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Rucker v. RDS Farm Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

August 28, 2017

WILLIAM T. RUCKER and MARIE RUCKER, Plaintiffs,
v.
RDS FARM, INC., DAVID L. ALLEN NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION and CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendants, NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION d/b/a AMTRAK, Cross-Claimant,
v.
DAVID L. ALLEN and RDS FARM, INC. Cross-Defendants, NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION d/b/a AMTRAK, Third Party Plaintiff,
v.
RONALD ALLEN, Third Party Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CHIEF JUDGE THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         On June 12, 2013, in rural Indiana, an Amtrak passenger train collided with a farm tractor hauling a nurse tank filled with anhydrous ammonia as the tractor's driver, David Allen, crossed railroad tracks owned by CSX Transportation, Inc. William Rucker, who was engineering the train on behalf of his employer, National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), has sued Allen, RDS Farm, Inc. (the Farm) that owns the tractor involved in the collision, Amtrak, and CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX Transportation). Marie Rucker brings loss of consortium claims against CSX Transportation.

         Amtrak and CSX Transportation have moved for summary judgment [ECF No. 48] on the claims that Rucker asserts against them, which include claims against Amtrak under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. § 51, et seq., and the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA), 49 U.S.C. § 20701, et seq., and a common law negligence claim against CSX Transportation. In light of the derivative nature of the loss of consortium claim, CSX Transportation also requests summary judgment on that claim.

         BACKGROUND AND STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The parties have lodged numerous evidentiary objections. (See Pls.' Mot. to Strike Exs. to the Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 51 (moving to strike White County Indiana Incident Report No. 902035807, Declaration of Douglas T. Gannaway, Declaration of Russell Schanlaub, Declaration of Brian Pogue, and Declaration of Sean Cronin); Defs.' Mot. to Strike the Aff. and Report of Stuart Nightenhenlser, ECF No. 60; Pls.' Mot. to Strike the Defs.' Suppl. Designation of Evid. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 63; Defs.' Mot. to Strike Portions of the Dep. of Brian Pogue, ECF No. 77.) The Court will address these motions only as they pertain to evidence that is material to the outcome of the pending Motion for Summary Judgment. If evidence is not relevant, the Court will not consider it, as “[i]rrelevant or unnecessary facts do not deter summary judgment, even when in dispute.” Harney v. Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC, 526 F.3d 1099, 1104 (7th Cir. 2008). Moreover, the Court is mindful that Rule 56 requires that an affidavit used to support or oppose a summary judgment motion “be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent on the matters stated.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4); see also Fed. R. Evid. 602 (“A witness may not testify to a matter unless evidence is introduced sufficient to support a finding that the witness has personal knowledge of the matter.”). However, personal knowledge is not a rigid requirement; it also “includes opinions and inferences grounded in observations or other first-hand experience.” United States v. Joy, 192 F.3d 761, 767 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Visser v. Packer Eng'g Assoc., Inc., 924 F.2d 655, 659 (7th Cir. 1991)).

         Despite the numerous motions to strike, the facts contained below are not in dispute. Facts that are challenged on an evidentiary basis, or otherwise disputed, will be addressed in the analysis section of the Opinion and Order as necessary for resolution of the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         On June 12, 2013, at around 8:45 a.m., David Allen was traveling north on County Road 200 West driving a John Deere farm tractor, which was pulling a disc harrow for tilling soil and an anhydrous ammonia nurse tank. At the same time, an Amtrak train being operated by Engineer William T. Rucker was traveling northwest on a CSX Transportation owned railroad track that would intersect with County Road 200 West. As the train approached the crossing, Rucker observed Allen's tractor nearing the tracks. He testified that he could tell it would be difficult for Allen to get matters under control, so he began blowing the train's horn, well in advance of the whistle post for the crossing. Allen had not seen or heard the train and drove the tractor onto the crossing. As the train approached the crossing, Rucker sounded the horn multiple times and applied braking, hoping that Allen would be able to cross the tracks before the train arrived at the intersection.

         Rucker was seated in the engineer's seat on the right side of the lead locomotive. The lead locomotive struck the disc harrow at about 47 miles per hour, and the impact separated the anhydrous ammonia tank. The momentum of the locomotive carried it through the impact without causing an abrupt stop. The anhydrous ammonia tank was not ruptured, but the hoses were filled with ammonia at the time of impact, and one of the applicator hoses broke the engineer-side window of the locomotive. According to Rucker, he inhaled the anhydrous ammonia and it splattered on his right arm, shoulder, and head.

         The intersection is one that Allen had encountered hundreds of times before the day of the collision. Allen testified that he would have encountered signage as he approached the crossing, including a yield sign and a crossbuck advising of the presence of two sets of tracks. He also testified that there is a stop bar, and pavement markings to indicate the approach to the railroad crossing. Allen testified that he does not always come to a complete stop before traveling over the crossing, as it depends on whether he could see clearly. If he could see clearly, he would not stop. If he could not see clearly, he would stop. Allen does not know why he did not stop on the day of the collision. Allen estimates that his speed as he approached the crossing was between 6 to 10 miles per hour, perhaps as high as 12 miles per hour. While he thinks he would have slowed as he approached the crossing, he admits that he did not stop prior to driving onto the railroad tracks.

         When asked what made that particular railroad crossing a difficult one, Allen answered:

         A. I would say the angle at which the railroad track is intersecting the road and then the trees and obstructions that are there make it difficult.

         Q. Okay. Now, you said trees. Where are the trees that pose a difficulty?

         A. Between the-or they're right next to the tracks, or next to the tracks.

         (Allen Dep. 40, ECF No. 50-1.) Allen explained that the trees at issue were in the southeast quadrant of the intersection. He also stated that, as far as obstructions were concerned, the trees were the only problem. However, he also believed that the angle at which the track intersects the road when you are traveling north made it more difficult to see a train approaching from the southeast, because a driver had to “really turn his head back around” to the right to see the train. (Id.)

         ANALYSIS

         Summary judgment is warranted when “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To survive summary judgment, a nonmovant must be able to show that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in his favor; if he is unable to “establish the existence of an element essential to [his] case, and on which [he] will bear the burden of proof at trial, ” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986), summary judgment must be granted. A bare contention that an issue of fact exists is insufficient to create a factual dispute, but the court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, view all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, see Bellaver v. Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 491-92 (7th Cir. 2000), and avoid “the temptation to decide which party's version of the facts is more likely true, ” Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2003) (noting the often stated proposition that “summary judgment cannot be used to resolve swearing contests between litigants”). A fact must be outcome determinative under the governing law to be considered material. Insolia v. Philip Morris Inc., 216 F.3d 596, 598-99 (7th Cir. 2000).

         A. FELA and LIA Claim Against Amtrak Regarding Condition of the Locomotive Cab

         Rucker claims that Amtrak is liable to him under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 51, et seq., and the Locomotive Inspection Act, 49 U.S.C. § 20701, et seq. based on the condition of the locomotive. He maintains that the locomotive cab did not contain adequate window safety glazing, and that it was not an overall crashworthy cab. Rucker also asserts that there is genuine issue of material fact whether insect debris on the windshield caused by the absence of window washer fluid impaired his view of the crossing and the approaching farm tractor.

         FELA was enacted “to provide a remedy to railroad employees injured as a result of their employers' negligence.” Waymire v. Norfolk & W. Ry. Co., 218 F.3d 773, 775 (7th Cir. 2000) (citing Kossman v. Ne. Ill. Reg'l Commuter R.R. Corp., 211 F.3d 1031, 1035 (7th Cir. 2000)).

         Under the statute,

Every common carrier by railroad while engaging in commerce between any of the several States . . . shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in such commerce, . . . for such injury . . . 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, ...

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