Judge Lucy Koh, nominated by President Biden to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, cast the deciding vote reversing a lower court and allowing a class action by homeowners against a company for marketing allegedly defective and harmful products to go forward. This was despite a dissent by Trump judge Eric Miller, who would have affirmed the lower court. The July 2023 decision was in Salhotra v Simpson Strong-Tie Company, Inc.
What is this Case About?
Ravi Salhotra filed a class action on behalf of homeowners, contending that Simpson Strong-Tie Co. was selling defective connector products that cause them to corrode and cause damage to homes. The trial court, however, denied a motion for the case to proceed as a class action, based on the exclusion of a key expert report by Dr. Paul Brown, which explained the inherent defect in the connectors. Salhotra and the other homeowners appealed.
How did Judge Koh and the Ninth Circuit Rule and Why is it Important?
Judge Koh cast the deciding vote in an unsigned 2-1 decision that reversed the district court. The ruling explained that Brown’s reliance on industry standards, his “extensive experience” concerning metal corrosion in concrete, and his “testing of specific Simpson products to reach his conclusion” all “demonstrate his reliability” under legal standards for expert opinions. Although the lower court and the dissent objected to some of his specific methodologies, the panel explained that such objections “go to the weight of the evidence, not admissibility,” and did not justify complete exclusion of Brown’s report. The panel thus concluded that the district court improperly excluded the report and, because its decision to reject class certification “rested so heavily” on that exclusion, the lower court must reconsider that decision as well.
The Ninth Circuit decision is obviously important to the class of California homeowners who seek accountability from the corporation for what they contend are defective products that cause damage to their homes. In addition, the ruling makes clear that courts should not exclude expert reports that can be crucial in product defect lawsuits based on disagreements about the weight that should be properly accorded to an expert’s opinion, an issue that should be resolved at trial. This may well become important to other consumers seeking accountability for product defects, particularly in the Ninth Circuit states of California, Alaska, Arizona, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. The holding is also yet another illustration of the importance of promptly confirming fair-minded Biden nominees like Judge Koh to our federal courts.