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Peterson v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

November 13, 2007

MARIE PETERSON, SPECIAL ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATES OF JANE ANN MCGRATH, DECEASED, AND MOLLY MORGAN, DECEASED, ET AL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Byron G. Cudmore, U.S. Magistrate Judge

OPINION

Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs Steven and Gayla Walters' Motion for Sanctions (d/e 244). The instant case arises out of a collision between a Union Pacific freight train and a passenger vehicle that occurred on July 22, 2004, at the Cisco Road railroad crossing in Macoupin County, Illinois. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is allowed, in part, and denied, in part.

BACKGROUND

The Cisco Road crossing is equipped with electronic warning signals. Plaintiffs' instant motion asserts that Defendant has concealed or destroyed vital evidence regarding the operation of these warning signals. On March 25, 2005, Plaintiffs served various requests to produce on Defendant. Response to Motion for Sanctions (d/e 257), Ex. E, Walters Plaintiffs' Request for Production. Plaintiffs assert that Defendant's responses to Requests for Production Nos. 6, 13, and 20 were false and/or misleading and, as a result, they contend that sanctions are appropriate under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37.

Plaintiffs' Request for Production No. 6 provides as follows: Produce a complete, legible copy of signal circuit plans depicting the layout of the crossing and crossing related circuitry as it was in service at the time of the subject accident. Such signal circuit plans must include all circuitry out to and including the outermost end of the approach circuit (i.e. -- insulated joints or termination shunts) in both directions along the track.

Response to Motion for Sanctions (d/e 257), Ex. E, Walters Plaintiffs' Request for Production, ¶ 6. Defendant responded by producing three pages of plans, numbered 003 to 006. Plaintiffs' Request for Production No. 13 provides as follows:

If data is periodically or regularly transmitted from the subject crossing to an external computer for purposes of remote testing, archiving, or analysis, produce a complete, unedited copy of all such data (either in printer or computer data form) either transmitted to or received from the subject crossing for a period of two (2) years prior to the date of the subject accident.

Id., Ex. E, Walters Plaintiffs' Request for Production, ¶ 13. Defendant responded "None available, as no such connection was maintained." Motion for Sanctions, p. 2. Plaintiffs' Request for Production No. 20 provides as follows: "Produce a clean, legible copy of all documents present inside the crossing control case at the time of the accident, including but not limited to battery records, ground test records, equipment manuals, and motion sensor/predictor readings." Response to Motion for Sanctions, Ex. E, Walters Plaintiffs' Request for Production, ¶ 20. Defendant responded as follows: "Attached hereto, and numbered 01399 through 01400 is the storage battery record which was inside the control case at the time of the accident. The other information requested was not." Motion for Sanctions, p. 2.

On August 17, 2007, Plaintiffs deposed Paul Stanek, the Director of Signal Maintenance for Defendant. Stanek testified that the Code of Federal Regulations requires railroads to maintain a current set of plans for each crossing at the crossing. Motion for Sanctions, Ex. 1, Deposition of Paul Stanek (Stanek Dep.), p. 37-38.*fn1 After reviewing the plans that were provided in response to Request for Production No. 6, Stanek testified that the plans showed the presence of a data recorder interface module. Stanek was also asked to review "trouble tickets" for the Cisco Road crossing, which had been tendered in discovery in December 2004. He testified that a trouble ticket dated August 31, 2003 indicated that a ScadaNET CRTU (Cellular Remote Terminal Unit) from the crossing had not sent data to Omaha for six days. Id., p. 109. Stanek described the CRTU as follows: "a unit that sends information at -- at the time, it was experimental. It just sends information to the -- the condition of -- of certain parameters in the case and -- and it should call in automatically. If it doesn't, then it sends out a note that there might be something wrong with the recording device itself." Id. When questioned about his characterization of the CRTU as "experimental," Stanek clarified, stating that the CRTU was "a new piece of equipment that we had not used before." Id., p. 111. Stanek later described the CRTU as a "general, non-vital recording device." Id., p. 161. Stanek admitted that the State of Illinois requires Union Pacific to put a CRTU at every crossing, but noted that it was not a "fail safe" system, meaning that if the recorder goes down, "it's not going to affect the crossing." Id.

Stanek was again presented with the circuitry plans that were provided in response to Request for Production No. 6. He testified that these plans did not show the CRTU. Stanek Dep., p. 137. Stanek was also presented with a photograph of the inside of the bungalow, or crossing control case, from the Cisco Road crossing. The picture depicted plans rolled-up in the bungalow. Stanek testified that from the photo, it appeared that the plans in the bungalow had markings that were not contained on the plans provided in response to Request for Production No. 6, specifically "two little squares." Id., p. 143-45.

A. Request for Production No. 6

Plaintiffs assert that Defendant's response to Request for Production No. 6 was false and misleading. Plaintiffs contend that the documents represented to be complete legible copies of signal circuit plans were not the plans in the crossing control case at the time of the collision, relying on Stanek's testimony that the plans in the bungalow had markings that were not contained on the plans provided in response to Request for Production No. 6. This argument is unpersuasive. Request for Production No. 6 sought a complete, legible copy of signal circuit plans depicting the layout of the crossing and crossing related circuitry as it was in service at the time of the subject accident. There is nothing in the request that would require Defendant to produce the plans that were actually in the control case.

Plaintiffs further assert that the plans that they received in response to Request for Production No. 6 were not complete because they did not identify the existence of the CRTU. Request for Production No. 6 sought "signal circuit plans depicting the layout of the crossing and crossing related circuitry." Plaintiffs assert that this clearly encompasses all circuitry present at the crossing. However, the request is expressly limited to "signal circuit plans." Defendant has produced a letter from the Illinois Commerce Commission Transportation Division/Rail Safety Section that states that the Commission recognizes that remote monitoring devises are not components of the crossing signal safety system as defined by federal regulations because their malfunction would not affect the actual operation of the signal system. Response to Motion for Sanctions, Ex. ...


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