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Top Notch Solutions, Inc. v. Crouse and Associates Insurance Brokers, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

September 25, 2019

TOP NOTCH SOLUTIONS, INC. and ROBERT RASHIDI, Plaintiffs,
v.
CROUSE AND ASSOCIATES INSURANCE BROKERS, INC. et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON MCGRIFF, SEIBELS & WILLIAMS, INC.’S MOTION TO EXCLUDE

          JAMES L. ROBART, United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the court is Defendant McGriff, Seibels & Williams, Inc.’s (“MSW”) motion to exclude Plaintiffs Top Notch Solutions, Inc.’s (“Top Notch”) and Robert Rashidi’s (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) expert witnesses. (See Mot. (Dkt. # 178).) Plaintiffs filed a response. (Resp. (Dkt. # 195).[1]) MSW filed a reply. (Reply (Dkt. # 199).) The court has reviewed the motion, the parties’ submissions concerning the motion, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part MSW’s motion.[2] Specifically, the court grants the motion to exclude Dr. Bradford, and denies the motion to exclude Dr. DeKay.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Rashidi marketed commercial automobile liability insurance policies to taxicab businesses and other for-hire drivers operating in King County, Washington through his company, Top Notch. (See FAC (Dkt. # 90) ¶ 3.2.2.) Top Notch and Crouse entered into a brokerage agreement in 2010. (See Moore Decl. (Dkt. # 8) ¶ 3, Ex. 1 (“Brokerage Agreement”).) Pursuant to the Brokerage Agreement, Crouse obtained insurance plans from nonparty insurance carriers for Top Notch’s clients. (See Id . at 2.[3]) In 2013, MSW, a Top Notch competitor, contracted with Crouse “to develop a new underwriting model for the procurement of insurance for associations like the [Western Washington Taxicab Operators Association (‘WWTCOA’)], ” a voluntary advocacy group comprised of taxicab and for-hire drivers. (See McGinnis Decl. (Dkt. # 155) ¶ 6; 1st Bedard Decl. (Dkt. # 156) ¶ 3, Ex. A (“WWTCOA Dep.”) at 18:11-20:8; Brucker Decl. (Dkt. # 161) ¶ 2, Ex. 1 (“MSW Program Communications”) at 9.)

         Plaintiffs contend that Crouse and MSW intended for their arrangement to divert business away from Top Notch and other local brokers (see FAC ¶¶ 3.3.3, & 3.3.7), and to establish a monopoly (see Id . ¶¶ 3.3.21, 3.4.5, 3.4.18). Plaintiffs further contend that Defendant MSW harmed Plaintiffs’ reputation through statements in a WWTCOA newsletter and other negative communications to Top Notch clients. (See Id . ¶ 4.3.3; MSW MSJ Resp. (Dkt. # 160) at 11-13; 1st Bedard Decl. ¶ 18, Ex. O (“Fare Times Newsletter”).) Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Pucin is an unlicensed collection agency that unlawfully attempted to collect Top Notch’s debts to Crouse and that Pucin’s collection efforts caused Humble & Davenport, Mr. Rashidi’s subsequent employer, to terminate him. (See FAC ¶¶ 3.5.1-3.5.3; Pucin MSJ Resp. (Dkt. # 183) at 4-5 (citing Davenport Decl. (Dkt. # 174-1) ¶¶ 12-13).)

         MSW denies Plaintiffs’ allegations and contends that any harm Plaintiffs suffered is attributable to their own legal violations uncovered by Office of the Insurance Commissioner (“OIC”) investigations. (See MSW MSJ (Dkt. # 154) at 25-26.) The OIC investigated Top Notch on September 5, 2014, and gave Top Notch an “Unacceptable” result, finding Top Notch out of compliance with four out of five compliance items. (See 1st Bedard Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. D (“1st OIC Report”) at 11, 21.) The OIC investigated Top Notch again on February 5, 2015, concluded that Top Notch had corrected only one of the five compliance issues, and converted Plaintiffs’ insurance producer licenses to probationary licenses that required Top Notch “to have an appropriate accounting system with sufficient detail to track its financial transactions related to premium (sic) in place.” (See 1st Bedard Decl. ¶ 7, Ex. E (“OIC Reinvestigation Report”) at 23, 39; id. ¶ 9, Ex. G (“1st Consent Order”) at 85.) On April 28, 2017, the OIC issued an order finding that Plaintiffs violated the conditions of their probationary licenses and revoking Top Notch and Mr. Rashidi’s licenses. (See Id . ¶ 12, Ex. J (“2nd Revocation Order”) at 98.) On October 2, 2017, the parties entered a second consent order in which the OIC rescinded the 2nd Revocation Order. (See Id . ¶ 13, Ex. K (“2nd Consent Order”) at 108-09.) In exchange, Mr. Rashidi and Top Notch voluntarily relinquished their licenses. (See id.) Mr. Rashidi subsequently made a career change and began working in real estate. (See Id . ¶ 26, Ex. W (“Rashidi Dep.”) at 84:23-85:15.)

         Plaintiffs maintain two claims against MSW: (1) defamation and (2) intentional interference with business expectancy. (See FAC ¶ 4.3; 5/30/2018 Order (Dkt. # 86) at 1.) Plaintiffs’ sole claim against Pucin is for a Washington Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”) violation based on noncompliance with Section 110 of the Washington Collection Agency Act (“WCAA”). (See FAC ¶¶ 4.4-4.5; 11/07/2017 Order (Dkt. # 38) at 14 (citing RCW 19.16.110).)

         MSW moves to exclude Plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, William Bradford and C. Frederick DeKay. The court first examines the legal standard for motions to exclude expert testimony, then applies that standard to Dr. Bradford and Dr. DeKay.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard for CFL’s Motions to Exclude

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admission of expert testimony in federal court:

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 ...

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