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Carmon v. CSX Transporation, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

August 15, 2019

SHELDON W. CARMON Plaintiff,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELI RICHARDSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 30). Plaintiff has filed a Response (Doc. No. 39), Defendant has filed a Reply (Doc. No. 41), and with the Court's permission (Doc. No. 46), Defendant has filed a Sur-Reply (Doc. No. 47).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Carmon filed this action pursuant to the Federal Employers Liability Act (“FELA”), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was employed by Defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. (“CSXT”), which is a common carrier operating railroads throughout the Southeast. Plaintiff asserts that he was a welder and welder helper for Defendant and was injured in the course and scope of his employment on December 6, 2016. He claims that he was at Ekin control point north of Nashville, near Madison, Tennessee, walking south on the east side of the Number 2 Main Line, at which point he tripped on a signal wire that was partially above ground but not visible. Plaintiff alleges that he fell over the signal wire and sustained serious, painful and permanent injury to his neck area, resulting in permanent disability. Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence under FELA.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). “By its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). In other words, even if genuine, a factual dispute that is irrelevant or unnecessary under applicable law is of no value in defeating a motion for summary judgment. See Id. at 248. On the other hand, “summary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine[.]'” Id. A fact is “material” within the meaning of Rule 56(c) “if its proof or disproof might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A genuine dispute of material fact exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Harris v. Klare, 902 F.3d 630, 634-35 (6th Cir. 2018).

         The party bringing the summary judgment motion has the initial burden of identifying portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute over material facts. Pittman v. Experian Information Solutions, Inc., 901 F.3d 619, 627-28 (6th Cir. 2018). If the summary judgment movant meets that burden, then in response the non-moving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 628.

         A party asserting that a fact cannot be or genuinely is disputed-i.e., a party seeking summary judgment and a party opposing summary judgment, respectively-must support the assertion by citing to materials in the record, including, but not limited to, depositions, documents, affidavits or declarations. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). The court should view the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Pittman, 901 F.3d at 628. Credibility judgments and weighing of evidence are improper. Hostettler v. College of Wooster, 895 F.3d 844, 852 (6th Cir. 2018). As noted above, where there is a genuine dispute as to any material fact, summary judgment is not appropriate. Id. The court determines whether sufficient evidence has been presented to make the issue of fact a proper jury question. Id. The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmoving party's position will be insufficient to survive summary judgment; rather, there must be evidence upon which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 595 (6th Cir. 2003).

         NEGLIGENCE UNDER FELA

         FELA was specially enacted by Congress to afford relief to employees from injury incurred in the railway industry. Seto v. CSX Transp. Inc., Civil No. 3:15-cv-1135, 2017 WL 4556723, at * 7 (M.D. Tenn. July 6, 2017) (citing Edsall v. Penn Cent. Transp. Co., 479 F.2d 33, 35 (6th Cir. 1973)). FELA provides that every railroad common carrier engaged in interstate commerce shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier 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. FELA does not impose a duty to eliminate all workplace dangers; instead, it requires railroads to provide their employees with a reasonably safe workplace. Gilreath v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. 6:16-cv-96, 2018 WL 737607, at * 4 (E.D. Ky. Feb. 6, 2018).

         In order to recover damages under FELA, a plaintiff must show that: (1) he was injured while in the scope of his employment; (2) which employment was in furtherance of the railroad's interstate transportation business; (3) his employer was negligent; and (4) his employer's negligence played some part in causing the injury for which he seeks compensation. Seto, 2017 WL 4556723 at * 8. To show that the employer is liable for negligence, the employee must prove the traditional common law elements of negligence-duty, breach, foreseeability, and causation. Id. An essential element of a plaintiff's FELA negligence claim is that the injury he sustained was reasonably foreseeable to the defendant. CSX Transp. v. McBride, 564 U.S. 685, 703 (2011); Beamer v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. 3:10-cv-472, 2014 WL 12588330, at * 3 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 31, 2014). To overcome a motion for summary judgment based on foreseeability of harm, a plaintiff must present evidence sufficient to give rise to a reasonable inference that the defendant “knew or should have known that it was not acting adequately to protect its employees.” Id.; Williams v. Grand Trunk Western R.R., Inc., 352 Fed.Appx. 13, 17 (6th Cir. 2009). In other words, a railroad has breached its duty when it “knew, or by the exercise of due care should have known, that prevalent standards of conduct were inadequate to protect employees.” Gilreath, 2018 WL 737607, at * 4. Thus, if a person has no reasonable ground to anticipate that a particular condition would or might result in a mishap and an injury, then the party is not required to do anything to correct the condition. McBride, 564 U.S. at 703.

         To establish liability under FELA, a plaintiff must also prove that the railroad's negligence[1]was “in whole or in part the cause of the injury.” Gulliver v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., No. 16-cv-2219, 2019 WL 2613214, at * 2 (D. D.C. Apr. 25, 2019) (quoting Ellis v. Union Pac. R. Co., 329 U.S. 649, 653 (1947)) But a relaxed standard of causation applies, under which a railroad is deemed to have caused or contributed to a railroad worker's injury if the railroad's negligence played a part-no matter how small-in bringing about that injury. McBride, 564 U.S. at 705. The test is “whether the proofs justify with reason the conclusion that employer negligence played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury” for which damages are sought. Sapp v. CSX Transp., Inc., No. 3-09-0581, 2010 WL 4055951, at * 11 (M.D. Tenn. Oct. 15, 2010).[2]

         Plaintiff contends that Defendant was negligent in laying the signal wire, failing to provide Plaintiff with a safe place to work, and failing to adequately maintain and inspect the work area and signal wire. Defendant first asserts that Plaintiff has no evidence that CSXT negligently installed the signal wire. Defendant argues that with no evidence of how or when CSXT installed the wire, Plaintiff cannot show that it was negligently installed. Defendant has shown that Plaintiff took no discovery relevant to the signal wire's installation and has presented no factual support for this argument. Defendant has carried its initial burden on this issue.

         In his Response, Plaintiff states only that the signal wire “had been installed by the signal department of CSXT, ” a fact undisputed by Defendant. Although he later alleges that “[t]here is evidence in the record that CSXT negligently installed the signal wire by leaving it above ground” (Doc. No. 39 at 3), Plaintiff cites nothing in the record for that assertion.[3] Plaintiff also alleges that “there is evidence in the record that defendant CSXT created the condition” (Id. at 4), but again he cites nothing in the record for that assertion. Plaintiff has not identified when or how the installation was conducted, by whom, or in what way the installation was negligent. Plaintiff has failed to point to ...


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