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Williams v. Norfolk Southern Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

June 20, 2018

JA'LIN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
NORFOLK SOUTHERN CORPORATION and NORFOLK SOUTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. MARTIN MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Norfolk Southern's Motion for Summary Judgment [DE 31], filed by Defendants Norfolk Southern Corporation and Norfolk Southern Railway Company (collectively, “Norfolk”) on October 31, 2017.

         I. Procedural Background

         On July 27, 2015, the Complaint of Plaintiff Ja'Lin Williams, originally filed in state court on June 19, 2015, was removed to this Court. The Complaint asserts claims against Defendants for serious injuries sustained by Williams when he was struck by a freight train operated by Norfolk. Norfolk filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on October 31, 2017, Williams filed a response on December 28, 2017, and Norfolk filed a reply on January 10, 2018.

         The parties filed forms of consent to have this case assigned to a United States Magistrate Judge to conduct all further proceedings and to order the entry of a final judgment in this case. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandate that motions for summary judgment be granted “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rule 56 further requires the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery, against “a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). “[S]ummary judgment is appropriate - in fact, is mandated - where there are no disputed issues of material fact and the movant must prevail as a matter of law. In other words, the record must reveal that no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party.” Dempsey v. Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 16 F.3d 832, 836 (7th Cir. 1994) (citations and quotations omitted). To demonstrate a genuine issue of fact, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” but must “come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         In viewing the facts presented on a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all legitimate inferences in favor of that party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Srail v. Vill. of Lisle, 588 F.3d 940, 948 (7th Cir. 2009); NLFC, Inc. v. Devcom Mid-Am., Inc., 45 F.3d 231, 234 (7th Cir. 1995). A court's role is not to evaluate the weight of the evidence, to judge the credibility of witnesses, or to determine the truth of the matter, but instead to determine whether there is a genuine issue of triable fact. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

         III. Undisputed Material Facts

         Northern District of Indiana Local Rule 56-1 requires the moving party to include with its motion for summary judgment a “‘Statement of Material Facts' that identifies the facts that the moving party contends are not genuinely disputed.” N.D. Ind. L.R. 56-1(a). In response, the opposing party is obligated to file a “‘Statement of Genuine Disputes' that identifies the material facts that the party contends are genuinely disputed.” N.D. Ind. L.R. 56-1(b)(2). In this case, as the moving party, Norfolk has submitted a Statement of Material Facts. Williams in response has incorporated in his brief a “Statement of Genuine Disputes/Material Facts Requiring the Denial of Summary Judgment.” That statement lists Williams' version of the facts with appropriate citations to evidence but does not clearly identify which of Norfolk's facts, if any, he disagrees with. In the interest of justice, the Court has attempted to ascertain areas of dispute, but reminds counsel of the importance of complying with applicable rules. See Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 922 (7th Cir. 1994) (noting that the Seventh Circuit has routinely sustained “the entry of summary judgment when the non-movant has failed to submit a factual statement in the form called for by the pertinent rule and thereby conceded the movant's version of the facts”).

         Shortly after 1:00 a.m. on June 23, 2013, Williams was struck by a freight train operated by Norfolk at the 117th Street railway crossing in Whiting, Indiana, sustaining serious injuries. The night of the incident, Williams and a group of friends visited Whihala Beach and Whiting Lakefront Park, just northeast of the railway crossing at issue in this case. They parked their car on the southwest side of the crossing and traversed the crossing on foot to visit the park. After a police officer later told them the park was closed and ordered them to leave or risk arrest, the group lingered at the park for a few more minutes until they saw the squad car returning. At that point they ran away, exiting the park. Williams and some of his friends attempted to traverse the railway crossing on foot in order to return to the car they had arrived in.

         The railway crossing at which the incident occurred consists of five pairs of rails traversing 117th Street. The tracks run in a southeast-to-northwest direction, making the pair of rails closest to the Whihala beach entrance, operated by CN Railway, roughly perpendicular to the stretch of 117th Street that it intersects with. There are flashing signals and automatic gates flanking the CN Railway track on the northeast and southwest, serving as warning devices for travelers on 117th Street. The street then turns somewhat to the right, traveling westbound, and crosses four more sets of tracks at an oblique angle. Those four tracks, the first two of which are operated by CSX Transportation, Inc. and the final two of which operated by Norfolk, share a set of warning devices, consisting of one flashing signal and gate to the northeast of the CSX tracks and second flashing signal and gate southwest of the Norfolk Southern tracks. There are no additional signals or gates between the CSX and Norfolk tracks. The train that struck Williams was on the last of those four tracks. One friend running ahead of Williams made it across all of the tracks in time to avoid the train, and another stopped just short of the track on which the train was traveling; only Williams was struck by the train.

         The crew of the train at the time of the incident included an engineer and a conductor, Paul Wansitler. Wansitler saw Williams and his friends running toward the track and alerted the engineer to the presence of the pedestrians approximately thirteen seconds before the collision, but the crew did not institute emergency braking measures until at or around the point of impact. Expert testimony established that, given the speed and weight of the train, the speed at which Williams was running, and the functioning of the emergency braking mechanism, the train would have still struck Williams if the brake had been pulled at any point in the nine seconds prior to the point of impact. However, had the brake been pulled more than nine seconds prior to the point of impact, the train would have slowed sufficiently for Williams to safely clear the tracks, avoiding the collision and subsequent damages.

         IV. ...


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