United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S RULE 702
J. Martínez United States District Judge
declaratory judgment action, Plaintiff Amica Life Insurance
Company (“Amica”) seeks a ruling that the death
of an insured, Martin K. Fisher (“Fisher”), does
not obligate it to pay life insurance benefits because Fisher
took his own life. (ECF No. 1.) Defendant Michael P. Wertz
(“Wertz”) is the named beneficiary under
Fisher's policy, and has counterclaimed for breach of
insurance contract. (ECF No. 50.)
before the Court is Amica's Motion Pursuant to
Fed.R.Evid. 702 to Exclude Testimony of Defendant's
Expert. (ECF No. 58.) For the reasons explained below, this
motion is granted.
summarized in the Court's only other substantive order in
this matter, this dispute centers around whether the suicide
exclusion in Fisher's life insurance policy is
enforceable. See Amica Life Ins. Co. v. Wertz, 2016
WL 8253895, at *1 (D. Colo. May 11, 2016). Fisher's
policy with Amica provided that suicide was not covered if it
occurred within two years of when the policy issues, as
permitted under the Individual Term Life Insurance Standards
(“Interstate Standards”) promulgated by the
Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Commission
(“Commission”). Id. Colorado is a member
of the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Compact, from
which the Commission derives its authority. Id.
suicide on March 12, 2015, was less than two years from
January 28, 2014, when his policy issued. Id. Given
that, Amica denied Wertz's claim for Fisher's death
benefit. Id. Wertz contends, however, that Colorado
Revised Statutes § 10-7-109 controls this matter.
Id. That statute only permits one-year suicide
exclusions, and Fisher's suicide took place more than one
year after his policy issued. Amica then filed for
declaratory judgment that the Interstate Standards control
when in conflict with § 10-7-109; Wertz counterclaimed
for the opposite declaration, and for the policy benefits
first, the parties agreed that this case presented a pure
issue of law to be resolved on the papers: does application
of the Interstate Standards in Colorado violate Colorado
constitutional doctrines regarding delegation of legislative
authority, separation of powers, equal protection, and
special legislation? Id. at *1-2. After the close of
briefing on those matters, however, Wertz filed a motion to
amend his answer and counterclaims, asserting that he had
recently discovered evidence suggesting that the Commission
did not follow its own procedures for promulgating the
Interstate Standards. Id. at *2-3. The Court agreed
to permit amendment, finding that the Commission's
alleged procedural irregularity should be explored because,
if the irregularity in fact existed, it would permit the
Court to avoid the “weighty” Colorado
constitutional questions. Id.
month before the Court issued that order, Wertz obtained an
expert opinion from Mr. John Kezer, Esq., regarding various
matters supposedly at issue. (ECF No. 58-1.) Amica now moves
to exclude Kezer's opinion as inadmissible under Federal
Rule of Evidence 702, largely because it comprises
interpretations of (or opinions about) the law, not
explanation of facts in light of governing law.
district court must act as a “gatekeeper” in
admitting or excluding expert testimony. Bitler v. A.O.
Smith Corp., 400 F.3d 1227, 1232 (10th Cir. 2004).
Admission of expert testimony is governed by Rule 702, which
A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill,
experience, training, or education may testify in the form of
an opinion or otherwise if: (a) the expert's scientific,
technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier
of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in
issue; (b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or
data; (c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles
and methods; and (d) the expert has reliably applied the
principles and methods to the facts of the case.
Fed. R. Evid. 702. The proponent of the expert testimony
bears the burden of proving the foundational requirements of
Rule 702 by a preponderance of the evidence. United
States v. Nacchio, 555 F.3d 1234, 1241 (10th Cir.
2009) (en banc).
opinion is not objectionable just because it embraces an
ultimate issue.” Fed.R.Evid. 704(a). Nonetheless,
“[t]here is a significant difference between an
attorney who states his belief of what law should govern the
case and any other expert witness. While other experts may
aid a jury by rendering opinions on ultimate issues, our
system reserves to the trial judge the role of adjudicating
the law for the benefit of the jury.” Specht v.
Jensen, 853 F.2d 805, 808-09 (10th Cir. 1988).