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Jackson v. Bnsf Railway Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 18, 2016



          John Robert Blakey United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Gregory Jackson (“Plaintiff”), a former conductor for Defendant BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF” or “Defendant”), alleges multiple unlawful employment practices on the part of his former employer. Compl. [1]. As it relates to the present motion, Plaintiff claims liability against Defendant under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (“FELA”), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq., for injuries sustained as a result of a physical altercation with Plaintiff's former co-worker, Roy Nicholas (“Nicholas”). Id. On July 5, 2016, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's FELA claim on the grounds that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Def.'s Mot. Dismiss [15]. For the reasons explained below, Defendant's motion is granted.

         I. Background

         On February 26, 2015, Plaintiff was working as a conductor aboard a Metra commuter train operating between Chicago and Aurora, Illinois. Compl. [1] ¶ 11. Plaintiff carpooled to the Aurora train station for the start of his shift with Nicholas, a fellow BNSF conductor. Id. ¶ 13. While Plaintiff's complaint lacks sufficient detail to form a complete picture of the altercation between Plaintiff and Nicholas, it generally alleges that sometime around 6:00 a.m., shortly after arriving at the train station, Nicholas “asked for a radio check for the engineer.” Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff told Nicholas that “the engineer had arrived and was heading toward the train, ” to which Nicholas replied that Plaintiff did not “know what he was talking about.” Id. ¶ 15.

         Plaintiff alleges that at that point, Nicholas began a “verbal assault.” Id. According to Plaintiff, Nicholas then punched Plaintiff twice in the face, causing him to fall to the ground. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff sustained contusions to his face, jaw, and eye, shattered his eyeglasses, and broke his watch. Id. Although Defendant does not stipulate to the exact number of punches or the nature of Plaintiff's injuries, it concedes the existence of a physical assault of Plaintiff by Nicholas. Def.'s Answer [13] ¶ 16.

         On May 24, 2016, Plaintiff filed a seven-count complaint against Defendant. Compl. [1]. In Count I-the subject of this decision-Plaintiff alleges that Defendant is liable under the FELA for his injuries from Nicholas' assault.[1] Id. ¶¶ 11-19. Plaintiff asserts that he suffered “serious and permanent injuries to his head and face” which were caused, in whole or in part, “by the negligent and intentional acts” of Nicholas and Defendant. Id. ¶¶ 17-18. Defendant denies liability for any wrongdoing. Def.'s Answer [13] ¶ 18.

         II. Legal Standard

         The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion “is not to decide the merits of the case.” Coleman v. Depke, No. 14-CV-02015, 2014 WL 6563814, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 20, 2014). Rather, a motion to dismiss “challenges the sufficiency of the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Gen. Elec. Capital Corp. v. Lease Resolution Corp., 128 F.3d 1074, 1080 (7th Cir. 1997). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). That is, the allegations must raise the possibility of relief above the “speculative level.” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007).

         A claim has facial plausibility “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The plausibility standard “is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. Where a complaint “pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 577).

         Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679. In making this determination, the Court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of Plaintiff. Id.

         III. Discussion[2][3]

         Defendant first argues that Count I fails on its face because under the FELA, an employer is responsible only for negligent conduct and cannot be liable for intentional torts. Def.'s Mot. Dismiss [15] 1, 3-4. Defendant argues that, by Plaintiff's own admission, his injuries were caused by “the negligent and intentional acts of Nicholas.” Id. at 2 (emphasis in original) (citing Compl. [1] ¶ 18). Additionally, Defendant asserts that, to support employer liability, an employee's negligent acts must either be foreseeable or occur within the course of employment. Id. at 4-8. Defendant contends that Count I fails to properly plead a claim for either vicarious or direct liability on the part of BNSF. Id. This Court addresses both issues in turn.

         A. Recovery For Intentional Torts Under The FELA

         As a preliminary matter, the Court must assess Defendant's claim that, as a matter of law, Plaintiff cannot state a FELA cause of action for the intentional tort of a co-worker. ...

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