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King v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.

October 24, 2008

JERLINE KING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge James F. Holderman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Jerline King filed this lawsuit under the Federal Employee Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60, against her employer, National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak"). In her complaint, King alleged that she was injured as a result of repetitive physical trauma she experienced while performing her duties as an Amtrak train attendant. Before the court now is Amtrak's motion for summary judgment [29]. For the reasons stated herein, that motion is granted.

Background

In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, this court must consider the facts properly before it in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, drawing all reasonable inferences and resolving all doubts in the non-moving party's favor. Keri v. Bd. of Trustees of Purdue Univ., 458 F.3d 620, 628 (7th Cir. 2006). Therefore, in considering Amtrak's motion the court will review the facts properly before it and draw all reasonable inferences in King's favor.

King began working for Amtrak as a train attendant in March 1999. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 2, 6, 7.) As a train attendant, King split her time evenly between working in sleeper cars and coach cars. (Id. ¶ 8.) King's duties while working in sleeper cars consisted of changing bed linens for new passengers, making beds for existing passengers, and carrying items such as linens and bottled water from one area of the train to another. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 11.) While working in coach cars, King was responsible for assisting passengers with loading luggage onto the train, stowing passengers' luggage on racks, picking up trash, passing out pillows, and maintaining bathrooms. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 14.) As of November 2007, King was still employed by Amtrak as a train attendant. (King Dep. 13.)

King received training on how to perform her duties as a train attendant throughout her employment with Amtrak. For example, King attended a two-week training program when she began employment with Amtrak, where she was taught how to make beds, lift linens, load passengers, and "work safe." (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 15, 16; see King Dep. 15-16.) Part of learning to "work safe" entailed instruction on how to balance herself while walking through a moving train and how to lift with her knees. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 17, 18, 20.) King also received safety instruction at the beginning of each trip, during which a supervisor would read and discuss a specific safety rule. (Id. ¶ 19.) In addition, any time King took a leave of absence, she was required to watch a safety video upon her return to work. (Id. ¶ 21.)

King first complained of knee pain and underwent x-rays of her left knee in December 2000. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. Ex. E.) The record, however, does not reflect whether King sought additional treatment for her knee pain at that time.

Approximately two years later, King began experiencing severe left knee pain and again sought medical treatment. Specifically, on October 8, 2002, King underwent MRIs of her left knee and lumbar spine after she complained to her physician of pain in those areas. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. Ex. H.) The MRI of King's left knee revealed "bone bruise," "findings consistent with MCL sprain," and "findings consistent with tear involving the posterior horn of the medical meniscus." (Id.) The MRI of King's lumbar spine revealed "moderate-severe neuroforaminal narrowing on the right at L5-S1 with moderate narrowing on the left," and "mild neuroforaminal narrowing at L4-L5." (Id.) King also attended an orthopedic consultation with N. H. Reddy, M.D, on October 16, 2002. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. Ex. F.) Dr. Reddy's consultation report reveals that King reported experiencing severe pain in her left knee for more than one month prior to the consultation. (Id.) King also reported "constant pain in the medial aspect of the left knee at night" and that "stair climbing, walking, and getting in and out of the car [was] very painful." (Id.) After performing a physical examination and reviewing x-rays and the MRI of King's left knee, Dr. Reddy diagnosed King with "internal derangement, left knee . . . possible torn medical meniscus, left knee" and scheduled King for arthrosporic surgery. (Id.) Plaintiff had surgery on her left knee in late October 2002. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 38.)

On October 11, 2002, King applied for benefits from the United States Railroad Retirement Board based on injuries to her left knee and lower back. (Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt. Ex. H.) In her Application for Sickness Benefits, King reported that she became injured on October 1, 2002. (Id.) The Statement of Sickness completed by Albert Reynolds, M.D., and attached to King's application, lists King's diagnosis and concurrent conditions as "L3, L4, L5, L5-S1 lumbar disc syndrome with neuropathy" and a "medial collateral ligament tear left knee." (Id.)

On October 26, 2005, King filed a complaint against Amtrak in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, seeking redress for her injuries. The parties subsequently stipulated to dismissal of the Pennsylvania lawsuit, with the agreement that the date of October 26, 2005, would stand for purposes of assessing the applicable statute of limitations. Approximately one year later, King filed a complaint against Amtrak in this court, alleging that as a result of her work as a train attendant she sustained injuries to her left knee and back. Before this court now is Amtrak's motion for summary judgment [29].

Analysis

In its motion, Amtrak contends that it is entitled to summary judgment on King's FELA claim on two grounds. First, Amtrak argues that King's complaint is time-barred because she failed to file her lawsuit within the three-year statute of limitations provided by Section 56 of FELA. Second, Amtrak asserts that King cannot survive summary judgment because she cannot produce evidence to satisfy each element of her claim.

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying the evidence it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986); Keri v. Bd. of Trustees of Purdue Univ., 458 F.3d 620, 627-28 (7th Cir. 2006). Once a properly supported motion for summary judgment is made, the non-moving party cannot rest on its pleadings but must affirmatively demonstrate, by specific factual evidence, that there is a genuine issue of material fact requiring trial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324; Keri, 458 F.3d at 628. Conclusory allegations, "if not supported by the record, will not preclude summary judgment." Keri, 458 F.3d at 628 (citing Haywood v. N. Am. Van Lines, Inc., 121 F.3d 1066, 1071 (7th Cir. 1997)).

To assist the court in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, Local Rule 56.1 of the Northern District of Illinois imposes certain requirements on the parties. First, the moving party must file "a statement of material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue and that entitle the moving party to a judgment as a matter of law." L.R. 56.1(a)(3). In return, the opposing party must file "a response to each numbered paragraph in the moving party's statement, including, in the case of any disagreement, specific references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon." L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(B). If the opposing party wants the court to consider facts in addition to those presented by the moving party, the opposing party must file "a statement, consisting of short numbered paragraphs, of any additional facts that require the denial of summary judgment, including references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon." L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C). It is within the district court's discretion to require strict compliance with Rule 56.1. FTC v. Bay Area Bus. Council, Inc., 423 F.3d 627, 633 (7th Cir. 2005) (collecting cases). Amtrak first argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because King filed her complaint over three years after she became aware of the injuries giving rise to her claim. Section 56 of FELA provides that a plaintiff must bring her claim "within three years from the day the cause of action accrued." 45 U.S.C. § 56. Accrual is determined by making "an objective inquiry into when the plaintiff knew or should have known, in the exercise of reasonable diligence, the essential facts of injury and cause." Fries v. Chi. & Nw. Transp. Co., 909 F.2d 1092, 1095 (7th Cir. 1990); see Tolston v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 102 F.3d 863, 865 (7th Cir. 1996). When the exact date of injury cannot ...


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