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Wendell Phillips v. Quality Terminal Services

February 29, 2012

WENDELL PHILLIPS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
QUALITY TERMINAL SERVICES, LLC, D/B/A QUALITY TERMINAL SERVICES, INC., A COLORADO LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY, BURLINGTON NORTHERN SANTA FE RAILWAY COMPANY, A DELAWARE CORPORATION, AND PSYCHEMEDICS CORPORATION, A DELAWARE CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Wendell Phillips ("Plaintiff") filed a seven-count amended complaint [25] against Defendants Quality Terminal Services, LLC ("QTS"), BNSF Railway Company ("BNSF")*fn1 , and Psychemedics Corporation ("Psychemedics") on March 27, 2009. The Court has jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. All of Plaintiff's claims arise out of a 2008 drug test, which resulted in Plaintiff being barred from a BNSF facility operated by QTS and effectively ended Plaintiff's employment with QTS. The Court granted BNSF's motion to dismiss as to some of the counts, but Plaintiff's claims against BNSF for defamation (Count V) and tortious interference with a prospective economic advantage (Count VI) survived. Plaintiff also brought the following claims against QTS, all of which remain pending: violation of due process pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I); QTS's liability for the negligence of Psychemedics (Count II); negligence by QTS (Count III); and intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress (Count VII).

Defendant BNSF has moved for summary judgment [133] on all remaining claims, and Defendant QTS also has moved, in two separate motions [127 & 132], for summary judgment on all claims asserted against it. Defendant BNSF also moved to strike [152] Plaintiff's response to BNSF's Local Rule 56.1 statement of facts for failure to comply with Local Rule 56.1. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants BNSF's motion to strike [152] but allows Plaintiff to submit amended responses (already on file) to BNSF's statements of fact consistent with the Court's discussion below. The Court also grants the summary judgment motions [127, 132, & 152] filed by BNSF and QTS.

I. Background

A. BNSF's Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Facts

Plaintiff filed a Local Rule 56.1(b) Statement of Material Facts in Opposition to BNSF's Motion for Summary Judgment, which included both supplemental facts and Plaintiff's response to BNSF's Local Rule 56.1(a) Statement of Material Facts ("the Response to BNSF's SOF"). In the Response to BNSF's SOF, Plaintiff provided written objections or challenges to twenty-six of BNSF's statements. However, as pointed out by Defendant in its motion to strike, almost every one of Plaintiff's objections or challenges fails to either admit or deny the fact or to provide any citations to evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact as to BNSF's statement. BNSF asks the Court to strike the Response to BNSF's SOF in its entirety. See Cady v. Sheahan, 467 F.3d 1057, 1060--61 (7th Cir. 2006) (affirming summary judgment where trial judge relied solely on defendant's statement of facts because plaintiff violated Local Rule 56.1); Bordelon v. Chicago Sch. Reform Bd. of Trustees, 233 F.3d 524, 527--28 (7th Cir. 2000) (striking a statement of facts in its entirety because Local Rule 12(N), which is now Local Rule 56.1(b), was violated).

When analyzing Local Rule 56.1(b) statements, courts are not required to "wade through improper denials and legal argument in search of a genuinely disputed fact." Bordelon, 233 F.3d at 529. Rather, fact statements are designed to "assist the court by organizing the evidence, identifying undisputed facts, and demonstrating precisely how each side propose[s] to prove a disputed fact with admissible evidence." Id. at 527 (citation omitted). "Opinion, suggested inferences, legal arguments and conclusions are not the proper subject matter of a [Local Rule 56.1] statement. Including legal arguments in a [56.1] statement is wholly improper, redundant, unpersuasive and irksome; in short, it advances neither the interests of the parties nor of th[e] court." Servin v. GATX Logistics, Inc., 187 F.R.D. 561, 562 (N.D. Ill. 1999) (citation omitted). Malec v. Sanford, 191 F.R.D. 581, 584 (N.D. Ill. 2000) (legal argument is improper within a Local Rule 56.1 statement of facts); Judson Atkinson Candies Inc., v. Latini-Hoghberger, 476 F. Supp. 2d 913, 922 (N.D. Ill. 2007) (legal argument is improper within a Local Rule 56.1 statement of facts). In response to Defendant's motion to strike, Plaintiff submitted his response to BNSF's motion to strike and a request that the Court allow him to file amended Local Rule 56.1(b)(3)(B) and (b)(3)(C) statements.

It is the function of the Court, with or without a motion to strike, to review carefully statements of material facts and to eliminate from consideration any argument, conclusions, and assertions that are unsupported by the documented evidence of record offered in support of the statement. See, e.g., Sullivan v. Henry Smid Plumbing & Heating Co., Inc., 2006 WL 980740, at *2 n.2 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 10, 2006); Tibbetts v. RadioShack Corp., 2004 WL 2203418, at *16 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 29, 2004); Rosado v. Taylor, 324 F. Supp. 2d 917, 920 n.1 (N.D. Ind. 2004). The Court's scrutiny of material statements of facts applies equally to the party seeking summary judgment and the party opposing it.

Where a party offers a legal conclusion or statement of fact without proper evidentiary support, the Court will not consider that statement. Malec v. Sanford, 191 F.R.D. at 583. In the present cases, both parties at times have offered legal conclusions in their statements of fact. Those conclusions will not be accepted by the Court as "facts." In addition, where a party improperly denies a statement of fact by failing to provide adequate or proper record support for the denial, the Court deems that statement of fact to be admitted. Thus, any statements or responses that contain legal conclusions or argument, are evasive, contain hearsay or are not based on personal knowledge, are irrelevant, or are not supported by evidence in the record will not be considered by the Court in ruling on the summary judgment motions.

With these principles in mind, the Court grants Defendant's motion to strike, but allows Plaintiff to submit amended responses to Defendant's statements of fact, which will be considered by the Court in ruling on the motions for summary judgment. However, to the extent that Plaintiff attempts to introduce new, supplemental facts not previously raised in Plaintiff's original statement of facts, the Court will not consider those new facts in ruling on the motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff had all the facts available to him at the time that he filed his response to BNSF's motion for summary judgment. The Court will allow him to amend the technical defects in his responses-the glaring ones being his failure to admit or deny BNSF's statements and his failure to cite record evidence in support of certain denials-but the Court will not allow him to inject supplemental facts into the record after the motions have been fully briefed.

B. Facts

BNSF, a Delaware corporation with its corporate headquarters located in Fort Worth, Texas, is a rail carrier which operates throughout parts of the United States including in Cicero, Illinois, where it owns an intermodal facility that was operated by QTS in 2008. Quality Terminal Services, LLC ("QTS"), a Colorado limited liability company with corporate headquarters located in Denver, Colorado, was contracted by BNSF to operate BNSF's intermodal facility in Cicero, Illinois, and did so through December 31, 2008. QTS provides, among other things, "lift services" to railroads at intermodal yards. Lift services consist of operating cranes or similar equipment to lift highway trailers or shipping containers on and off of railroad flatcars for long distance movement over railroads. The service includes driving the trailers and containers within the yard between the parking area and the tracks where they are loaded and unloaded. This driving operation is called "hostling."

In May 2000, Plaintiff Wendell Phillips was hired by QTS to work at QTS's intermodal facility operations located in Cicero, Illinois ("the Cicero facility"). Plaintiff worked as a spotter, hostler driver, hitch inspector, and securement verifier at QTS. During his employment with QTS, Plaintiff was a member of Union Local 705, which had a collective bargaining agreement with QTS. In the spring of 2008, Plaintiff learned that BNSF would be taking over QTS's operations at the Cicero facility in 2009.*fn2 BNSF, which was aware of the collective bargaining agreement between QTS and Union Local 705, invited the QTS employees to apply with BNSF for the positions that were going to be vacated by QTS in 2009. On June 25, 2008, Plaintiff applied to be an intermodal equipment operator with BNSF. At BNSF, an intermodal equipment operator acts as a hostler, driver, hitch inspector, and/or securement verifier.

On July 23, 2008, Plaintiff attended an orientation held by BNSF. At the orientation, BNSF informed the applicants that they would be required to submit to a pre-employment drug test. Plaintiff agreed to submit to the drug test, and, during the July 23 orientation, an agent of Examination Management Services, Inc. ("EMSI") took a hair sample from Plaintiff's head for drug testing. Phillips' donor number, used to identify his hair sample, was 325-62-9904. Plaintiff's hair sample was sent to a laboratory at Psychemedics, a biotechnology company located in Culver City, California, that provides drug testing services for businesses.

On August 15, 2008, Plaintiff received a letter from BNSF extending to him a conditional offer of employment to join BNSF as an intermodal equipment operator at the Cicero facility. Id. ¶ 21. The August 15 letter stated that the offer was "contingent on the favorable outcome of a pre-employment background screening," including a "hair analysis drug screen."

Psychemedics received Plaintiff's hair sample on August 18, 2008. The "tamper-evident integrity seal on the collection pouch," which was initialed and dated by Phillips, and the seal on the Sample Acquisition Card were both intact when Psychemedics received Plaintiff's hair sample. Psychemedics performed the tests on Plaintiff's hair sample "in accordance with standard laboratory practices in compliance with the laboratory operating procedures and utilizing assay tests cleared by the US Food & Drug Administration specifically for hair drug testing." See BSNF's Ex. G, Phillips Laboratory Data Package, p. 1, Certification of Thomas Cairns. Psychemedics extensively washed Plaintiff's hair sample to ensure there was no contamination. Psychemedics verified, confirmed, checked, and retested Plaintiff's drug test and screening results. Psychemedics's testing involves two steps: an initial screen of a portion of the hair sample and a subsequent test of a second portion of the hair sample to confirm the presence of any substance detected in the initial screen, both of which were performed in this case.

According to the Psychemedics test analysis, Phillip's hair contained "the metabolite of Heroin, 6-MonoAcetylMorphine (6MAM) at 7.4 ng/10 mg hair." See BSNF Ex. G, Phillips Laboratory Data Package, p. 3, ¶ 5, Summary of Procedures & Results. Psychemedics concluded that Phillips had ingested heroin, which was demonstrated by the presence of the metabolite of Heroin, 6-MonoAcetylMorphine above the cutoff in his hair sample. On August 22, 2008, Psychemedics notified BNSF that Plaintiff's drug test came back positive for heroin.

Psychemedics sent the test result to Dr. Joseph Thomasino, a medical review officer working on behalf of BSNF. A medical review officer reviews the results of toxicological tests, and, in those instances where the test comes back positive, checks to see if there are legitimate, alternative medical explanations for a positive test result. Dr. Thomasino testified that he followed his typical procedures in receiving the test results, contacting Plaintiff, investigating the test result, and sending the confirmations to BNSF. It is not within Dr. Thomasino's province to retest the sample; rather, his review centered on assessing the chain of custody for the sample and investigating whether a legitimate medical explanation existed for the positive test result.

According to Dr. Thomasino, medical review officer practice generally does not permit the results of prior tests or subsequent tests to be taken into account when evaluating the results of a drug test. According to Dr. Thomasino, "[t]here's no way to know that [a drug has] not simply cleared by the time of [a] second test," in cases where a second negative test follows an initial positive test. A negative subsequent drug test result means only that the person is "clear by the time of the second test" because "all things eventually clear with abstinence." Thomasino Dep. at 65:12 and 15--16; Freeman Dep. at pp. 56:16--57:9. The following factors affect whether an individual who tests positive on one drug test will test positive for the same drug on a subsequent test: time between tests, ingestion history, quantity used, frequency of use, potency of drug, body weight, and metabolism. Thomasino Dep. at 64:20--65:2. Hair testing can show use of cocaine and heroin up to ninety days prior to when the hair sample was taken. For instance, if a person uses cocaine or opiates, the drug use might be detected on a hair test done three months after use but not on a subsequent hair test done three or four weeks after that. In many cases with hair samples, it is not possible to subsequently retest the original sample because the entire sample is used during the initial analysis. The hair sample for Plaintiff's subsequent drug test, which came back negative, was taken one month and ten days after the samples for BNSF's pre-employment tests.

On or about August 28, 2008, Plaintiff received a phone call from Dr. Thomasino, who informed Plaintiff that his pre-employment drug test results were positive for the presence of heroin. During his phone call with Dr. Thomasino, Plaintiff insisted that there was a mistake or the results were wrong because he had not used drugs in nearly 20 years. Plaintiff further requested that either a second test be performed on the remaining hair sample, or that the remaining hair be sent to him so that he could have a second test performed. Neither request was fulfilled by Thomasino, BSNF, or QTS.

On or around September 3, 2008, Phillips went to Advanced Occupational Medical Specialists, a local drug screening facility, to have another hair sample taken for drug testing purposes. The test came back negative for the presence of any drugs, including heroin. Phillips forwarded the test results to Pschemedics, which confirmed the results of the second test. As Plaintiff acknowledged in his response to BNSF's statement of facts, neither "BNSF's nor QTS's drug testing policies allow employees to submit a second sample or the results of a second drug test to appeal or challenge a positive test."

The Intermodal Facility Services Agreement between BNSF and QTS and Amendment Agreement 1 to the same, both of which governed the relationship between BNSF and QTS at the time of the events at issue in these cases, gave BNSF the right to restrict any QTS employees from the Cicero facility if BNSF reasonably believed they posed a threat to the safety or security of BNSF's operations. BNSF believes, and Plaintiff does not dispute, that an individual working on the premises of one of BNSF's intermodal facilities who tests positive for illegal drugs poses a threat to the safety of BNSF's operations. After receiving Plaintiff's positive pre-employment drug test results, BNSF informed QTS that Plaintiff was barred from working at its Cicero facility until such time as he satisfactorily completed an employee assistance program for drug use. On September 5, 2008, Plaintiff came to the Cicero yard and was given a letter from QTS stating that he had been restricted from the property because BNSF reported to QTS that Plaintiff failed a pre-employment toxicological drug screen conducted by or on behalf of BNSF. Plaintiff's employment status was changed from "active" to "inactive."

While Plaintiff admits that there is no evidence that BNSF conveyed any information to QTS concerning the drug for which Plaintiff tested positive or any other details of the test, there is evidence that BNSF told QTS that Plaintiff was to be barred from the Cicero facility for failing a drug test. For instance, on or around August 28, 2008, Steven Klug, the Vice-President of Human Resources of BNSF, sent an e-mail to Michael Burke and a number of other BNSF co-workers, asking BNSF to limit its communication with QTS regarding the eight employees to the fact that these eight employees were only restricted from the Cicero yard as a result of information obtained from them in accordance with their employment applications to BNSF and not include the reason for this restriction-namely, the positive drug test results. However, the record reflects that, prior to sending the e-mail, BNSF relayed to QTS that Plaintiff had failed a drug test. BNSF's communication that Plaintiff failed a pre-employment drug test took place at approximately the same time that BNSF restricted Plaintiff's access to its property in private conversations between a limited number of BNSF and QTS personnel. BNSF never sought to have Plaintiff terminated nor did it direct QTS to terminate him.

Neither BNSF's nor QTS's drug testing policies allow employees to submit a second sample or the results of a second drug test to appeal or challenge a positive test. Employees of BNSF and QTS who test positive must go through an employee assistance program to be permitted to return to work. Federal regulations applicable to BNSF require that employees who have failed a drug test be evaluated by a substance abuse professional and complete "prescribed education and/or treatment" before returning to the "performance of safety-sensitive functions."

49 C.F.R. § 40.305. There is nothing in the record to suggest that the regulations are applicable to QTS; however, as set forth previously, the intermodal agreement between BNSF and QTS gave BNSF the right to restrict any QTS employees from the Cicero facility if BNSF reasonably believed they posed a threat to the safety or security of BNSF's operations.

QTS entered into a service agreement with Bensinger, DuPont and Associates ("BDA") to administer employee referrals to counseling or treatment programs, including drug and alcohol treatment programs. The agreement between BDA and QTS provides that BDA "will assign an account manager to the Employer. The account manager will be responsible for contacting Employer's designated representatives, consulting with the Employer on implementation, organization issues and consulting on employee issues and needs * * * and regular assessment of Enhanced Employee Assistance Program effectiveness." The employee evaluation is performed by BDA. The evaluation is confidential, and QTS is only told whether the employee participated and successfully completed (or failed to complete) the program. The record reflects that BDA performs its evaluation without any input from QTS.

QTS offered its employee assistance program to Plaintiff in an effort to have the restriction on his access to BNSF's property removed. Plaintiff attended one employee assistance program meeting.*fn3 During the meeting, he was informed that unless he admitted to drug use and acknowledged that the results of the positive drug test were accurate, he would be unable to complete the program. Plaintiff refused to state that he had a drug problem or that the Psychemedics' test results were valid and instead left the program.

Jeffrey Monahan, a labor relations consultant to QTS, testified that there were no positions available at any QTS facilities that Plaintiff could transfer to at the time that he was restricted from BNSF's property. See Jeffrey Monahan Dep. at 54:10--55:1. In September 2008, there were QTS locations open in New England, Oakland, two in Houston, Texas, and one in Laredo, Texas. At that time, the nearest non-BNSF QTS facilities to the Cicero yard where Plaintiff had worked were Oakland or New England. The general manager of QTS testified that QTS employees sometimes ask to be relocated to different facilities ...


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