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Szekeres v. CSX Transp., Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 25, 2013

James D. SZEKERES, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant-Appellee.

Argued: April 24, 2013.

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ARGUED:

Robert E. Harrington III, Harrington, Thompson, Acker & Harrington, Ltd., Chicago, Illinois, for Appellant.

Dan Himmelfarb, Mayer Brown LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Robert E. Harrington III, Robert B. Thompson, Harrington, Thompson, Acker & Harrington, Ltd., Chicago, Illinois, for Appellant.

Dan Himmelfarb, Mayer Brown LLP, Washington, D.C., Joseph J. Santoro, Gallagher Sharp, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee.

Before: GRIFFIN and KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judges; ZATKOFF, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

ZATKOFF, District Judge.

Plaintiff James D. Szekeres appeals the district court's grant of Defendant's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law with respect to Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Federal Employers Liability Act (" FELA" ) and the Locomotive Inspection Act (" LIA" ). The district court's ruling stemmed from the United States Supreme Court's opinion in CSX Transportation, Inc. v. McBride, __ U.S. __, 131 S.Ct. 2630, 180 L.Ed.2d 637 (2011), wherein the Supreme Court endorsed the dismissal of a FELA action in Nicholson v. Erie R.R. Co., 253 F.2d 939 (2d Cir.1958). The district court concluded that the facts of Nicholson were not meaningfully distinguishable from the facts of this case and vacated the jury's verdict in favor of Plaintiff on both the FELA and LIA claims. The district court did not address Defendant's motion for a new trial before dismissing Plaintiff's cause of action. Plaintiff contends that the district court erred when it concluded that Plaintiff failed to provide sufficient proof of causation between the jury-determined violations under FELA and LIA and Plaintiff's injuries. For the reasons that follow, we REVERSE the district court's ruling on Defendant's Rule 50(b) renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law, DENY Defendant's motion for a new trial, and ORDER the district court to reinstate the jury's verdict in favor of Plaintiff on his FELA and LIA claims.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Incident

Plaintiff began working for Defendant in 1967. On January 4, 2006, he was working

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as a brakeman on a crew of three individuals responsible for taking a freight train from a Defendant-owned yard in Cleveland to Medina County, Ohio and back. The crew traveled south and stopped in Valley City, Ohio. At that stop, Plaintiff's job function was to operate a railroad ground switch (the " Valley City switch" ) back and forth to move the alignment of the railroad track so the locomotive could push the train into an industrial yard in Valley City. Plaintiff stood behind the Valley City switch and operated the Valley City switch approximately ten to fifteen times for 30 minutes to an hour. Defendant's safety rules required Plaintiff to stand at least 10 feet behind the Valley City switch while operating it to protect himself from injury in the event of a derailment. As discussed below, multiple witnesses testified at trial that the ground where Plaintiff worked was muddy and was not covered with ballast.[1] Photos taken hours after the incident at issue also show that the ground where Plaintiff had to stand was muddy and not covered with ballast.

Plaintiff had to urinate while operating the Valley City switch. Plaintiff testified that he planned to urinate outside— rather than in the toilet compartment of the locomotive assigned to their job— because he had looked at the toilet compartment earlier that day and found it to be " dirty," " smelly," " filthy," and " unusable." Plaintiff testified that, had the toilet compartment not been dirty and unusable, he would have used it. Instead, once Plaintiff completed his tasks at the Valley City switch, he began to walk from the Valley City switch to a more private outdoor location in the field behind the tracks. The path Plaintiff chose led him up a slight incline. Within steps of the Valley City switch, Plaintiff slipped and twisted his right knee. Plaintiff was diagnosed with a torn right meniscus and underwent surgery to repair the cartilage in his knee.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed this cause of action in the Northern District of Ohio on May 8, 2008. On July 2, 2009, the district court (Aldrich, J.) granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment and dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims. On August 16, 2010, this court reversed the district court's summary judgment order after finding that genuine disputes of material fact existed with respect to both the FELA and LIA claims and remanded the case back to district court for a trial by jury. Szekeres v. CSX Transp., Inc., 617 F.3d 424 (6th Cir.2010). On August 27, 2010, the case was reassigned from Judge Ann Aldrich to Judge John R. Adams. After being adjourned pending the Supreme Court's decision in McBride, a jury trial was held in August 2011. At the close of Plaintiff's case-in-chief, Defendant filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law with respect to both the FELA and LIA claims, relying primarily on Nicholson. The district court denied that motion and permitted the trial to continue. A unanimous jury found: (a) Defendant had violated the LIA and that the LIA violation caused Plaintiff's injuries,

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(b) Defendant was negligent under FELA and its negligence was a cause of Plaintiff's injuries, (c) Plaintiff was comparatively negligent with respect to the FELA claim, such that Defendant was 60% at fault and Plaintiff was 40% at fault, and (d) Plaintiff's total damages were $49,000.00. Judgment was entered in the amount of $49,000.00 because no reduction for comparative fault is permitted under the LIA.

Defendant then filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50(b) with respect to both the FELA and LIA claims or, in the alternative, motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a). On June 5, 2012, relying on McBride and Nicholson, the district court entered judgment as a matter of law in favor of Defendant with respect to both claims. After finding " no meaningful distinction between the facts at issue in Nicholson and the facts presented by" Plaintiff, the district court held that there was not sufficient causation to assess liability against Defendant on the LIA claim. For the same reasons, the district court held that Plaintiff failed to present adequate proof of causation to support the jury's verdict with respect to the FELA claim. The district court then vacated the jury's verdict and dismissed Plaintiff's cause of action. The district court expressly noted it was not making a conditional ruling on Defendant's Rule 59(a) motion for new trial.

II. RULE 50(B) MOTION

A. Standard of Review


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