Law & Legal Expert Witness Testimony Not Allowed in Class Action ERISA Litigation

Summary: Law & Legal Expert Witness testimony is not allowed even though the plaintiffs maintain that the expert’s opinion on the retention of FTCs was a best practice analysis.

Facts: This case (Romano et al v. John Hancock Life Insurance Company – United States District Court – Southern District of Florida – May 9th, 2022) involves a putative class action claim against John Hancock Life Insurance Company.  The plaintiffs, Eric and Todd Romano, are trustees in a contribution plan who purchased a Group Variable Annuity Contract from the defendants.  To support their claims, the plaintiff hired Law & Legal Expert Witness Bruce Pingree to provide expert witness testimony.  The defendant filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion: The plaintiffs hired Pingree to opine on the best practices that they should be using to determine 1) who owns the economic benefit of the FTCs; 2) a record keepers fiduciary duty with respect to the economic benefit; 3) whether the defendant committed a prohibited transaction; and 4) how a person should remedy the prohibited transaction.

John Hancock argues that certain aspects of Pingree’s opinion should be excluded because they are irrelevant and are improper legal opinions.  The defendant claims that Pingree’s opinion that the plaintiffs engaged in the best practices for evaluating their claims and were required to bring a lawsuit are irrelevant.  The court notes that even though the plaintiffs and Pingree use the phrase “best practices”, the expert did not provide any analysis of what a “best practice” is in this case.

The court also notes that some of Pingree’s opinions are credibility assessments of the plaintiffs and are thus inadmissible.  In addition, the court states that Pingree’s analysis is just an examination of the elements of the offense.  The court maintains that expert testimony discussing to a jury that a lawsuit is justified should be excluded as well.

In addition, the court states that Pingree’s expert witness testimony also contains impermissible legal conclusions.  The court opines that the sections in Pingree’s report where he just includes that language of a statute or regulation is inadmissible as well.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Bruce Pingree is granted.