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Chambers v. Illinois Central Railroad Co.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

May 5, 2015

DAVID CHAMBERS, ET AL.
v.
ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY

Session Date: August 12, 2014

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT00325210 Robert Samual Weiss, Judge

Kristina Alicia Woo and Robert L. J. Spence, Jr., Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, David Chambers and Mildred Chambers.

Andrew Shuler DeShazo and Stephanie Camille Reifers, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Illinois Central Railroad Company.

Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which J. Steven Stafford, P. J., W. S., and W. Michael Maloan, Sp. J., joined.

OPINION

RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE

I. Facts and Procedural History[1]

This case arises out of an action brought by David and Mildred Chambers to recover for property damage suffered as a result of the May 2010 flood in and around Memphis, Tennessee.

Mr. and Mrs. Chambers have lived on Maritavia Drive in North Memphis since 2002; a drainage ditch, between 10 and 14 feet deep and maintained by the City of Memphis, runs parallel to their property. At a point approximately 300 feet beyond the Plaintiffs' property line, a culvert 48 inches in diameter runs under a railroad track at a location identified as mile point 384.20. That culvert, which is owned and maintained by the Illinois Central Railroad Company, channels water into the drainage ditch.

On April 30, 2010, rain began falling in Memphis and the surrounding vicinity; the rain continued virtually unabated over the next 48 hours. At approximately 6:15 a.m. on May 1, the Chambers were awakened by the security alarm in their home; upon investigation Mr. Chambers found twelve to eighteen inches of standing water in the den. A short time later, a fuse box in a commercial storage unit on the property shorted out, triggering a fire which damaged the unit. Most of their appliances, furniture, and personal belongings were destroyed or damaged; they stayed in a hotel for several days and then rented an RV to live in while their home was restored.

On June 29, 2010, David and Mildred Chambers filed suit against the City of Memphis, alleging that the drainage ditch was not properly maintained and, as a consequence, their property flooded after the rainfall. The Plaintiffs amended their complaint to add a claim that the City created a temporary nuisance by failing to maintain the drainage ditch and requested an injunction requiring the City to abate the nuisance. On the basis of information received in discovery from the City, the complaint was amended a second time, joining Illinois Central Railroad Company as a defendant and alleging that Illinois Central had not properly constructed the culvert which adjoined and fed into the ditch or had allowed the culvert to become obstructed, which caused a blockage in the flow of water in the drainage ditch and resulted in the property damage.

Illinois Central answered the complaint, generally denying that the damage was caused by an act or omission of the Railroad; after discovery, Illinois Central amended its answer.

In due course, Illinois Central filed a motion for summary judgment on two grounds: first, that plaintiffs' negligence claim was preempted by Illinois Central's compliance with 49 C.F.R. § 213.33 which mandates that "Each drainage or other water carrying facility under or immediately adjacent to the roadbed shall be maintained and kept free of obstruction, to accommodate expected water flow for the area concerned"; and second, that plaintiffs could not prove causation, an essential element of their negligence claim.[2] The Plaintiffs responded to the motion by filing their memorandum, a response to the statement of undisputed facts, and the affidavit of their expert Dr. Charles Morris, a civil engineer. Illinois Central filed a memorandum in response to the Plaintiffs' Response, to which the Chambers filed a Surreply, supported by the Affidavit of Antonio Brown, one of their neighbors.

1.With respect to federal preemption, the Court finds that there is a material issue of fact in dispute regarding whether Defendant Illinois Central Railroad Company complied with ...

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