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Tipton v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

October 13, 2017

CHARLES TIPTON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., and UNION TANK CAR COMPANY, Defendants. DEDRA JONES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., and UNION TANK CAR COMPANY, Defendants. KELLI JOHNSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., and UNION TANK CAR COMPANY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS A. VARLAN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This civil action is before the Court on plaintiffs' Motion to Stay Litigation Pending Appeal Pursuant to Rule 23(f), or, in the Alternative, for a Continuance of Trial Date, in the above-styled consolidated cases [No. 3:15-cv-311, Doc. 227]. Defendants Union Tank Car Company (“UTC”) and CSX Transportation, Inc. (“CSX”) responded in opposition to plaintiffs' motion [Docs. 231, 233]. The Court has carefully considered the matter and, for the reasons stated below, will grant in part and deny in part plaintiffs' motion.[1]

         I. Background

         This case concerns a train derailment and resulting chemical fire in Maryville, Tennessee, which caused the mandatory evacuation of thousands of local residents [Doc. 114 ¶¶ 14, 30-31]. A number of those residents have brought suit against the operator of the train, defendant CSX, and the owner of the tank car that derailed and caught fire, defendant UTC, asserting state-law tort claims [Id. ¶¶ 5-12]. The Court has previously summarized the factual allegations in this matter in detail [see, e.g., Doc. 118], and will instead focus here on the relevant procedural history.

         On July 22, 2015, plaintiffs Charles Tipton, Billy Tipton, Travis Pruett, and Elizabeth Pruett filed suit against defendants CSX and UTC, purporting to represent themselves and others similarly situated in a class action lawsuit [Doc. 1]. Plaintiffs asserted claims of negligence and private nuisance under Tennessee common law against both defendants [Id. ¶¶ 37-53]. Various other plaintiffs filed separate lawsuits arising from the same train derailment.[2] On May 18, 2016, the Court granted the unopposed motion of the plaintiffs in Tipton v. CSX Transportation, Inc., No. 3:15-cv-311, Jones v. CSX Transportation, Inc., No. 3:15-cv-337, and Johnson v. CSX Transportation, Inc., No. 3:15-cv-497, to consolidate their respective actions [Doc. 110]. The Court designated Tipton as the lead case, and on June 10, 2016, plaintiffs filed a Master Consolidated Class Action Complaint, which superseded all prior complaints in the consolidated cases [Doc. 114]. The proposed class was defined as follows:

All natural persons, whether minor or adult, including any person claiming by, through or under a Class Member, who had a possessory interest in real property and who were physically present in the Evacuation Zone during and after the early hours of July 2, 2015, and who evacuated; and all natural persons, including minors and adults, who were physically present in the Evacuation Zone, who had a possessory interest in real property in the Evacuation Zone, but who were sheltered in place during or after the early morning hours of July 2, 2015. Excluded from the Class are those persons who would otherwise be Class members, but who or which are: (i) Defendants, or any of their employees, agents, insurers, contractors, and subcontractors, including employees of Defendant's agents, contractors or subcontractors, (ii) the Court, court personnel and their immediate families, (iii) the attorneys for any of the Parties and members of their law firms; (iv) making a claim for personal injury for which they sought medical treatment; and (v) Opt Outs.

[Id. ¶ 38]. Then, on June 7, 2016, the Court entered an order granting in part and denying in part the motions to dismiss filed by defendants in both the consolidated cases and Hall v. CSX Transportation, Inc., No. 3:15-cv-346 [Doc. 118]. The Court rejected application of the Tennessee firefighter's rule and economic loss doctrine, held that plaintiffs properly stated claims for negligence and nuisance, and found that only some of plaintiffs' allegations were preempted by federal law [Id.].

         On October 14, 2016, plaintiffs moved to certify this matter as a class action under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(a), 23(b)(3), and, alternatively, 23(c)(4) [Doc. 131]. The Court referred this motion to Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley, Jr., for his consideration [Doc. 133]. On July 11, 2017, Magistrate Judge Shirley entered a Report and Recommendation (the “R&R”), recommending class certification as to the liability issues in the case but not as to the nature of plaintiffs' injuries or the extent of damages [Doc. 173]. Defendants filed several joint objections to the R&R [Doc. 180], to which plaintiffs responded [Doc. 196]. Then, on September 26, 2017, the Court entered an order sustaining defendants' objections to the R&R and denying class certification [Doc. 220]. Specifically, the Court held that plaintiffs had failed to satisfy the impracticability of joinder requirement under Rule 23(a)(1) [Id. at 16].

         On October 3, 2017, plaintiffs filed a motion to stay these proceedings pending resolution of their forthcoming petition for permission to appeal the Court's September 26 order to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit [Doc. 227]. Plaintiffs alternatively request a continuance of the trial date, currently scheduled for November 13, 2017 [Doc. 148], to permit sufficient time to prepare for trial, dispose of pending motions, and resolve other pretrial issues [Doc. 227 pp. 1-2]. Defendant UTC filed a response opposing any stay of this matter but suggesting that a short continuance of the trial date would be appropriate [Doc. 231]. Defendant CSX then filed a response opposing either a stay or continuance [Doc. 233]. On October 10, 2017, the Court received notice that plaintiffs had filed their petition for permission to appeal [Doc. 234].

         Defendants UTC and CSX have also filed separate motions for summary judgment, which are now fully briefed [Docs. 175-78, 206-07]. In addition, plaintiffs have moved for leave to file an amended consolidated complaint [Doc. 167], which defendants oppose [Docs. 168-69]. These motions remain pending before the Court at this time.

         II. Analysis

         The Court will first determine whether plaintiffs are entitled to a stay of litigation pending the Sixth Circuit's disposition of their petition for permission to file an interlocutory appeal. The Court will then turn to the question whether a continuance of the trial date in this matter is alternatively warranted. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that plaintiffs are not entitled to their requested stay, but that a brief continuance is nonetheless appropriate in the interest of judicial economy.

         A. Plaintiffs' Motion to Stay Litigation

         First, plaintiffs seek a stay of litigation while the Sixth Circuit considers their petition for permission to appeal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(f) [Doc. 227 pp. 3-6]. That rule provides as follows:

A court of appeals may permit an appeal from an order granting or denying class-action certification under this rule if a petition for permission to appeal is filed with the circuit clerk within 14 days after the order is entered. An appeal does not stay proceedings in the ...

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