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Killingham v. Illinois Central Railroad Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 20, 2017



          Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge

         A. Introduction

         Jessica Killingham worked as a trackperson for Illinois Central Railroad. On October 7, 2016, while operating a tie extractor in the course of her normal job duties, Jessica was rear-ended by another railroad employee operating a tie extractor - Theodore Brister. Jessica completed her day's work but then began experiencing dizziness and pain. After seeking treatment at a local hospital emergency room, consulting with her primary care physician, and seeing an orthopedic specialist, Jessica was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff in her left shoulder. She underwent medical treatment and extensive therapy, eventually returning to work on April 19, 2017.

         Jessica (Plaintiff) filed suit in this United States District Court, seeking to recover damages for the personal injuries she sustained in the collision. The complaint names her employer, Illinois Central Railroad (ICR), as the sole defendant and asserts that her injuries were caused by the negligence of ICR or its agents/employees acting within the scope of their employment and authority. Plaintiff seeks to recover under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51, et seq.

         Specifically, the complaint alleges that ICR was negligent in nine ways:

(a) failing to furnish Plaintiff a reasonably safe place to work;
(b) failing to furnish Plaintiff reasonably safe equipment to perform her assigned duties;
(c) failing to furnish Plaintiff necessary personal protective equipment;
(d) failing to furnish Plaintiff necessary supervision in her assigned duties;
(e) failing to properly supervise Theodore Brister in operating the tie extractor;
(f) failing to properly train employees in the operation of tie extractors;
(g) failing to warn Plaintiff of hazardous conditions of the equipment; (h) allowing unsafe practices to become standard practice; and
(i) allowing Theodore Brister to behave inattentive while operating the tie extractor.

         ICR answered the complaint, a Scheduling Order was entered (with a March 8, 2018 discovery cutoff), and trial was set for July 16, 2018. Now before the Court is a motion for partial summary judgment filed by ICR on July 27, 2017 (Doc. 25), to which Plaintiff responded on September 5, 2017 (Doc. 31), and ICR replied on September 13, 2017 (Doc. 34).

         ICR seeks summary judgment as to certain claims, allegations, and elements of damages sought by Plaintiff. These include any: (1) allegations of injury to Plaintiff's right shoulder, (2) claim for psychological injuries or mental anguish, (3) claim that ICR failed to furnish Plaintiff with proper personal protective equipment, (4) claim that ICR failed to properly train its employees to operate tie extractors, and (5) request to recover for lost wages or earning capacity outside of October 8, 2016 through April 18, 2017. As stated below, the Court grants in part and denies in part ICR's motion.

         B. Applicable Legal Standards

         Summary Judgment

          Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 governs motions for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate where the admissible evidence shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Taylor-Novotny v. Health Alliance Medical Plans, Inc., 772 F.3d 478, 488 (7th Cir. 2014). Accord Archdiocese of Milwaukee v. Doe, 743 F.3d 1101, 1105 (7thCir. 2014), citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. A "material fact" is a fact that affects the outcome of the lawsuit, i.e., it is outcome-determinative under the applicable substantive law. Taylor-Novotny, 772 F.3d at 488; Hanover Ins. Co. v. Northern Bldg. Co., 751 F.3d 788, 791 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 135 S.Ct. 280 (2014).

         A genuine issue of material fact remains (and summary judgment should be denied), “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Miller v. Gonzalez, 761 F.3d 822, 827 (7th Cir. 2014), quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). However, if the factual record taken as a whole could not lead a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, there is nothing for the jury to do, and summary judgment is properly granted. Bunn v. Khoury Enterprises, Inc., 753 F.3d 676, 682 (7th Cir. 2014), citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         In assessing whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, this Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Bunn, 753 F.3d at 682. See also 520 South Michigan Ave. Associates, Ltd. v. Unite Here Local 1, 760 F.3d 708, 718 (7th Cir. 2014). The court examines the competent evidence of record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, giving the non-movant the benefit of reasonable, favorable inferences and resolving conflicts in the evidence in the non-movant's favor. Spaine v. Community Contacts, Inc., 756 F.3d 542, 544 (7th Cir. 2014).

         Another point bears note here, as ICR seeks summary judgment not only as to certain claims but also as to parts of claims and damage elements. Prior to 2010, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 did not authorize the grant of summary judgment as to part of a claim or one form of damages (i.e., a request for liquidated damages), because that ruling would not constitute a “judgment” disposing of a whole or entire claim. See, e.g., 10B Charles A. Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2737 (4th ed. 2016); Deimer v. Cincinnati Sub-Zero Products, Inc., 990 F.2d 342, 345-46 (7th Cir. 1993).

         As amended, however, Rule 56(a) now provides for a summary judgment motion as to parts of claims or defenses. Although the device should not be used to let a party “pursue a needlessly piecemeal litigation strategy, ” there is “no doubt that a court may grant … summary judgment as to … one claim, leaving other claims … to be addressed at a later point in the litigation.” Indeed, “partial summary judgment can serve a useful brush-clearing function even if it does not obviate the need for a trial, … it may also facilitate the ...

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