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Parker v. CSX Transporation, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

November 17, 2017

JAMES PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART, DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant CSX Transportation, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss (ECF No.18) filed on July 14, 2017. Plaintiff James Parker has responded in opposition, and Defendant has filed a reply. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is GRANTED in part, DENIED in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an initial Complaint on April 17, 2017, alleging claims for injuries Plaintiff allegedly sustained as a result of being struck by a train operated by Defendant. Defendant filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the initial Complaint on May 15, 2017. Plaintiff responded to the Rule 12(b)(6) motion by filing a First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 11) on May 31, 2017. As a result of Plaintiff amending his pleadings, the Court denied Defendant's motion to dismiss as moot. On June 5, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 13). When Defendant filed a motion to strike the new pleading, the Court denied Defendant's motion to strike the Second Amended Complaint and granted Plaintiff's motion for leave to file the pleading. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint followed.

         For purposes of the Motion to Dismiss, the Court accepts the following well pleaded factual allegations as true. On June 2, 2011, at approximately 12:08 a.m., a train owned and operated by Defendant struck Plaintiff, as he was lying prostrate across railroad tracks near Dodson Street and 17th Avenue in Humboldt, Tennessee. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10, 12, 15. Prior to approaching Plaintiff on the tracks, the train had gone through a railroad crossing, and its crew had sounded the horn. Id. ¶ 17. The crew clearly saw an obstruction on the tracks and mistakenly took the object for a log. Id. ¶¶ 18, 19. The crew did not immediately apply the brakes and admittedly took no steps to slow the train down until they realized the object on the tracks was a body, and not a log. Id. ¶¶ 18, 20. At that point the crewman sounded the horn and applied the brakes. Id. ¶ 20. The train was unable to stop before striking Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 21. Plaintiff's arm and leg were amputated during the accident. Id. ¶ 24. Plaintiff alleges that had the crew applied the brakes as soon as they saw the object on the tracks, the train would have stopped before striking Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 25. Instead, Plaintiff's body was found under the fifth car back from the train's engine. Id. ¶ 26. Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant is liable for negligence and negligence per se (Count I) and negligent entrustment of a train (Count II), all under Tennessee law.

         In its Motion to Dismiss, Defendant argues that each of Plaintiff's claims is subject to dismissal. First, Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint fails to state a plausible claim for negligence or negligence per se. Defendant construes Plaintiff's pleadings to allege seven separate acts or omissions amounting to negligence: (1) failure to stop the train; (2) failure to sound the horn; (3) failure to slow the train; (4) failure to train the crew properly; (5) failure to keep a proper lookout; (6) failure to remedy dangerous track conditions; and (7) failure to prevent pedestrian access to the tracks. With respect to the speed of the train and the proper training of the crew, Defendant argues that the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”) preempts any claim under Tennessee common law. According to Defendant, Plaintiff has no claim that the crew was operating the train at an unreasonable speed in violation of Tennessee law when the FRSA governs the lawful rate of speed for trains. Likewise, the FRSA sets out a comprehensive set of requirements for the training and supervision of railroad crews, preempting any Tennessee law covering the same subject matter. Therefore, Defendant argues the Court should dismiss these preempted claims.

         And as for Plaintiff's other negligence theories, Defendant contends that the facts in the Second Amended Complaint show that Plaintiff was a trespasser on the tracks. Under the circumstances, Defendant's duty to Plaintiff under Tennessee law was to refrain from injuring him intentionally, willfully, or recklessly. The Second Amended Complaint alleges no facts to imply that the train crew acted intentionally or willfully. The crew applied the brakes and sounded the horn. Furthermore, Plaintiff was apparently lying on the tracks, even after the crew applied the brakes and sounded the horn. Plaintiff has pleaded no other facts to create an inference about the crew's state of mind, culpable or otherwise. As a result, the Court should hold that the Second Amended Complaint does not state a plausible negligence claim.

         Concerning the allegation that the crew failed to sound the train's horn, Defendant argues that the Second Amended Complaint contradicts itself. Plaintiff alleges that the train had sounded the horn at a railroad crossing just before the train came upon Plaintiff. It makes no difference that the crew was sounding the horn because of the crossing, so long as the crew sounded the horn as the train approached Plaintiff. Moreover, the Second Amended Complaint does not state a claim for the failure to maintain the area near the tracks. Plaintiff has lying on the tracks themselves, and Defendant did not owe Plaintiff as a trespasser the standard duty of care. There are no facts in the Complaint to suggest that the condition of the tracks in any way caused the accident. For all of these reasons, the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's negligence and negligence per se claims.

         Next, Defendant argues that the Second Amended Complaint does not allege a plausible claim for negligent entrustment. The claim is in its essence a claim for failure to train, which the FRSA preempts. Also, Plaintiff has not alleged that the crewman entrusted with the operation of the train was incompetent to carry out his duties. In the event the Court does not dismiss all of Plaintiff's claims for relief, Defendant argues that the Second Amended Complaint does not allege any facts to support Plaintiff's prayer for punitive damages. Plaintiff has offered only a conclusory allegation of willfulness, wantonness, and recklessness. Plaintiff's claims sound in negligence and do not suggest anything more than an unreasonable failure to take a series of actions under the circumstances. Therefore, the Court should dismiss all of the claims in the Second Amended Complaint and/or Plaintiff's request for punitive damages.

         Plaintiff has responded in opposition and argues that the Second Amended Complaint satisfies the notice pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Plaintiff contends that the FRSA does not preempt any of his claims. The FRSA contains a savings clause which allows a plaintiff to bring personal injury claims against a railroad under state law based on a railroad's failure to comply with state law, but only if the state law is additional to or more stringent than federal law on the same subject. Plaintiff states that his claims implicate railroad safety standards set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. § 65-12-108, specifically the Tennessee rule that a train operator must apply the brakes and sound the horn immediately upon seeing a person, animal, or other obstruction on railroad tracks. The Tennessee statute is not inconsistent with the FRSA. Plaintiff further denies that he is alleging the train was traveling too fast. So federal regulations on safe operating speeds for trains are inapposite. Plaintiff also argues that his failure to train claim is not preempted because his theory is that Defendant failed to train its crew in accordance with applicable Tennessee safety requirements, not federal railroad safety rules. In short, federal law does not preempt Plaintiff's claims.

         Plaintiff's argument in support of his negligent entrustment claim is not as clear. Plaintiff argues that the crewman admitted at the time of the accident that he did not immediately apply the brakes upon seeing an obstruction on the tracks. Plaintiff argues then that the crewman's failure to apply the brakes and sound the horn in violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 65-12-108 suggests either that Defendant had not properly trained the crew, and the crew was unaware of the Tennessee requirement; or that the crew had willfully disregarded its training and/or Tennessee law. Plaintiff argues that the crew's failure to abide by Tennessee law on this occasion suggests a probability that the crew had failed to follow Tennessee law on other occasions, an implication that supports Plaintiff's negligent entrustment claim. Plaintiff also argues that the FRSA does not preempt Tennessee law because the FRSA governs appropriate standards for training on federal railroad regulations, and not training on state railroad regulations. Plaintiff concludes with a rebuttal of Defendant's argument for dismissal of Plaintiff's prayer for punitive damages.

         Defendant has filed a reply. According to Defendant, Plaintiff's response makes two important concessions. Plaintiff denies he is asserting a claim for the train traveling too fast, and Plaintiff admits that the crew sounded the train's horn in the moments before the collision. Plaintiff cannot show that Tenn. Code Ann. § 65-12-108 requires a train to brake as soon as any obstruction at all is seen on railroad tracks. For support Defendant cites a decision from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, in which that court construed Tenn. Code Ann. § 65-12-108 and held that the statute did not require trains to apply their brakes at the first hint of an object being on railroad tracks. Such a policy would put trains at risk of derailment any and every time something was found on the tracks. Defendant contends that even if this is what Tennessee law requires, the FRSA preempts it. The Tennessee law would unreasonably burden interstate commerce. And Defendant argues that the Court should reject Plaintiff's theory of preemption as to railroad training. Defendant reiterates its contention that even under a liberal reading of the Complaint, Plaintiff was a trespasser on the railroad tracks at the time of the accident.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A defendant may move to dismiss a claim “for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must treat all of the well-pleaded allegations of the pleadings as true and construe all of the allegations in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Saylor v. Parker Seal Co., 975 F.2d 252, 254 (6th Cir. 1992). However, legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences need not be accepted as true. Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987). “To avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations with respect to all material elements of the claim.” Wittstock v. Mark a Van Sile, Inc., 330 F.3d 899, 902 (6th Cir. 2003). Under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although this standard does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” it does require more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 681 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); see also Reilly v. Vadlamudi, 680 F.3d 617, 622 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege facts that, if accepted ...


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