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Bevan v. Valencia

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

June 28, 2018

AIMEE BEVAN, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Desiree Gonzales, deceased, Plaintiff,
GABRIEL VALENCIA, Youth Development Administrator, Individually, MATTHEW EDMUNDS, Corrections Officer, Individually, JOHN ORTEGA, Corrections Officer, Individually, MOLLY ARCHULETA, Corrections Nurse, Individually, ST. VINCENT HOSPITAL, and NATHAN PAUL UNKEFER, M.D., Defendants.


         This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff's Motion to Exclude Cheryl Wills (Motion to Exclude), filed on April 1, 2016. (Doc. 155). Plaintiff seeks to exclude Cheryl Wills (Wills), a forensic adolescent psychiatrist, as an expert witness and to strike her “Psychiatric Expert Report” (Report) (Doc. 110-1). (Doc. 155) at 11. Defendant Nathan Paul Unkefer, M.D. (Unkefer) filed a response on April 15, 2016; Defendants Gabriel Valencia, Matthew Edmunds, John Ortega and Molly Archuleta (County Defendants) filed a response on April 29, 2016; and on May 5, 2016, Defendant St. Vincent Hospital (St. Vincent Hospital) joined in the responses filed by County Defendants and Unkefer. (Docs. 162, 170, and 175). County Defendants then filed a notice of errata on May 5, 2016, that included Wills' Substitute Affidavit.[1] (Doc. 173). Plaintiff filed a reply on May 17, 2016. (Doc. 180).

         On April 11, 2018, the Court held a telephonic preliminary hearing to determine whether to hold a Daubert hearing on the Motion to Exclude. (Docs. 238 and 239). As a result of that telephonic preliminary hearing, the Court ordered that (1) Plaintiff supplement the record to clarify the damages she is seeking, and (2) County Defendants supplement the record to include where and when Wills had previously testified as an expert. (Doc. 240).

         On April 17, 2018, Plaintiff filed a “Notice of Damages Sought for the Estate of Desiree Gonzales” in which Plaintiff specified the following damages:

1. The pain and suffering experienced by Desiree Gonzales between the time of injury and death;
2. The value of Desiree Gonzales's life apart from her earning capacity, also known as hedonic damages;[2]
3. The mitigating or aggravating circumstances attending the wrongful act, neglect or default pursuant to the New Mexico Wrongful Death Act;
4. Punitive damages, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983;
5. Attorney fees;
6. Costs; and
7. Pre- and post-judgment interest.

(Doc. 248) at 1. On that same day, County Defendants filed an “Affidavit of Cheryl D. Wills, M.D.” in which Wills attests to providing expert deposition and/or trial testimony in the area of forensic adolescent psychiatry in eight civil cases, beginning in July 2010. (Doc. 247) at 6.

         Having considered the Motion to Exclude, the accompanying briefing, the argument of counsel at the April 11, 2018, preliminary hearing, and the supplements filed by Plaintiff and County Defendants, the Court determines that a Daubert hearing on the Motion to Exclude is unnecessary and that the Motion to Exclude is granted.

         A. Background

         1. Wills' “Psychiatric Expert Report”

         Wills bases the Report on her review of Desiree Gonzales' (Gonzales) psychological and medical records, her rehabilitation records, her school records, court-related records, state agency records, and expert reports. (Doc. 110-1) at 1-2. The Report contains a detailed “Case Summary” setting forth a developmental history for Gonzales, including descriptions of various family issues, Gonzales' criminal conduct, and her substance use and abuse. Id. at 3-13.

         Wills then lays out her various opinions, which she made “with reasonable medical certainty.” Id. at 14. Wills opined, in essence, that

(1) Gonzales' mother physically and emotionally traumatized Gonzales;
(2) abuse and neglect caused Gonzales' behavior to deteriorate, including problems at school, criminal conduct, and addiction issues;
(3) when Gonzales' problems transitioned from parental neglect to “severe addiction and delinquency, ” Gonzales' “prognosis, educational potential, employment potential and life expectancy declined significantly;”
(4) Gonzales' biological father “did very little to improve his capacity to deal with [Gonzales'] behavior when it became disruptive;”
(5) if Gonzales' biological father had alerted law enforcement that Gonzales had contacted him, law enforcement could have detained Gonzales on an outstanding warrant before she could overdose on heroin for the last time on May 6, 2014;
(6) Gonzales' biological father profited from Gonzales' death by keeping for himself 37% of the funds raised for Gonzales' funeral and a youth organization; and
(7) had Gonzales lived, “her lifetime earnings potential would have been reduced because” of lack of education, likelihood of future incarceration, lack of responsibility, and addiction to heroin.

Id. at 13-17.

         2. Wills' Substitute Affidavit

         Wills attests in her Substitute Affidavit that her opinions are “based on training, experience and knowledge that is generally accepted in the medical community.” (Doc. 173) at 5, ¶ 3. She further states that her “opinions are based on data ascertained in a line of inquiry that is referred to as a psychological autopsy.” Id. at ¶ 4. A psychological autopsy considers a decedent's “[d]evelopmental history, medical history, educational history, legal history, family history, social history and any other relevant factors” to investigate “events that preceded his or her death.” Id. at ¶¶ 4-5. Neither the term “psychological autopsy” nor a description of a psychological autopsy appears in the Report.

         Wills further notes that she has “an extensive background in creating and reviewing psychological and medical records such as those listed in [her] report.” Id. at 6, ¶ 9. Because interpreting psychological and medical records “is likely outside the knowledge of most jurors, ” Wills attests that her “comprehensive developmental history” of Gonzales would be “helpful to the jury….” Id. Wills also attests that her Report and testimony would help a jury understand how Gonzales “would have had a poor prognosis, had she lived.” Id. at ¶ 10.

         B. ...

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