Architecture Expert Witness Allowed in Part

Plaintiff sued defendant for allegedly copying their residential home design plans.  The defendant hired an architecture expert witness and the plaintiff filed a motion to exclude.  The court denied the motion in part and granted the motion in part.

Facts: This case (Design Basics LLC v. Petros Homes, Inc – United States District Court – Northern District of Ohio – July 3rd, 2017) involves the design of residential homes.  The plaintiff (“Design Basics”) alleges that the defendant (Petros) copied their design plans.  In order to prove that thus occurred, Design Basics must prove that 1) that Petros had access to copy the design and 2) that the works are substantially similar.  The defendant has hired Richard Kraly as an architecture expert witness.  Design Basics seeks to exclude this expert testimony.

Discussion: Design Basics argues that Mr. Kraly possesses little knowledge of copyright law and, thus should not be permitted to testify in this case.  They also assert that he does not have any familiarity with the Berne Convention or the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act, has never taught or published in the area of Copyright law, and does not understand the definition of the word “original” when shown in the context of a copyright case.  Design Basics also argues that Mr. Kraly does not understand how copyright law relates to architectural works and does not understand the U.S. Copyright Office’s definition of the phrase “Public Domain”.  Also, they argue that Mr,. Kraly’s opinions are not based on a reliable methodology and that he failed to consider other homes or builders in the area.

In their reply, Petros argues that Kraly is a registered architect and that his expertise will assist the trier of fact in determining whether the parties’ designs are substantially similar.  In addition, they state that Mr. Kraly is qualified  to testify about the originality and functionality of the designs.

In the plaintiff’s reply, they argue that Mr. Kraly should not be allowed to render an opinion on ultimate legal issues.  They also state that Mr. Kraly’s testimony will confuse a jury and that he doesn’t understand the plaintiff’s characterization of copyright law and that his experience is unreliable.

The court, in their written opinion, state that Mr. Kraly is not required to be an expert in copyright law, as purported by the plaintiff.  In fact, his expertise is in architecture, not copyright law.  Also, the court opines that his expertise could assist the the trier of fact in deciding  which elements of homes are common and spotlighting the differences and similarities  between the two designs at issue.  In addition, the court does not agree with the plaintiffs that Mr. Kraly’s methodology is unreliable.  The court stated that the plaintiff’s did not provide any evidence  that Mr. Kraly is not familiar  with standard features of designs for residential houses or that he is not qualified to compare design plans.

The court did agree that Mr. Kraly should not be allowed to testify on the ultimate issue in this case, nor provide his opinion on such, which would dictate the conclusion of the case.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Richard Kraly is granted in part and denied in part.