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Parrish v. Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

December 8, 2014

CECIL A. PARRISH, Plaintiff,
v.
THE BURLINGTON NORTHERN AND SANTA FE RAILWAY COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by defendant The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company ("BNSF") (Doc. 29). Plaintiff Cecil A. Parrish has responded to the motion (Doc. 32), and BNSF has replied to that response (Doc. 33). Parrish asks the Court to strike BNSF's response or, in the alternative, for an extension of time to file his response (Doc. 34). In this case, Parrish alleges that BNSF is liable under the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. ยง 51 et seq., for an injury he incurred on April 12, 2013, while working for BNSF.

I. Preliminary Procedural Matters

As a preliminary matter, Parrish's motion to strike contains a substantive response to BNSF's argument in its reply brief that Parrish's response was untimely. As such, it is a sur-reply brief, which is not allowed under any circumstances. See Local Rule 7.1(c). Accordingly, the Court will strike Parrish's motion to strike (Doc. 34).

Nevertheless, the Court rejects BNSF's timeliness argument. BNSF asks the Court to disregard Parrish's response because it was late. BNSF filed its summary judgment motion on September 23, 2014, and Parrish filed his response on October 27, 2014, thirty-four days later. However, the response was not, in fact, late. It is true the Local Rule 7.1(c) allows a party thirty days to respond, but that thirty days runs from the date of service, not the date of filing. When the date of service triggers a response period, three extra days are added to the response period under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(d) when service is made electronically. So it appears the response period expired on October 26, 2014. However, since October 26, 2014, fell on a Sunday, the response period actually expired the following day, October 27, 2014, the day Parrish filed his response. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(a)(1)(C). For these reasons, the Court finds Parrish's response was timely.

The Court now turns to the substance of BNSF's summary judgment motion.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment must be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Spath v. Hayes Wheels Int'l-Ind., Inc., 211 F.3d 392, 396 (7th Cir. 2000). A court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Chelios v. Heavener, 520 F.3d 678, 685 (7th Cir. 2008); Spath, 211 F.3d at 396.

The initial summary judgment burden of production is on the moving party to show the Court that there is no reason to have a trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Modrowski v. Pigatto, 712 F.3d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir. 2013). Where the nonmoving party carries the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden of production in one of two ways. It may present evidence that affirmatively negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's case, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A), or it may point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's case without actually submitting any evidence, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-25; Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1169. Where the moving party fails to meet its strict burden, a court cannot enter summary judgment for the moving party even if the opposing party fails to present relevant evidence in response to the motion. Cooper v. Lane, 969 F.2d 368, 371 (7th Cir. 1992).

In responding to a summary judgment motion, the nonmoving party may not simply rest upon the allegations contained in the pleadings but must present specific facts to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-26; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57; Modrowski, 712 F.3d at 1168. A genuine issue of material fact is not demonstrated by the mere existence of "some alleged factual dispute between the parties, " Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247, or by "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, a genuine issue of material fact exists only if "a fair-minded jury could return a verdict for the [nonmoving party] on the evidence presented." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

III. Facts

Viewed in Parrish's favor, the admissible evidence establishes the following relevant facts for the purpose of the pending summary judgment motion.

Parrish worked for BNSF as a conductor. On April 12, 2013, he was working as the yard foreman of a BNSF crew at a Gilster-Mary Lee ("GML") factory that was preparing to pull rail cars out of the GML yard. In order to pull the cars out, they had to be coupled with a locomotive. Coupling involves aligning a drawbar on the railcar coupler and a drawbar on the locomotive coupler so that when they impact each other, the knuckles of the couplers automatically attach to allow the locomotive to pull the railcar.[1]

At the GML yard, coupling was somewhat complicated by the fact that the railroad track was curved. On a straight track, the railcar coupler and the locomotive coupler couple when they contact each other if both drawbars are aligned at a ninety degree angle from the end of the car, that is, in a center position, so that they meet head-on on impact. On a curved track, however, the drawbars on the couplers have to be pivoted to the left or right so that when they contact each other, they meet head-on even though the railcar and locomotive are not perfectly parallel due to the curve in ...


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