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Johnson v. Railroad Controls, L.P.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

February 10, 2015

CHAD JOHNSON, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
RAILROAD CONTROLS, L.P., ET AL. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM RULING

PATRICIA MINALDI, District Judge.

Before the court is BNSF Railway Company's ("BNSF") Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 125], to which the plaintiffs have filed a Response [Doc. 148], to which BNSF has filed a Reply [Doc. 159]. For the following reasons, BNSF's Motion [Doc. 125] is GRANTED.

FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Chad Johnson and Betty Johnson ("the plaintiffs") filed suit in federal court on September 26, 2011, against RCL, BNSF, and TNT, for injuries allegedly sustained by Mr. Johnson in the course of his employment with RCL.[1] RCL is a railroad services construction and maintenance company.[2]

According to the plaintiffs' complaint, Mr. Johnson was aboard a high rail dump truck vehicle on September 26, 2010, in Washington State when he allegedly sustained serious bodily injury and severe post-traumatic stress disorder when the vehicle lost control.[3] At the time, Mr. Johnson had been working on a BNSF railroad track when he was ordered to climb aboard the truck, which was then being driven by Mr. Devon Klein.[4] Mr. Klein soon realized that the truck brakes were not functioning, and informed the flagger via radio that they were out of control, at which point they were advised to "bail out."[5] The two men remained in the vehicle, and Mr. Johnson allegedly sustained injuries while the vehicle was out of control and in the ensuing stop when "the truck caught on something and flipped back on its four tires."[6]

The plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint [Doc. 93], which includes as defendants DMF and Navistar, [7] alleges that the high rail dump truck vehicle in which Mr. Johnson was riding as a passenger on the date of the alleged incident lost braking ability due to the defective nature of the truck and the railgear, resulting in Mr. Johnson's alleged injuries.[8]

The plaintiffs have asserted negligence claims against RCL, Mr. Johnson's employer at the time;[9] claims under the Louisiana Products Liability Act, LA. REV. STAT. ANN. ยงยง 9:2800.51, et seq., against both DMF, as the manufacturer of the high rail system itself, and Navistar, as the manufacturer of the high rail dump truck that was involved in the accident;[10] a negligence claim against TNT for failing to properly install the braking system; and Mrs. Johnson has sued for loss of consortium.[11]

In an earlier ruling by this court, the plaintiffs' FELA claims were dismissed.[12] Navistar and RCL were granted summary judgment on the remaining claims against them in subsequent rulings.[13] On July 7, 2014, the plaintiffs' liability claim for design defect was dismissed against DMF.[14] Finally, on February 3, 2015, the testimony of Frank Burg and Lewis Barbe, two of the plaintiffs' expert witnesses, was excluded.[15]

I. Standard for Summary Judgment

A grant of summary judgment is appropriate where "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). A dispute is said to be "genuine" only where a "reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Dizer v. Dolgencorp, Inc., No. 3:10-cv-699, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24025, at *16 (W.D. La. Jan. 12, 2012) (citing Fordoche, Inc. v. Texaco, Inc., 463 F.3d 388, 392 (5th Cir. 2006)). "Rule 56[(a)] mandates the entry of summary judgment... 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." Webber v. Christus Schumpert Health Sys., No. 10-1177, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99235, at *14 (W.D. La. Sept. 2, 2011) (citing Patrick v. Ridge, 394 F.3d 311, 315 (5th Cir. 2004)).

In ruling upon a motion for summary judgment, the district court shall draw all inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id. at *3 n.1 (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (additional citation omitted)). However, the court will not, in the absence of proof, "assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990)). "The non-movant cannot preclude summary judgment by raising some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of the evidence.'" Cormier v. W&T Offshore, Inc., No. 10-1089, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53416, at *18-19 (W.D. La. Apr. 12, 2013) (citing Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

II. BNSF's Negligence

The primary thrust of the plaintiffs' allegations against BNSF is that BNSF owned and operated the tracks on which the accident occurred and (1) had a duty to inform RCL that local BNSF crews did not use high rail vehicles any larger than pick-up trucks in wet conditions, and (2) the track itself was defective. The parties make arguments about BNSF's negligence under both a theory of general negligence under Louisiana Civil Code article 2315 and custodial negligence under article 2317.1. There is a false distinction between the burden of proof required for claims under article 2315 as compared to those under article 2317. See, e.g. Dupre v. City of New Orleans, 1999-3651, p. 5 n. 5 (La. 8/31/00); 765 ...


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