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Tindall v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

September 19, 2017

WANDA TINDALL, Individually And as the personal representative of the Estate of JACKIE TINDALL, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant. CHERYL PUFFER, as the personal representative of the Estate of CHARLES PUFFER, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          James E. Shadid Chief United States District Judge

         The above-captioned cases are before the Court on Motions [7], [7] by Defendant, Union Pacific Railroad Company, to Dismiss the Complaints of Plaintiff Wanda Tindall and Plaintiff Cheryl Puffer. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motions [7], [7] are DENIED. Plaintiff Tindall and Plaintiff Puffer are GRANTED leave to file amended complaints in their respective cases within 21 days from the entry of this Order.

         Background

         Plaintiff Tindall and Plaintiff Puffer filed these actions against Union Pacific Railroad Company (“UPRC”) on May 19, 2017, and both filed an Amended Complaint on August 11, 2017. Both Complaints allege that Defendant violated the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. Plaintiff Tindall's husband, Jackie Tindall, worked as a brakeman and conductor for Defendant for 38 years before developing cancer which proved to be fatal. Plaintiff Puffer's husband, Charles Puffer, was employed by Defendant for 43 years before developing cancer resulting in his death. Both Plaintiffs allege that the decedents were exposed to various toxic substances and carcinogens during the course of and in the scope of their employment with Defendant, and that their cancer was the result of Defendant's negligence. Both Plaintiffs seek damages in the amount of $150, 000.

         On August 25, 2017, Defendant filed Motions to Dismiss Tindall and Puffer's Complaints under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Therein, Defendant alleges that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear the Plaintiffs' Complaints because the Plaintiffs failed to establish their capacity as personal representatives of decedents-a requirement under FELA. See 45 U.S.C. § 51. Defendant argues that capacity to sue under FELA is a jurisdictional prerequisite, and because jurisdiction must be present at the time the case is filed, see, e.g., Groupo Dataflux v. Atlas Global Group, L.P., 541 U.S. 567, 571 (2004), the jurisdictional defect cannot be cured by later amendment and the case must be dismissed.

         Plaintiffs filed Responses to Defendant's Motions, explaining that Tindall and Puffer were each appointed Executrix of the decedents' estates and did not seek formal appointment as personal representative of the decedents' estates because they were not required to do so under Arkansas and Missouri law. Attached to both responses are copies of the decedents' wills. Plaintiffs request leave of court to perfect their status as representatives of their respective estates before filing amended complaints. Plaintiffs argue that leave to amend should be granted because the amendments will not allege new facts or assert any different causes of action, but will merely set forth the fact that the Plaintiffs are indeed the personal representatives of the decedents' estates. Because the amended filings would relate back to the original Complaints, Plaintiffs argue, dismissal is unnecessary and inappropriate. On September 14, 2017, Plaintiffs filed Notices of Supplementation of the Record informing the court of a favorable decision in a similar case in the District of Nebraska. See West v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., Case No. 8:17-cv-36 (D. Neb. Sept. 12, 2017).

         Legal Standard

         For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all well-pleaded factual allegations are taken as true. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69 (1984); Lanigan v. Village of East Hazel Crest, 110 F.3d 467 (7th Cir. 1997); M.C.M. Partners, Inc. v. Andrews-Bartlett & Assoc., Inc., 62 F.3d 967, 969 (7th Cir. 1995); Early v. Bankers Life & Cas. Co., 959 F.2d 75 (7th Cir. 1992). “As a jurisdictional requirement, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing standing.” Apex Digital, Inc. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 572 F.3d 440, 443 (7th Cir. 2009). “[W]hen considering a motion that launches a factual attack against jurisdiction, ‘[t]he district court may properly look beyond the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists.' ” Id. at 444, citing Evers v. Astrue, 536 F.3d 651, 656-57 (7th Cir. 2008).

         Discussion

         The Federal Employers' Liability Act provides:

Every common carrier by railroad while engaging in commerce between any of the several States or Territories … shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in such commerce, or, in case of the death of such employee, to his or her personal representative, for the benefit of the surviving widow or husband and children of such employee; and, if none, then of such employee's parents; and, if none, then of the next of kin dependent upon such employee, 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 (emphasis added).

         The facts of this case, as alleged by Plaintiffs Tindall and Puffer in their Complaints, are indistinguishable in all material aspects from the facts underlying the Supreme Court's decision in Missouri, Kansas, & Texas Ry. Co. v. Wulf, 226 U.S. 570 (1913). The Court in Wu l f held that a plaintiff in a FELA case may amend her complaint to properly allege capacity to sue, and that such amendment would relate back to the filing of the initial complaint. Id. at 576. The only issue before this Court, therefore, is whether Wulf remains good law.

         Defendant argues that Wulf is distinguishable because “it was decided in 1913 and at that point in time, a mistake as to the proper party to sue was perhaps understandable.” Tindall, Doc. 8, at 6; Puffer, Doc. 8, at 6. Because over 100 years have passed since Wu l f was decided, Defendant argues that such a mistake is now unreasonable, and cites cases from the ...


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