TRUSTS & ESTATES LAW
United States District Court, District of Alaska (2022)
In Snead v. Wright, 2022 WL 4095907 (D. Alaska 2022), the district court held that an expert
witness’s testimony becomes excludable when it draws legal conclusions that should only be
drawn by the jury, or when the expert is shown to be unqualified to testify on a matter. (Id. at *2).
A decedent’s children claimed that Merrill Lynch engaged in negligence, fraudulent nondisclosure,
and breach of fiduciary duties in managing their deceased father’s trust account. (Id.). To support
these claims, the decedents wished to present the testimony of an expert in the financial industry.
(Id.). Merrill Lynch wished to exclude the expert from testifying at trial. (Id.). Merrill Lynch
alleged that the expert’s testimony should be entirely excluded because his expert report contained
opinions that were conclusory and without supporting explanation; for example, his testimony
included an opinion about how Merrill Lynch breached its fiduciary duty. (Id. at *2). The court
held that the expert could not speculate on Merrill Lynch’s motive or intent in his testimony, nor
could he offer the opinion that Merrill Lynch breached its fiduciary duties. (Id. at *3–4). However,
the expert could testify as to how Merrill Lynch’s conduct fell short of industry standards, so long
as his testimony identified and explained the relevant industry standard. (Id.). Further, the court
noted that excluding expert testimony should be the exception and not the rule. (Id. at *2).
Therefore, the court denied Merrill Lynch’s motion to exclude the testimony, but reserved the right
to exclude any part of the testimony at trial, holding that an expert witness’s testimony becomes
excludable when it draws legal conclusions that should only be drawn by the jury, or when the
expert is shown to be unqualified to testify on a matter. (Id. at *3–4).