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SHUFF v. CONRAIL

March 30, 1993

GARRY L. SHUFF, Plaintiff,
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, a corporation, Defendant.


GUZMAN


The opinion of the court was delivered by: RONALD A. GUZMAN

Pending is the motion of Consolidated Rail Corp. ("CONRAIL") for partial summary judgment on Garry L. Shuff's ("Shuff") complaint.

 BACKGROUND FACTS

 CONRAIL is a national railroad corporation operating as a common carrier in interstate commerce. *fn1" Shuff is a resident of Indiana who has been employed by CONRAIL since 1967. *fn2" On or about June 6, 1990, Shuff was injured while manually adjusting the coupling mechanism on a railroad car. *fn3" The mechanism had initially failed to couple automatically on impact. *fn4" Hence, Shuff proceeded to manually center the drawbars on two cars and open the knuckle on one car in order to facilitate coupling. *fn5" Shuff experienced sharp pain in his lower back while attempting to manually center the drawbar. *fn6" It is undisputed that Shuff has suffered and continues to experience back pain. *fn7" Additionally, Shuff has been under the constant care of physicians ever since the incident. *fn8"

 Shuff alleges that CONRAIL violated the Federal Safety Appliance Act ("FSAA"), 45 U.S.C. § 2, for failing to furnish railroad cars with operative couplers so that the cars would couple automatically on impact. *fn9" In addition, Shuff alleges that CONRAIL violated the Federal Employer's Liability Act (FELA) for failing to furnish Shuff with a reasonably safe place to work. *fn10"

 In response, CONRAIL filed a motion for partial summary judgment claiming no violation of the Federal Safety Appliance Act. *fn11" CONRAIL argues that the mere failure of cars to couple does not establish a per se violation of the FSAA. *fn12" CONRAIL urges this court to follow a recent Third Circuit decision. Reed v. Philadelphia, Bethlehem and New England Railroad Company, 939 F.2d 128, 132 (3rd Cir. 1991). *fn13" In Reed, the Third Circuit held that unless equipment is defective, a railroad may defend on the basis that the couplers were out of alignment. Reed, 939 F.2d at 132. Hence, CONRAIL claims no violation of the FSAA because the railcars failed to couple due to misalignment of drawbars, not due to an equipment defect. *fn14" Therefore, CONRAIL argues that summary judgment as a matter of law should be granted in its favor as to the FSAA claim based on Reed. *fn15"

 In the alternative, CONRAIL states that it is entitled to a special jury instruction that the failure to couple automatically is not a violation of the FSAA unless there is a defect in the coupler itself. Reed, 939 F.2d at 132. *fn16" CONRAIL argues that a jury could conclude that the failure to couple was due solely to a misaligned drawbar, and therefore find no violation of the FSAA. *fn17"

 In response, Shuff argues that Reed represents a great departure from existing case law which other circuits have not adopted. *fn18" Further, Shuff contends that a genuine issue of fact exists as to whether the coupling equipment was defective. *fn19" Shuff argues CONRAIL's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment should be denied.

 JURISDICTION

 This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 45 U.S.C. § 56 and 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

 DISCUSSION

 Defendant CONRAIL moves this court for partial summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that CONRAIL did not violate the Federal Safety Appliance Act ("FSAA"). The United States Supreme Court set forth the following principles to be applied in ruling on a motion for summary judgment:

 
Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issues as to any
 
As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted. This materiality inquiry is independent of and separate from the question of the incorporation of the evidentiary standard into the summary judgment determination. That is, while the materiality determination rests on the substantive law, it is the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs. Any proof or evidentiary requirements imposed by the substantive ...

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