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Miller v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

January 23, 2017



          David R. Herndon United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company (“Union Pacific”) (Doc. 27). Union Pacific seeks judgment that it is not liable under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (“FELA”) for any of Plaintiff Larry Dean Miller's (“Miller”) injuries. Miller opposes defendants' motion (Doc. 31). For the following reasons, defendants' motion is GRANTED.[1]

         II. Background

         On January 21, 2015, plaintiff Larry Dean Miller, filed the underlying FELA action against Union Pacific. In his complaint, Miller claims that Union Pacific was negligent for (a) failing to provide plaintiff with a safe place to work; (b) failing to provide plaintiff with safe methods to perform his work; (c) failing to provide plaintiff with sufficient manpower; (d) failing to provide plaintiff with the proper tools and equipment; (e) requiring plaintiff to work in awkward positions; and (f) allowing these unsafe practices to become common practice (Doc. 2).

         Miller alleges that on September 15, 2014, while employed by Union Pacific, he sustained certain physical injuries when he fell out of the bed of his pickup truck during an attempt to retrieve a gas-powered impact wrench stored in the truck bed.[2] The truck involved in the alleged incident was assigned to Miller in 2013 by Union Pacific. The truck was brand new at the time Miller received it (Doc. 28-1, pg. 4) and he regularly drove the truck home at night.

         While retrieving the impact wrench on the date of the accident, Miller slipped in spilled switch lubricator and fell out of the truck. (Doc. 28-1, pg. 8). Miller testified that he used the same truck the day before, and did not see the switch lubricator spill (Id.). He testified that no one at Union Pacific knew the lubricant spilled in the bed of the truck, and there were no witnesses to the alleged incident. (Id. at 6-7). Miller, himself, was unsure when the lubricant spilled. (Id. at 23).

         Following the close of discovery in this matter, defendants filed the pending motion for summary judgment (Doc. 27). Defendants move for summary judgment alleging that “plaintiff failed to provide any evidence that Union Pacific was negligent or caused his alleged injuries” (Doc. 28). Miller's attorney then filed his response opposing the motion (Doc. 31).

         III. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings, discovery, and disclosures establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Winsley v. Cook Cnty., 563 F.3d 598, 602-03 (7th Cir. 2009); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322- 23 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Pugh v. City of Attica, Indiana, 259 F.3d 619, 625 (7th Cir. 2001); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         In assessing a summary judgment motion, the district court must view the facts in the light most favorable to, and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of, the non-movant. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372 (2007); Fischer v. Avanade, Inc., 519 F.3d 393, 401 (7th Cir. 2008); Delapaz v. Richardson, 634 F.3d 895, 899 (7th Cir. 2011).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of factual issues and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Santaella v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 123 F.3d 456, 461 (7th Cir. 1997) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323). In response, the non-moving party may not rest on bare pleadings alone, but instead must highlight specific material facts to show the existence of a genuine issue to be resolved at trial. Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). The Court will enter summary judgment against a party who does not “come forward with evidence that would reasonably permit the finder of fact to find in [its] favor on a material question.” McGrath v. Gillis, 44 F.3d 567, 569 (7th Cir. 1995).

         IV. Law and Application

         In this case, Miller alleges negligence on the part of Union Pacific pursuant to the Federal Employers' Liability Act (“FELA”) based on his September 15, 2014 fall from the bed of his work truck. FELA affords a “broad federal tort remedy for railroad workers injured on the job.” Crompton v. BNSF Ry. Co., 745 F.3d 292, 296 (7th Cir. 2014), citing Williams v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 161 F.3d 1059, 1061 (7th Cir. 1998). Union Pacific argues that Miller failed to provide sufficient evidence that Union Pacific's negligence caused Miller's injury.

         a. FELA, 45 U.S.C. § 51.

         Under FELA, a railroad employer must provide its employees with a reasonably safe place to work. Holbrook, 414 F.3d at 742; Williams, 161 F.3d at 1061. More specifically, the FELA statute states that common rail carriers “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 to its negligence, in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, roadbed, works, boats, wharves, or other equipment.” 45 U.S.C. § 51. However, FELA does not “render a railroad an insurer of its employees.” Holbrook, 414 F.3d at 742 (quoting Consol. Rail Corp. v. Gottshall, 512 U.S. 532, 543 (1994)).

         To recover under FELA, a plaintiff must prove “the common law elements of negligence, including foreseeability, duty, breach, and causation, ” Fulk v. Illinois Cent. R.R. Co., 22 F.3d 120, 124 (7th Cir.1994); see also Crompton, 745 F.3d at 296. But a “relaxed standard of causation applies under FELA.” CSX Transp., Inc. v. McBride, 564 U.S. 685, 131 S.Ct. 2630, 180 L.Ed.2d 637 (2011). That is, railroads are liable if their negligence “played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury.” McBride, 564 U.S. 685 at 687 citing Rogers v. Missouri Pac. R. Co., 352 U.S. 500, 506 (1957). More simply put, a FELA plaintiff must “proffer some evidence of the defendant's negligence in order to survive summary judgment.” Holbrook v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 414 F.3d 739, 742 (7th Cir. 2005); Lynch v. Northeast Regional Commuter R.R. Corp., 700 F.3d 906, 911 (7th Cir. 2012). Here, Miller cannot rely on speculation to take the place of proof. Moore v. Chesapeake & O. R. Co., 340 U.S. 573, 578, (1951).

         To establish a breach of that duty, the plaintiff must show circumstances which a reasonable person would foresee as creating a potential for harm. Williams, 161 F.3d at 1062. In addition, because liability is limited to those dangers that are reasonably foreseeable, the plaintiff must show that the employer had actual or constructive notice of the condition. Id. 1062-63. Finally, the plaintiff must show that the breach caused (but only in the minimal sense required under FELA) the injury. Id.

         b. Miller has not created a genuine issue as to Union Pacific's negligence under FELA.

         Union Pacific argues that Miller has not met his modest burden of coming forward with any evidence showing that Union Pacific was somehow negligent in allowing Miller to become injured. However, Miller contends that it was Union Pacific's negligence in providing an unsafe mobile workplace that caused his fall; specifically, Miller claims that Union ...

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