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Ezell v. Kansas City Southern Railway Company

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

July 31, 2017

SHAWN T. EZELL, Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi

          Before PRADO, HIGGINSON, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.

          STEPHEN A. HIGGINSON, Circuit Judge:

         Plaintiff-Appellant Shawn Ezell drove his car into a stationary train that was blocking a traffic crossing. Ezell sued the train's operator, Defendant-Appellee Kansas City Southern Railway (KCSR), asserting various Mississippi common law negligence claims based on his allegations that the train blocked the crossing for an impermissible amount of time and the train's crew failed to adequately warn approaching drivers of the obstructed crossing. KCSR filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted. We affirm.

         I

         In the early morning hours of July 12, 2011, a train operated by KCSR temporarily stopped in West Point, Mississippi, so the crew could perform a switching operation.[1] The operation required the train to fully occupy and block three West Point traffic crossings. Ezell's expert estimates that the train was stopped in West Point for approximately 24 minutes.

         While the crew was performing its switching operation, Ezell approached one of the blocked crossings in his car. He passed a reflectorized advanced warning sign, a reflectorized railroad crossing sign, and a yield sign. Although Ezell testified at his deposition that he does not recall seeing the signs on the night of the accident, he acknowledged that knew they were there because he had passed through the crossing many times and was familiar with it. Ezell also testified that the night was dark and "kind of . . . foggy." He described the road as having "a little dip" and then an incline leading to the tracks, which were elevated in comparison to the approaching road. Because of the incline in the road and the position of the black train car on the track, Ezell says his headlights shone under the train as he approached and that he could see beneath the stationary train car to the road on the other side.

         According to Ezell, he did not see the train blocking his path until it was too late to stop. He crashed into its side, his car lodging beneath the train car he struck. Ezell was airlifted to a medical center for treatment and rehabilitation. He suffered horrific injuries and remained hospitalized for two months followed by a long rehabilitation process. As a result of the accident, Ezell is an "incomplete quadriplegic, " meaning he suffers from severe paralysis throughout his body, but is not completely paralyzed and is able to walk with a walker, though not for long periods of time.

          Ezell filed a lawsuit in Mississippi state court against KCSR, seeking damages based on various Mississippi common law negligence theories. Ezell alleges that the KCSR train crew "was careless, negligent and partially at fault" because the crew: (1) blocked the crossing for longer than permitted by Mississippi law; (2) blocked the crossing for longer than permitted by KCSR's internal operating rules; and (3) failed to adequately warn approaching drivers of the obstructed crossing.

         KCSR removed the case to federal court based on federal question jurisdiction, arguing that Ezell's two blocking claims were completely preempted by the federal ICC Termination Act (ICCTA).[2] KCSR then moved for summary judgment on all of Ezell's claims. In addition to urging that Ezell's two blocking claims are preempted, KCSR argued that Ezell's failure to warn claim is barred by Mississippi's Occupied Crossing Rule. The district court granted KCSR's motion, and Ezell timely appealed.

         II

         We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same legal standards as the district court. Robinson v. Orient Marine Co., 505 F.3d 364, 365 (5th Cir. 2007). Summary judgment is only appropriate "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). Any reasonable inferences are to be drawn in favor of the non-moving party. Robinson, 505 F.3d at 366.

         "Whether a state statute or common law cause of action is preempted by federal law is a question of law we review de novo." Friberg, 267 F.3d at 442; accord Elam, 635 F.3d at 802; Franks, 593 F.3d at 407. "The party asserting federal preemption has the burden of persuasion." Elam, 635 F.3d at 802 (citing AT&T ...


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