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Kattenbraker v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

May 18, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


A. Introduction

For 35 years, Michael Dan Kattenbraker worked as a trackman for Union Pacific Railroad (UP), a common rail carrier engaged in interstate commerce. In November 2009, Kattenbraker sued UP in this Court, seeking damages for repetitive trauma sustained while repairing UP's track system, which included tracks located within this Judicial District.

Kattenbraker alleges that he sustained permanent injuries to his back and spine while performing his job duties, including dumping ballast, throwing tie-plates, unloading rail, unloading ties, throwing angle bars, and working in rip-rap cars (Complaint, Doc. 2, p. 3). He claims these injuries resulted from UP's negligent acts and omissions, such as failing to provide Kattenbraker with safe and suitable tools, failing to warn Kattenbraker of dangerous conditions, failing to furnish Kattenbraker necessary personal protective equipment, and failing to provide proper supervision to Kattenbraker.

Kattenbraker's suit against UP is based on the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51-60. The Court enjoys subject matter jurisdiction under the federal question statute, 28 U.S.C. 1331, via the FELA allegations.

Now before the undersigned Judge is Defendant UP's April 2, 2010 motion for summary judgment with supporting brief, opposing memorandum, and reply brief (Docs. 21, 22, 24, 25). UP maintains that it is entitled to summary judgment on dual grounds: (1) Kattenbraker commenced this suit well after the statute of limitations for a FELA action had run, and (2) Kattenbraker failed to present evidence of the essential elements of a negligence claim (falling short on both breach and causation), having admitted that UP provided him a reasonably safe place to work and having admitted that none of the work conditions he complained about caused his injury (id., pp. 12). The motion was fully briefed as of May 13, 2010 and, for the reasons stated below, the Court denies it.

B. Standard Governing Summary Judgment Motions

Summary judgment is appropriate where the pleadings, discovery materials, and any affidavits show that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Turner v. The Saloon, Ltd., 595 F.3d 679, 683 (7th Cir. 2010); Durable Mfg. Co. v. U.S. Department of Labor, 578 F.3d 497, 501 (7th Cir. 2009), citing FED.R.CIV.P.56(c). Accord Levy v. Minnesota Life Ins. Co., 517 F.3d 519 (7th Cir. 2008); Breneisen v. Motorola, Inc., 512 F.3d 972 (7th Cir. 2008), citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

In ruling on a summary judgment motion, the district court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to, draw all legitimate inferences in favor of, and resolve all doubts in favor of the non-moving party. National Athletic Sportswear, Inc. v. Westfield Ins. Co., 528 F.3d 508, 512 (7th Cir. 2008). Accord Reget v. City of La Crosse, 595 F.3d 691 (7th Cir. 2010); TAS Distributing Co., Inc. v. Cummins Engine Co., Inc., 491 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2007). When the non-moving party bears the burden of proof, he must demonstrate the existence of a genuine fact issue to defeat summary judgment. Reget, 595 F.3d at 695. Stated another way, to survive summary judgment, the non-movant must provide evidence on which the jury or court could find in his favor. See Maclin v. SBC Ameritech, 520 F.3d 781, 786 (7th Cir. 2008).

The court may not evaluate the weight of the evidence, judge the credibility of witnesses, or determine the truth of the matter; the court's only role is to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. National Athletic, 528 F.3d at 512, citing Doe v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 42 F.3d 439, 443 (7th Cir. 1994).

C. Analysis

In this FELA suit, 55-year old Mr. Kattenbraker asserts a claim for cumulative trauma to his lower back sustained during his employment at UP -- a career which spanned from June 5, 1973 to January 21, 2008. The FELA statute itself is the starting place for the Court's analysis.

45 U.S.C. 51 provides (emphasis added):

Every common carrier by railroad while engaging in commerce between any of the several States... shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in such commerce... for such injury or death resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier, or by reason of any defect or insufficiency, due ...

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