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Gilreath v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

February 6, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Darren Gilreath and Defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. (“CSXT”). Plaintiff alleges that CSXT is liable under the Federal Employer's Liability Act (“FELA”), 45 U.S.C. § 51, et seq, for negligently causing an injury to his shoulder. Plaintiff advances three theories of liability: a traditional FELA negligence claim; a negligence per se claim based on an alleged violation of the Federal Safety Appliances Act (“FSAA”), 49 U.S.C. §§ 20301-20306;[1] and a negligence per se claim based on an alleged violation of the Locomotive Inspection Act (“LIA”), 49 U.S.C. §§ 20701-20703.[2] Plaintiff seeks partial summary judgment on his FSAA claim, (DE 74), while Defendant seeks summary judgment on all three causes of action, (DE 75). For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment is denied. Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted with respect to Plaintiff's FELA negligence claim and LIA claim, but denied with respect to Plaintiff's FSAA claim.

         I. Background

         Gilreath began working for CSXT in July 2003. On or about December 10, 2013, Gilreath was working as a switchman on a remote control locomotive in CSXT's Corbin, Kentucky railyard. Gilreath was part of a two man crew working to move rail cars for the purpose of building an outbound train. The crew was using railcar #SHPX 208261 as a buffer car for other railcars to kick into to stop. While performing this task, and in accordance with CSXT policy, Gilreath was wearing a Remote Control Operator (“RCO”) vest and using a brake stick to tighten the handbrake on railcar #SHPX 208261.[3] Gilreath claims that, when he had almost completed applying the handbrake, the tension in the brake unexpectedly and momentarily released and came to sudden stop. This allegedly caused him to feel a pop and jolt in his shoulder and immediate pain and numbness in his left arm.

         Gilreath continued assembling the outbound train before reporting the incident to his supervisor, Randell McPeek, who asked him to write a signed statement regarding the event. In that statement, Gilreath reported that “while using brake stick felt a pop and some tingly in arm and my pinky finger and middle finger went numb” and that he felt soreness in his shoulder. (DE 75-4). After receiving Gilreath's report, a senior general foreman, Rebecca Gardner, conducted an inspection of the railcar. Her report found no exceptions and stated that the “handbrake applied and relaxed properly.” (DE 75-10). The railcar was then released back into service and eventually returned to its customer owner. The next day, Gilreath filled out a PI-1A “Employee's Injury and/or Illness Report” in which he again reported feeling a “pop in left shoulder” and claimed that the “remote box causes restrictive range of motion while using brake stick.” (DE 75-6). Approximately one month after the incident, Gilreath met with CSXT representative Jim Begley during which he stated that he lacked a “safe place to work because the remote restricts your range of motion.” (DE 75-5, at 25-26).

         Gilreath suffered rotator cuff and labral tears and, despite undergoing surgery, has permanent restrictions on the use of his left shoulder and upper arm. On June 7, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court alleging that this injury was due to CSXT's negligence. Plaintiff has filed a motion for partial summary judgment, (DE 74), and Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment, (DE 75). Both parties have filed responses and replies and these motions are now ripe for consideration.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate “ if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). All evidence, facts, and inferences must be viewed in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). In order to defeat a summary judgment motion, “[t]he nonmoving party must provide more than a scintilla of evidence, ” or, in other words, “sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to find in that party's favor.” Van Gorder v. Grand Trunk W. R.R., Inc., 509 F.3d 265, 268 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986)). Summary judgment must be entered if, “ after adequate opportunity for discovery, ” a party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Tolton v. American Biodyne, Inc., 48 F.3d 937, 940 (6th Cir. 1995) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (internal quotations omitted)).

         III. FELA, FSAA, and LIA

         The Sixth Circuit has described FELA as “a remedial and humanitarian statute . . . enacted by Congress to afford relief to employees from injury incurred in the railway industry.” Mounts v. Grand Trunk W. R.R., 198 F.3d 578, 580 (6th Cir. 2000). FELA provides:

Every common carrier by railroad while engaging in commerce between any of the several states . . . shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in such commerce . . . for such injury . . . resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier . . . .

45 U.S.C. § 51. To present a prima facie case under FELA, a plaintiff must prove that: (1) he was injured within the scope of his employment; (2) his employment was in furtherance of the employer's interstate transportation business; (3) that the employer was negligent; and (4) that the employer's negligence played some part in causing the injury for which he seeks compensation under FELA. The statute, however, relaxes a plaintiff's burden of proof regarding causation. Van Gorder, 509 F.3d at 269 (citing Rogers v. Missouri Pacific R.R. Co., 352 U.S. 500, 506 (1957)). A plaintiff must only show that his injury resulted “in whole or in part from the negligence” of the employer. 45 U.S.C. § 51 (emphasis added); see Van Gorder, 509 F.3d at 271 (“Under FELA, the ‘test of a jury case is simply whether the proofs justify with reason the conclusion that employer negligence played any part . . . in producing the injury.'”) (quoting Gallick v. Baltimore & Ohio R.R. Co., 372 U.S. 108, 116 (1963) (alteration in original). But the burden of proving the remaining elements of negligence are not lessened. Van Gorder, 509 F.3d at 269. Thus, a plaintiff “cannot benefit from FELA's relaxed causation standard unless he can prove that the employer was negligent in the first place . . . .” Id. at

         The FSAA, 49 U.S.C. §§ 20301-20306, requires railroad carriers to use “a vehicle only if it is equipped with . . . secure sill steps and efficient hand brakes . . . .” Id. § 20302(a)(1)(B). The FSAA lacks a statutory cause of action. The Supreme Court, however, has held that the cause of action created by FELA “embraces claims of an employee based on violations of the” FSAA. Crane v. Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Ry. Co., 395 U.S. 164, 166 (1969). Thus, a violation of the FSAA is negligence per se under FELA. If an employee can prove the employer committed a violation of the FSAA, he must only show the injury resulted “in whole or in part” from the violation to establish liability under FELA. Id.

         Similarly, the LIA, 49 U.S.C. §§ 20701-20703, also lacks an independent cause of action, but a violation of the statute is negligence per se under FELA. Lewis v. Wis. Cent., Ltd., 562 Fed.Appx. 410, 412 (quoting Szekeres v. CSX Transp., Inc., 617 F.3d 424, 426 (6th Cir. ...

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