Pomona, SQM headed back to trial in polluted water case

By Angela Underwood | Aug 14, 2017

LOS ANGELES – Polluted water in the city of Pomona pushed a panel of judges to vacate judgment and demand a new trial.

LOS ANGELES – Polluted water in the city of Pomona pushed a panel of judges to vacate judgment and demand a new trial.

According to the California Second Court of Appeals Aug. 3 ruling, authored by Circuit Judge Clifford J. Wallace, a district court abused its discretion when it denied expert testimony and failed to make sufficient findings before permitting particular evidence in a trial, which inevitably ruled SQM North America Corporation (SQM) not responsible for polluting the Pomona’s water structure.

Calling errors made by the district court, “prejudicial,” Wallace and the panel including circuit judges Morgan Christen and Paul J. Watford, addressed the district court’s denial to update Dr. Neil Sturchio’s report, “which resulted in the exclusion of any testimony regarding post-2011 developments,” according to the ruling.  

The judge added in his ruling that although the panel agreed the district court identified the correct legal standard by denying city’s motion, “the district court applied the legal standard in an ‘illogical’ manner, and thus committed an abuse of discretion.”

The district court also abused its discretion by denying Pomona’s motion to exclude Dr. Richard Laton’s, who according to the ruling “opined that the perchlorate at issue might have flowed from hundreds of potential alternative sources other than SQM’s fertilizer.”

“The panel also held that based on the circumstances presented by the case, the city did enough to preserve its objection. Finally, the panel held that the erroneous inclusion of Laton’s testimony, combined with the erroneous partial exclusion of Sturchio’s testimony, was prejudicial.”

Noting that Laton’s testimony directly dented Sturchio’s “key witness” testimony, the judge wrote in his ruling that “the district court had denied Pomona’s motion to update Sturchio’s expert report, he was prohibited from testifying about the significant scientific progress that had taken place while the case had been on appeal.”

Ultimately, according to the ruling, the district court’s denial of Pomona update Sturchio’s expert report, “thus limiting his trial testimony to the scientific world as it existed in 2011” and the fact that opinions of the Daubert standard did not apply to Laton's testimony vacated the district court’s decision.

On remand, the judge ruled the district court "shall allow Sturchio to update his expert report and testify to the state of stable isotope research up to the present. In addition, the district court shall make findings regarding the scientific reliability of Laton’s proposed opinions, and hold a Daubert hearing if the district court determines one is necessary,” 

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