In Watson v. Manhattan Luxury Automobiles, the Southern District of New York weighed in on the ongoing debate over whether scientific evidence offered in relation to a motion for class certification must meet the Daubert standard of reliability, which has been the subject of a deepening circuit split. In dicta, the Supreme Court implied that expert evidence at the class certification stage likely would be required to meet the standards of Daubert in at least some circumstances, but it has yet to definitely decide the issue. The Third, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits require scientific evidence to satisfy a full Daubert analysis at the class certification stage, while the Eighth Circuit requires only a “limited” Daubert analysis. The remaining circuits, including the Second Circuit, have not yet issued clear rulings on the matter.
Addressing this issue, the Court in the Southern District of New York opined that “[t]he Daubert and Rule 702 concepts of ‘gatekeeping’ and admissibility are ill suited for a class certification motion, which is determined by the Court.” The Court continued that there “is no admission or exclusion of testimony before a jury and no ‘gate’ requiring threshold reliability determinations. In sum, every objection goes to the weight of the testimony.” Despite its disapproval of using the Daubert analysis at the class certification stage, the court nonetheless addressed the parties’ Daubert motions briefly before turning to the certification motion, noting three main bases for proceeding with its analysis: (1) Supreme Court dicta suggesting that a Daubert analysis may be required in some circumstances; (2) “because Rule 702 provides a useful framework for evaluating expert testimony;” and (3) “because the parties have filed Daubert motions.”
While the Court’s decision does not go so far as to definitively answer whether a Daubert analysis is required at the class certification stage, it does express clear skepticism for requiring courts to act as “gatekeepers” of expert testimony when ruling on a certification motion. And yet, citing Supreme Court dicta, the Court ultimately followed the Daubert framework to decide the parties’ motions. The Court’s analysis creates more uncertainty in the Second Circuit, where district courts have trended towards a full Daubert analysis in recent decisions. Until the Supreme Court definitively decides this question, courts likely will continue to issue varying, and sometimes conflicting, opinions regarding the level of scrutiny required under Daubert at the class certification stage.