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Jeffers v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

February 26, 2015

EDWIN JEFFERS, ET AL.,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY CO.

MEMORANDUM RULING

PATRICK J. HANNA, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment by BNSF Railway Company. [Rec. Doc. 43]. The motion is opposed by the plaintiffs. [Rec. Doc. 52]. Oral argument was heard on the motion on February 23, 2015. After considering the applicable law, the record, and the arguments of the parties, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

Background:

The plaintiffs are owners/inhabitants of residences or businesses in Gray Lawn Subdivision, located north of Crowley, Louisiana, and north of railroad tracks situated upon an elevated roadbed which runs east to west through the area. A culvert transects the elevated roadbed near the subdivision. The culvert is owned by BNSF.

The plaintiffs have jointly alleged that their homes and businesses sustained damage during heavy flooding from rainstorms on January 10-11, 2013. They have alleged that the unprecedented flooding in the subdivision was caused by the failure of BNSF to properly maintain the drainage culvert, which reduced the ability of the culvert to properly drain surface water and prevent flooding in their subdivision. The plaintiffs seek money damages for repairs, expenses, replacement costs and other losses including mental anguish.

In the motion before the Court, BNSF contends that (1) there is no evidence that BNSF had knowledge, either actual or constructive, of a defect in the culvert prior to January 10, 2013, the date of the subject flood, and (2) the plaintiffs cannot establish a causal link between the condition of the culvert at that time and the flooding that damaged their properties.

The Summary Judgment Standard:

Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the applicable substantive law in the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Minter v. Great American Ins. Co. of New York, 423 F.3d 460, 465 (5th Cir. 2005). A genuine issue of material fact exists if a reasonable jury could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Brumfield v. Hollins, 551 F.3d 322, 326 (5th Cir. 2008), citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 252.

The party seeking summary judgment has the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those parts of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Washburn v. Harvey, 504 F.3d 505, 508 (5th Cir. 2007), citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party carries its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of a material fact. Id. All facts and justifiable inferences are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Brumfield v. Hollins, 551 F.3d at 326, citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255.

If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by pointing out that there is insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. Norwegian Bulk Transport A/S v. International Marine Terminals Partnership, 520 F.3d 409, 412 (5th Cir. 2008), citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. at 325. The motion should be granted if the non-moving party cannot produce evidence to support an essential element of its claim. Condrey v. Sun Trust Bank of Georgia, 431 F.3d 191, 197(5th Cir. 2005).

Applicable Substantive Law:

The plaintiffs' claims are based on Louisiana Civil Code articles 2315, 2317 and 2317.1. La. C.C. art. 2315(A) provides that "[E]very act whatever of man that causes damage to another obliges him by whose fault it happened to repair it." La. C.C. art. 2317 provides that "[W]e are responsible, not only for the damage occasioned by our own act, but for that which is caused by the act of persons for whom we are answerable, or of the things which we have in our custody." Additionally, La. C.C. art. 2317.1 provides in part:

The owner or custodian of a thing is answerable for damage occasioned by its ruin, vice, or defect, only upon a showing that he knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known of the ruin, vice, or defect which caused the damage, that the damage could have been prevented by the exercise of reasonable care, and that he failed to exercise such reasonable care.

To prove liability against the owner or custodian of a thing under La. C.C. art. 2317 and the appended 2317.1, the plaintiff must prove: (1) that the thing that caused his damage or injury was in the custody or care of the defendant; (2) that there was a vice or defect in the thing, which created an unreasonable risk of harm, (3) that the defendant knew or should have known of the unreasonable risk of harm, and (4) that the vice or defect caused the damage or injury. Babino v. Jefferson Transit, 110 So.3d 1123, (La.App. 5th Cir. 2013); see also Davis v. Harrah's Lake Charles, LLC, 945 So.2d. 878(La.App.3d Cir. 2006). There is no dispute BNSF was the owner/custodian of the ...


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