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Ryan v. CSX Transporation, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

July 19, 2019

William M. Ryan, Jr., Plaintiff,
CSX Transporation, Inc., Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          Michael R. Barrett, Judge.

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendant CSX Transportation, Inc.'s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Doc. 27). Plaintiff William M. Ryan, Jr. has filed a Response in Opposition (Doc. 31); and Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. 32).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff William M. Ryan, Jr. is a railroad employee formerly employed by Defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges violations under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (“FELA”), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51 et seq. and under the Federal Safety Appliance Act (“FSAA”) 49 U.S.C. § 20302 et seq based on injuries Plaintiff claims he suffered to his left knee. Plaintiff also brings claims for retaliation under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”) 49 U.S.C. § 20109, et seq.

         In the early morning hours of July 30, 2015, Plaintiff was working as a conductor in the Queensgate Yard in Cincinnati, Ohio. Plaintiff and his crew were coupling cars in the yard when Plaintiff noticed a railcar (“Railcar CIGX802253”) was missing the knuckle, which is a part of the coupling mechanism. (Doc. 31-1, William Ryan Aff. ¶ 5). Plaintiff called the trim tower yardmaster and reported that the knuckle was missing. (Id. at ¶ 5). The yardmaster instructed Plaintiff to try to repair the knuckle. (Id. at ¶ 5). Plaintiff went to retrieve a replacement for the knuckle. (Id. at ¶ 6). On his way to where the supply of knuckles is located, Plaintiff discovered a discarded knuckle on ground. (Id. at ¶ 7). Plaintiff decided to use that knuckle to make the repair. (Id. at ¶ 7). Because a knuckle weighs eighty to ninety pounds, Plaintiff wanted to avoid carrying the knuckle back to Railcar CIGX802253. (Id. at ¶ 8). Plaintiff decided to use a nearby gondola car to move the knuckle. (Id. at ¶ 8). According to Plaintiff, when he placed the knuckle on a brake platform of a gondola railcar, the brake platform tilted slightly towards him and the knuckle started to fall off the platform. (Id. at ¶ 9). Plaintiff jumped back to avoid the falling knuckle. (Id. at ¶ 10). As he backed up, Plaintiff's feet became entangled in discarded brake rigging which was lying in between the rails. (Id. at ¶ 10). Plaintiff's foot skidded and he twisted his knee. (Id. at ¶ 10). Plaintiff felt pain in his knee, but continued to work. (Id. at ¶ 11). Plaintiff's pain later increased, and he was unable to work the next night. (Id. at ¶¶ 14-16). Plaintiff was off work from July 30, 2015 until April 2016.

         Plaintiff claims that when he returned to work, his work was constantly scrutinized by railroad officials. (Id. at ¶ 24).

         On June 9, 2016, Plaintiff was assigned to work as a remote control operator moving cars in the railyard. (Id. at ¶ 27). While on the job, LaCresha Taborn, the Superintendent of Terminals, saw Plaintiff using his cell phone. (Id. at ¶ 31). Taborn asked Plaintiff what he was doing, and Plaintiff responded that he was on his phone “just checking up on the news.” (Id. at ¶ 31). Plaintiff believed that this was not a violation of Defendant's safety policies. (Id. at ¶ 29). Defendant maintains that it was a violation of CSX Operating Rule 1001.2, which only permits limited “personal voice or text communications” when certain conditions are met. (Doc. 27-8).

         Later that same day, Taborn returned while Plaintiff was performing his job duties. (Id. at ¶ 41). Taborn told Plaintiff he was violating safety rules by failing to “protect” a railroad crossing while he was moving railcars across the crossing by making sure that the crossing was clear. (Id. at ¶ 42). Taborn also told Plaintiff that he failed to visually determine that the couplers were open when he was making a coupling. (Id. at ¶ 42). Taborn informed Plaintiff that she would be accompanying Plaintiff for the remainder of his shift as a safety measure. (Id. at ¶ 41). Plaintiff believed he had complied with the rules, and informed Taborn of this. (Id. at ¶ 43). As Plaintiff continued to explain himself to Taborn, Plaintiff became frustrated. (Id. at ¶ 43). Plaintiff decided to walk away. (Id. at ¶ 44). Plaintiff claims that as he walked away, he dropped his brake stick and said under his breath, “Just let me do my G-damn job.” (Id. at ¶ 44). However, Taborn claims that Plaintiff threw the brake stick at her and cursed at her. (Doc. 27-10, PAGEID# 338).

         Plaintiff was charged with violating the safety rules; as well as being argumentative, using profane language, throwing a piece of company property and failing to follow instructions. (Doc. 27-9). A formal investigation hearing was held. (Doc. 27-10). The hearing officer determined that Plaintiff had violated the safety rules and Defendant's Violence in the Workplace Policy. (Doc. 27-12). On July 18, 2016, Plaintiff was dismissed in all capacities from service with Defendant effective immediately. (Id.) Plaintiff appealed to Public Law Board (“PLB”), which upheld Plaintiff's termination. (Doc. 27-1).

         Defendant seeks summary judgment on Plaintiff's FSAA claims (Third and Fourth Causes of Action) and FRSA claims (Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Causes of Action). Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is not directed toward Plaintiff's FELA claim (First and Second Causes of Action).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” The moving party has the burden of showing an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden of production, the non-moving party cannot rest on his pleadings, but must present significant probative evidence in support of his complaint to defeat the motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).

         B. Federal Safety and Appliance Act

         The FSAA imposes an absolute duty on railroads to provide and maintain certain safety appliances. Richards v. Consol. Rail Corp., 330 F.3d 428, 432 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Myers v. Reading Co., 331 U.S. 477, 485, 67 S.Ct. 1334, 91 L.Ed. 1615 (1947); O'Donnell v. Elgin, J. & E. Ry. Co., 338 U.S. 384, 390, 70 S.Ct. 200, 94 L.Ed. 187 (1949)).

         Plaintiff alleges two separate violations of the FSAA: (1) a missing or defective knuckle on Railcar CIGX802253; and (2) ladders and running boards on the gondola car which were not safe and secure. Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claims under the FSAA fail because there is no evidence that Railcar CIGX802253's alleged violation of the FSAA caused Plaintiff's knee injury; and there is no evidence that the running board on the gondola car was not secure.

         To recover for a violation of the FSAA, a plaintiff need only show “(1) the statute was violated; and (2) they suffered injuries ‘resulting in whole or in part' from the defective equipment.” Richards, 330 F.3d at 432 (citing Co ...

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