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Tumlinson v. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.

Supreme Court of Delaware

November 21, 2013

Wendolyn TUMLINSON, Jake Albert Tumlinson, Jillveh Ontiveros and Paris Ontiveros, by her natural mother and next friend Jillveh Ontiveros, Plaintiffs Below, Appellants,
v.
ADVANCED MICRO DEVICES, INC., Defendant Below, Appellee.

Submitted: Nov. 6, 2013.

Page 1265

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware, in and for New Castle County, C.A. No. 08C-07-106.

Upon Remand from the Superior Court. AFFIRMED.

Ian Connor Bifferato, Richard S. Gebelein, Thomas F. Driscoll, III and J. Zachary Haupt, Esquires, Bifferato LLC, Wilmington, Delaware; Of Counsel: Steven J. Phillips and Victoria E. Phillips, Esquires, Phillips & Paolicelli, LLP, New York, New York; Thornton & Naumes, LLP, Boston, Massachusetts, for Appellants.

Frederick L. Cottrell, III, and Travis S. Hunter, Esquires, Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware; Of Counsel: Stacey A. Martinez and Marcy Hogan Greer, Esquires, Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., Austin, Texas; Stephen C. Dillard, Esquire, Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., Houston, Texas; Lisa Horvath Shub, Esquire, Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P., San Antonio, Texas, for Appellee.

Before STEELE, Chief Justice, JACOBS and RIDGELY, Justices.

JACOBS, Justice:

This is an appeal from a final judgment of the Superior Court in favor of the defendants. In this action, the Plaintiff-Appellants assert various tort claims against Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (" AMD" ). AMD moved to exclude certain expert testimony under Delaware Rule of Evidence 702— a motion that the Superior Court granted after determining that the evidence was not relevant. Plaintiff-Appellants timely appealed to this Court, which remanded the case to the Superior Court for further findings related to the expert testimony's admissibility. On remand, the Superior Court found that the expert testimony was unreliable and therefore inadmissible. We conclude that the Superior Court did not abuse its discretion in finding the expert testimony unreliable, and affirm its judgment. As a result, we do not reach or address the question of whether the trial court properly concluded that the evidence was not relevant under D.R.E. 702.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY[1]

Defendant-Appellee AMD, a Delaware corporation headquartered in California, specializes in manufacturing computer processors and other components. Plaintiff-Appellant Wendolyn Tumlinson and Anthony Ontiveros, the father of Plaintiff-Appellant Paris Ontiveros, (collectively, the " Plaintiffs" ), worked in AMD's semiconductor manufacturing facilities in San Antonio, Texas and Austin, Texas, respectively.[2]

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Tumlinson's son, Jake, was born on July 5, 1987 with several birth defects, including anal atresia and stenosis, neurogenic bladder, renal agenesis/hypoplasia, imperforate anus, and colo-vesicular fistula. Those birth defects, in combination, are referred to as " VATER association." That combination or syndrome of birth defects occasionally appears in the general population. Tumlinson continued to work for AMD after Jake's birth and in 1988 had a second child who had no birth defects. [3]

Ontiveros gave birth to a daughter, Paris, on August 12, 1994. Paris was born with pulmonic stenosis, congenital pulmonary valve atresia, ventricular septal defect, right pulmonary hypoplasia, lower limb reduction defects, and situs inversus with dextrocardia. Like VATER association, these defects also sometimes appear in the general population. Later, Ontiveros had another child while she was working for AMD. That child was born without any birth defects.[4]

On July 11, 2008, Plaintiffs sued AMD in the Superior Court on claims of negligence, premises liability, strict liability, abnormally dangerous ultra hazardous activity, and willful and wanton misconduct. The Plaintiffs claimed that the birth defects of Jake and Paris resulted from their parents' exposure to chemicals at AMD's Texas semiconductor plants.[5] In April 2010, AMD moved to sever Plaintiffs' claims for separate trials and also for a determination that Texas substantive law would govern both liability and damages issues. The Superior Court granted those motions in July 2010, but also concluded that Delaware law would apply to procedural issues.

On December 15, 2010, after the close of discovery, AMD moved in limine to exclude the testimony of the Plaintiffs' expert, Dr. Linda Frazier, claiming that it was unreliable and not relevant under Delaware Rule of Evidence 702. Dr. Frazier, an epidemiologist who has both a medical degree and a master's degree in public health, was to testify that Plaintiffs' exposure to chemicals while working at AMD caused Jake's and Paris's birth defects. After holding a four-day Daubert hearing [6] in April 2011, the Superior Court ultimately excluded Dr. Frazier's testimony. The trial court concluded that Dr. Frazier's testimony was not relevant as a matter of Delaware procedural law because her methodology was inadequate to establish causation under Texas substantive law.[7] After this Court refused Plaintiffs' petition to accept an interlocutory appeal, ...


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