University of Vermont AAHS

Ziegler v. Matthias

Minnesota Court of Appeals
UNPUBLISHED, 2002 WL 554369
April 16, 2002

Summary of Opinion

Plaintiff Ziegler sued defendant Matthias over the sale of what he claimed was a lame horse.  The trial court granted summary judgment (without a trial) to the defendant.  In this opinion, the Court of Appeals agrees with that decision.  The plaintiff’s expert, his horse trainer, gave an affidavit that lacked sufficient detail to establish for summary judgment purposes that the lameness existed before the horse was sold.  There was no other evidence of when the lameness began.

Text of Opinion

Appellant Michael Ziegler, Sr., brought this action against respondent Leon Matthias alleging respondent committed fraud when he sold appellant a lame horse. The district court granted summary judgment to respondent, concluding that appellant failed to establish through a competent expert witness the onset lameness in the horse. Because appellant failed to adequately establish the credentials of his expert witness, we affirm.

DECISION

The district court concluded that appellant did not meet his burden of establishing causation or the onset of the horse's lameness. Appellant argues that the district court erred in determining that his expert, Val Vetos, was not competent to render an expert opinion. "[E]videntiary rulings, including a decision to exclude expert testimony, lie within the sound discretion of the [district] court." Benson v. N. Gopher Enters., Inc., 455 N.W.2d 444, 445 (Minn.1990) (citations omitted).

Under Minn. R. Evid. 702, expert testimony is admissible when the witness is "qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education." A "lower standard of qualification [is applied] to witnesses giving opinion testimony [regarding diseases of animals] than is generally applied to expert witnesses offering testimony as to the diseases and ailments of humans." See Kastner v. Wermerskirschen, 295 Minn. 391, 394-95, 205 N.W.2d 336, 338- 39 (1973).

Appellant submitted an affidavit from Vetos, who is his horse trainer. Vetos states that she has been a professional horse trainer for 30 years and an equine judge for 18 years. She further asserts that "[a]mong the requirements for licensure [as an equine judge], is the certified ability to be able to distinguish whether or not a horse is traveling in a correct beat or if it is lame."

Vetos's affidavit, however, contains conclusory statements regarding her ability to detect equine lameness and lacks specific examples or supporting documentation confirming the requirements of licensure. While a witness may qualify as an expert on the basis of knowledge gained through occupational experience, the affidavit submitted here is too bare in its representations to qualify Vetos as an expert in the causation and onset of lameness. See Kastner, 295 Minn. at 395, 205 N.W.2d at 339.

We therefore conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that appellant failed to show that his proffered expert witness was sufficiently qualified in her ability to determine equine lameness. Because appellant failed to establish an essential element of his claim, the onset of equine lameness, summary judgment was properly granted. Lloyd v. In Home Health, Inc., 523 N.W.2d 2, 3 (Minn.App.1994) (summary judgment mandatory against party who has burden of proof and who fails to establish essential element of claim).


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