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Smith v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

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

March 27, 2017

JOSEPHINE WADE SMITH and RUPERT SMITH, Plaintiffs,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SARA L.ELLIS United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Josephine Wade Smith and Rupert Smith filed suit against Defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. (“CSX”), alleging that they suffered property damage and personal injury resulting from both CSX's idling of locomotives on railroad tracks adjacent to their property and a September 2012 train derailment adjacent to their property. The Court denied CSX's motion to dismiss, finding it could not conclude at that stage that CSX's affirmative defense that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (the “ICCTA”), 49 U.S.C. § 10101 et seq., preempts the Smiths' claims. See Doc. 20. After the close of discovery, CSX filed the present motion for summary judgment, renewing its preemption argument and further contending that no evidence supports the Smiths' claims that the September 2012 derailment proximately caused their alleged damages. The Court grants CSX's motion for summary judgment [61]. Because CSX's decision to idle trains on tracks adjacent to the Smiths' property related to CSX's railroad operations, the Court finds the Smiths' idling claims preempted. And because the record does not contain any evidence connecting the Smiths' damages to the September 2012 derailment, the Court also grants CSX summary judgment on the Smiths' claims arising from the derailment.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         The Smiths have owned and lived in property at 8563 S. Rockwell, Chicago, Illinois since 1987. Their property abuts railroad tracks (running north/south) owned by CSX and used by CSX and other railroads. For operational reasons, CSX parks or idles locomotives on the tracks running adjacent to the Smiths' property, as well as at other locations on its rail network. For example, CSX sometimes parks trains on the tracks adjacent to the Smiths' property while waiting for permission to pass through an interchange at 75th Street, where Metra commuter trains and other freight trains regularly operate on east/west tracks. Metra commuter trains have priority over all other train traffic. Additionally, CSX does not control two other interchanges that the north/south tracks cross, requiring CSX to obtain permission to cross them. Because of the number of trains traversing the tracks, trains often wait for hours to cross these interchanges.

         Additionally, CSX operates an intermodal rail yard at 59th Street, located north of the Smiths' residence. This yard operates twenty-four hours a day, conducting intermodal loading and unloading. CSX does not park trains at the yard, however, because doing so interferes with the loading and unloading of the trains at the yard. This means that CSX sometimes parks or idles trains destined for the yard along the tracks adjacent to the Smiths' property because the yard is not yet ready for the trains. CSX attempts to park trains as close as possible to their destination so as to quickly move them to the yard or through an interchange.

         The Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”) and the Surface Transportation Board (“STB”) oversee railroad operations. The government does not regulate how long trains can park or idle on the tracks. CSX sometimes leaves train engines running or idling when parked. For example, per CSX policy, diesel engines must be kept running when the temperature falls below forty degrees Fahrenheit so as to avoid freeze-ups or damage to the engine. Additionally, if a locomotive is shut down, the train loses air pressure to its braking system. When this happens, FRA regulations require an air test before the train operates again, which could take several hours to complete. Thus, CSX typically keeps the locomotive running when parked to keep the air brake system pressurized.

         In the early morning of September 2, 2012, a CSX train rear-ended another CSX train stopped at the 75th Street interchange. The trains were operating on the eastern-most section of the tracks running adjacent to the Smiths' property, with the impact of the collision occurring north of 83rd Street, approximately three-quarters of a mile from the Smiths' house. Several cars of one of the trains derailed, with containers rolling off the rail cars and landing on the north side of 83rd Street. No train cars derailed south of 83rd Street. CSX sent a locomotive to retrieve the cars south of 83rd Street, which were pulled away without issue. CSX did not receive any property damage claims from residents living near the site of impact or derailment, except that the homeowner on whose property the containers landed claimed damage to his yard from the equipment CSX used to remove those containers.

         The Smiths complain, however, that CSX's actions in parking and idling locomotives next to their property have caused damage to their property and exposed them to engine exhaust fumes. On May 12, 2011, Mrs. Smith called CSX to complain of damage to her home and physical ailments allegedly caused by the idling trains outside her home. In June 2011, she spoke to Michael Scully, then the manager of field investigations for CSX, telling him that, because of the trains: (1) the house had a cracked foundation, (2) the home flooded because of the cracked foundation, (3) the house had mold, (4) the living room walls were cracked and separating, (5) dishes in the china cabinet were cracked, (6) the driveway was cracked and not level, and (7) her car rattled and vibrated due to the uneven surface of the driveway. She also complained that both she and her husband suffered health issues. Mrs. Smith then filled out a CSX form detailing similar damage and health problems, including inability to sleep, nerve damage, depression, and hospitalization, providing the date of the incident as December 2009. Mrs. Smith also wrote to Scully on May 26, 2012, again complaining of damage to the home, including damage to the foundation, windows, antiques, lighting fixtures, and dinnerware. The Smiths included proposals from contractors for repairs, both in the May 26, 2012 letter to Scully and again after the derailment. The amounts and repairs reflected in the proposals did not change, however.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment obviates the need for a trial where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. To determine whether a genuine issue of fact exists, the Court must pierce the pleadings and assess the proof as presented in depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits that are part of the record. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 & advisory committee's notes. The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of proving that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In response, the non-moving party cannot rest on mere pleadings alone but must use the evidentiary tools listed above to identify specific material facts that demonstrate a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324; Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598 (7th Cir. 2000). Although a bare contention that an issue of fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 492 (7th Cir. 2000), the Court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Where a party does not respond to a motion for summary judgment, their failure to do so does not automatically entitle the moving party to judgment on its claims, as the Court must still ensure that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Keeton v. Morningstar, Inc., 667 F.3d 877, 884 (7th Cir. 2012).

         ANALYSIS

         I. ICCTA Preemption

         As it did in its motion to dismiss, CSX argues that the ICCTA preempts Smiths' claims based on the idling of CSX trains. In ruling on the motion to dismiss, the Court essentially deferred decision on the preemption issue, noting that the scope of ICCTA preemption depends on the factual circumstances of the claim. See Doc. 20 at ...


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