Aerial Photography Expert Witness Testimony Allowed in Environmental Remediation Litigation

Aerial Photography Expert Witness allowed to provide expert witness testimony despite defendant’s claim that he has limited exposure to aerial photography.

Facts:  This case (El Paso Natural Gas Company LLC v. United States of America et al – United States District Court – District of Arizona – February 19th, 2019) involves an environmental claim.  The plaintiff brings this action against the plaintiff for claims under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to recover response costs incurred in remediating certain historical uranium mines located on the Navajo Reservation.  The plaintiff has hired Aerial Photography Expert Witness Douglas Beahm to provide testimony.  The United States has filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion: The United States argues that Mr. Beahm has had only limited exposure to aerial photography in connection with three or four geology classes.  In addition, they state that he never sought academic or specialized training in photo interpretation, has never published professional papers, or been a member of any professional society in the field of aerial photographic interpretation.  The court opines that it must resolve this issue on the basis of the foundation of and opinions provided during the bench trial.

The United States also argues that the methodology used by Mr. Beahm to interpret the aerial photographs are not reliable under Daubert.  They state that Mr. Beahm did not obtain aerial photographs of sufficient quality or view the photos stereoscopically.  The court opines that the plaintiff has provided sufficient evidence of other methods for interpreting aerial photographs besides the ones proffered by the United States.  Thus, the court concludes that Mr. Beahm’s methods are sufficiently reliable for his opinions to be admissible.

The United States also argues that Mr. Beahm’s report contained a February 1954 aerial photograph, which they maintain is unhelpful to the factfinder.  The court opines that the United States does not explain how the use of an allegedly inaccurate exhibit disqualifies an expert from testifying under Daubert.  The court also opines that the United States can bring up this objection at trial.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Douglas Beahm is denied.