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Jinro America, Inc. v. Secure Investments, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary. Jinro America, Inc. and JR International Corp. (Appellants) sued various parties, including Brian Bishop, Brian W. Bishop, Inc., and Landmark Forward Companies (Appellees) over an international deal for the sale of frozen chicken that had gone bad. At trial, an expert witness testified that Korean companies, such as some Appellees, have a propensity to deal fraudulently; the lower court allowed the testimony as expert testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. Appellants appeal the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in Appellee’s favor.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When the testimony of a witness is unreliable under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and unduly prejudicial under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, the testimony is inadmissible.

    Facts. Appellants are a group of companies involved in international trade; Appellees are a group lead by Brian Bishop, a businessman who entered into an agreement with Appellants for the international sale of frozen chicken. Appellants claim the contract was a legitimate one, and brought suit to when Appellees were in breach. Appellees claim Appellants entered into the agreement to engage in a “roll program,” an illegal investment scheme.
    The contract’s terms provided that one Appellant company would buy large amounts of chicken and sell it to Appellees, who would then re-sell the product at a higher price.
    Appellants forwarded Appellees $10 million to cover expenses, and Appellees agreed to assign $10 million worth of Treasury securities to Appellants as collateral. When months went by and no chicken was bought or sold, Appellants declared Appellees in breach and brought suit, demanding repayment of the advance.
    At trial, Appellees relied on the testimony of David Herbert Pelham (Pelham) as an expert witness. Pelham testified that Korean companies have a propensity to engage in fraudulent activity, “including the avoidance of Korean currency laws.”
    Pelham’s testimony was offered as expert testimony, despite the fact that Pelham, “had no formal education or training in business or as a cultural expert.” According to Appellees, “Pelham’s . . . purported qualifications were that he had ‘served five tours of duty in Korea,’ lived there for about 12 years and was married to a Korean woman.”
    Appellants objected to the testimony, but the lower court denied the motions n a minute order, and without explanation, the district court denied Jinro’s motions, “as to Pelham’s general testimony on Korean culture and business practice, although it ruled that Pelham could not testify as an expert in Korean law.”

    Issue. Was it error for the lower court to have allowed Appellee’s private investigator witness to testify as an expert?

    Held. Yes; the testimony was unreliable under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and unduly prejudicial under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, and therefore should not have been admitted.

    Concurrence. Justice Wallace concurred in the result, but wrote separately to express that he, “disagree[d] with the majority’s visitation to issues unnecessary for our disposition of this appeal.” Specifically, Justice Wallace stated that, “the analysis used by the majority is too troubling for me to join . . . Pelham’s testimony regarding Korean businessmen and Korean business practices was inadmissible because it was not relevant . . . the majority unnecessarily invades a field of its choice in order to discuss the sensitive and difficult issue of race and ethnicity.” In sum, the concurrence argued that the irrelevancy of the testimony was all that needed to be addressed, and the case reversed on grounds that irrelevant testimony was admitted. Specifically, the concurrence explains:
    The problem with Pelham’s testimony is that it was simply not relevant to any issue in this case. As the majority correctly observes, none of Pelham’s testimony was directly connected to Jinro itself, and none was based on personal knowledge of Jinro or this particular transaction. It is a factual question whether a majority of Korean businessmen act in a certain way, but whether that fact is proven or not, it has no relevancy to show that this particular Korean businessman (or company) is that type of a businessman or acted that way in this specific contractual arrangement. No serious effort was made at trial, or in any brief on appeal, to link Pelham’s generalized testimony about Korean businessmen and the Korean financial and regulatory landscape to Jinro or the particular transaction at issue here. Thus, under Rule 401 Pelham’s testimony was irrelevant and inadmissible because it sheds no light on Jinro’s activities in this case.

    Discussion. The court focuses on the Federal Rules of Evidence and past precedent, and reasoned that the testimony at issue was not proper expert testimony, because Pelham did not establish himself as an expert. The court explained:
    Pelham offered his impressionistic generalizations about Korean businesses based on his personal investigative experiences, his “hobby” of studying Korean business practices, unspecified input from his office staff and his marriage to a Korean woman — hardly an adequate foundation for the type of expert opinion he offered the jury. Moreover, he provided no empirical evidence or studies to support his sweeping indictment of the Korean business community–other than to cite newspaper articles and a few anecdotal examples, some of them clearly hearsay.
    The court went on and concluded:
    We recognize that persons experienced in a particular field may have a “practical” expertise or specialized knowledge that might qualify them to provide relevant and reliable information to a lay jury . . . [but] [t]hat was not the nature or purpose of [Pelham’s] testimony . . . Pelham’s sweeping generalizations, derived from his limited experience and knowledge — plainly a skewed sample — were unreliable and should not have been dignified as expert opinion.
    As a final matter, the court explains that Federal Rule of Evidence 403 also prohibits the testimony. The court states that, “[e]ven if Pelham’s testimony might have been admissible as expert testimony, it was so tinged with ethnic bias and stereotyping that it should have been excluded under Rule 403’s balancing test.”


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