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Geraty v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp.

March 16, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Pending before the Court is Defendant Metra' s motion for summary judgment [129]. For the reasons set forth below, that motion is denied.

I. Procedural Background

Plaintiff, Lalee Geraty ("Geraty"), filed her complaint [1] on February 13, 2006, alleging that Defendant, Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad d/b/a Metra ("Metra"), is liable for injuries suffered by Plaintiff. Metra' s alleged liability rests on certain acts and omissions by Metra that Geraty contends caused her to sustain an injury at Metra' s downtown Chicago Millennium Station; the font of authority for imposing that liability is the Federal Employers Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. Metra' s answer [9] generally denies that it is liable for Geraty' s injury and asserts three affirmative defenses. Metra also filed a complaint [35] against a handful of third-party defendants (of whom two remain), seeking contribution for Geraty' s damages in the event Metra is ultimately found liable. Metra filed a motion for summary judgment [129] with respect to Plaintiff's FELA claim. In its summary judgment motion, Metra argues that (i) Geraty is not covered under FELA because the duties of her job were not "in furtherance of interstate commerce at the time of the" accident and that (ii) Plaintiff cannot establish Metra' s negligence because she cannot show that Metra had "actual or constructive notice of the allegedly dangerous condition"that caused Plaintiff's injury. Def. Mot. Summ. J. ¶¶ 2, 3.

II. Relevant Facts

The Court takes the relevant facts from the parties'respective Local Rule ("L.R.") 56.1 statements of material fact: Defendant' s Statement of Facts ("Def. SOF") [132], Plaintiff's Response to Defendant' s Statement of Facts ("Pl. Resp. Def. SOF") [170], Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Facts ("Pl. SOAF") [170], and Defendant' s Amended Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Facts ("Def. Resp. Pl. SOAF") [200].*fn1

Metra is the service mark of the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation. Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶ 2. Millennium Station, also known as Randolph Street Station, is one of the endpoints of Metra' s Electric Line, which provides service to University Park in Chicago' s South side (and to two other points, both in Illinois). See [170], Ex. 6.

Metra' s are not the only trains to use Millennium Station, however; South Shore Line trains also use the station on tracks owned by Metra. Def. Resp. Pl. SOAF ¶¶ 6, 9. (The South Shore Line is owned by Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District ("South Shore").) Def. Resp. Pl. SOAF ¶¶ 2, 6. The South Shore trains run between Indiana and Millennium Station pursuant to a trackage agreement whereby South Shore pays to use Metra' s tracks, stop at certain of

Metra' s platforms, and use Metra' s electricity. Id.

Plaintiff was a Metra police officer who, at the time of her accident, had been in her then-current assignment as a patrol officer for about two years. Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶¶ 7, 8. (She had been employed by Metra since 1993 (see id.).) Among Plaintiff's duties as a patrol officer were "assisting Metra patrons, respond[ing] to commuter issues, patrolling the Randolph station, removing homeless individuals from the station, and making necessary arrests." Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶ 10. Her responsibilities carried over to travelers using the South Shore Line, and Plaintiff patrolled platforms used by South Shore trains. Def. Resp. Pl. SOAF ¶ 10. Moreover, although Plaintiff's duties were performed entirely within Illinois (Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶¶ 11-12), those duties included patrolling tracks that were used by both Metra and the South Shore line, in order to provide track security and "keep an eye out for trespassers."Def. Resp. Pl. SOAF ¶ 13. The patrols, which extended south to 115th Street, redounded to the benefit of South Shore Line trains as well as Metra' s trains. Def. Resp. Pl. SOAF ¶¶ 12, 13.

The accident that gave rise to the instant legal dispute occurred on the morning of Wednesday, June 29, 2005. Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶ 15. Roughly one week prior, a leak appeared in the ceiling of the police office at Millennium Station. Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶¶ 18, 19. Michael McCray, an engineering supervisor for Metra, became aware of the leak at that time; he contacted security at the Prudential Building, the apparent source of the leak. Def. Resp. Pl. SOAF ¶ 18. Several people ultimately responded to the scene of the leak in Metra' s police office, including staff of the Prudential Building' s engineering company, Able Engineering; Michael McCray; and a representative of a former third-party defendant. Woulfe Dep. at 19-20. Someone in the group -- possibly one of the workers for Able Engineering*fn2 --hung plastic sheeting from the ceiling of the Metra Police office, in order to channel water into a garbage can. Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶ 20; Def. Resp. Pl. SOAF ¶ 19. According to McCray, "[A] huge amount of plastic * * * [was] connect[ed] to the ceiling." McCray Dep. at 22.

Michael McCray knew that the police officers would have to traverse the entire room in which the plastic was draped. Def. Resp. Pl. SOAF ¶ 32. And although McCray visited the police office the day after the plastic was put in place, he did not return until after Plaintiff's accident. Def. Resp. Pl. SOAF ¶ 36. McCray stated in his deposition that the matter "completely slipped [his] mind." Def. Resp. Pl. SOAF ¶ 37.

At some point (perhaps the morning of the accident (see Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶¶ 31-32)), and somehow, the plastic sheeting found its way "out of the garbage [can] and on the floor"(Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶ 21). As Plaintiff approached a cabinet in the office, she slowed down and stepped onto the plastic sheeting. Her first step "felt secure" (Pl. Dep. at 95-96) and was taken without incident (Pl. Resp. Def. SOF ¶ 27). Her second step, however, ...

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