysis is “fact-specific and
appropriately uses relevant factors to determine reliability.” Id. (citing Black v. Food Lion,
Inc., 171 F.3d 308 (5th Cir. 1999)). The five factors that the trial court must consider, if
relevant to determine reliability in the particular case, include: (1) “whether the theory or
technique can be and has been tested;” (2) “whether it has been subjected to peer review and
publication;” (3) “whether, in respect to a particular technique, there is a high known or
potential rate of error;” (4) “whether there are standards controlling the technique's
operation;” and (5) “whether the theory or technique enjoys general acceptance within a
relevant scientific community.” Id. at 37 (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-94). These
factors are nonexhaustive, and the trial court may deem these or other factors relevant in a
particular case “depend[ing] on the nature of the issue, the expert's particular expertise, and
the subject of the testimony.” Id. (citing Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 151); see Poole v. Avara,
908 So. 2d 716, 723 (Miss. 2005).
In evaluating reliability, the ruling court’s focus must remain “solely on principles and
methodology, not on the conclusions that they generate.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 595. Expert
testimony is inadmissible if the party proffering the testimony fails to demonstrate that it is
scientifically grounded. Adcock v. Miss. Transp. Comm’n, 981 So. 2d 942, 947 (Miss. 2008).
“Scientific knowledge means something more than unsupported speculation or subjective
belief that is grounded in methods and procedures of science.” Poole, 908 So. 2d at 723
(citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 595). While the existence of favorable peer review and
publication is a relevant consideration, it is not dispositive of an opinion’s admissibility.
Daubert, 509 U.S. at 594. In Poole, this Court held that the trial court properly admitted a
physician’s causation theory in the absence of peer review and publication because the theory
constituted a medical opinion, not “mere conjecture akin to astrology.” Poole, 908 So. 2d at
The majority finds that the trial court properly excluded Dr. Fuselier’s opinions
because the peer-reviewed articles submitted by Dr. Mills contradicted those opinions. The
majority further finds that, under Smith v. Clement, 983 So. 2d 285, 290 (Miss. 2008), Hill
was required to rebut Dr. Mills’s challenge to Dr. Fuselier’s testimony with “at least a
minimal defense supporting the reliability of the opinion.” Maj. Op. at ¶41. In Smith, this
Court affirmed the trial court’s exclusion of testimony by the plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Forbes,
based upon an affidavit of the defense expert, Nolen, which stated that Dr. Forbes’s opinions
were not properly grounded in science. Id. at 289-90. The Court found that the only evidence
on reliability before the trial court had been Nolen’s affidavit. Id. at 290. The Court stated
that the plaintiff should have submitted rebuttal evidence supporting the reliability of Dr.
Forbes’s opinions, such as a denial of the accuracy of Nolen’s affidavit. Id. In dissent, Chief
Justice Waller wrote that the trial court’s finding that Dr. Forbes’s opinion was unreliable was
itself based upon the unsubstantiated opinion of the opposing expert. Id. (Waller, C.J.,
dissenting). In Chief Justice Waller’s opinion, the trial court “simply took [Nolen’s] word
over that of Dr. Forbes,” although the conflicting affidavits actually created a fact question
for the jury. Id. at 291-92. I agree with this analysis.
I agree with Chief Justice Waller’s analysis of the admissibility of Dr. Forbes’s
testimony in Smith. Further, I believe that Smith should not be construed as engrafting a
burden-shifting scheme upon Daubert’s reliability prong. Smith should stand for no more
than the proposition that, while there is no requirement that a plaintiff rebut a defense
challenge to the reliability of proffered expert testimony, further development of the medical
evidence is encouraged when reliability is legitimately cast into doubt. The order in which
the evidence is presented to the trial court should have no bearing upon the trial court’s
assessment of the reliability of proffered expert testimony.
I turn to the proffered expert testimony in this case. Dr. Fuselier’s opinion was that,
based on his twenty-five years of experience as an obstetrician, to a reasonable degree of
medical probability, the administration of bed rest, pelvic rest, hydration, and tocolytic drugs
could have extended Hill’s pregnancy to the point of viability. This opinion conflicted with
that of Dr. Morrison, which was supported by peer-reviewed articles, that these measures
would not have been effective. The peer-reviewed literature submitted by Dr. Mills stated that
bed rest, pelvic rest, and hydration are commonly prescribed by obstetricians in an effort to
prevent preterm delivery. Even Dr. Mills testified that, had he discovered Hill’s pregnancy
on May 27, 2002, he would have placed Hill on pelvic rest, although he denied that this
measure would have had any beneficial effect in preventing her subsequent miscarriage.
I believe that Dr. Fuselier’s testimony met the threshold requirements for reliability
under the modified Daubert test, and that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding his
testimony. Dr. Fuselier’s opinion on the effectiveness of bed rest, pelvic rest, hydration, and
tocolytics is grounded in scientific validity because it is based upon his twenty-five years of
experience treating obstetrical patients. Dr. Fuselier’s opinion is based upon the outcomes
he had observed in the course of his experience as a qualified medical expert, not upon
“unsupported speculation” or “mere conjecture.” See Adcock, 981 So. 2d at 947; Poole, 908
So. 2d at 723. Moreover, there was ample evidence that bed rest, pelvic rest, and hydration,
measures advocated by Dr. Fuselier, are commonly ordered by obstetricians in an effort to
prevent preterm delivery, indicating the general acceptance of these treatments by the medical
community. Certainly, the support of peer-reviewed articles might have caused a jury to
afford more weight to Dr. Morrison’s testimony than to that of Dr. Fuselier. However, “the
reasonableness of an expert’s opinion and the weight to be afforded thereto” are always
questions of fact for the jury. Daniels v. GNB, Inc., 629 So. 2d 595, 602 (Miss. 1993).
Daubert instructs that “[v]igorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and
careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of
attacking shaky but admissible evidence.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596. For these reasons, I
would reverse the exclusion of Dr. Fuselier’s testimony and the grant of summary judgment
on Hill’s wrongful-death claim.
GRAVES, P.J., JOINS THIS OPINION.