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Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Taylor Truck Line, Inc.

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

September 13, 2017

UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY
v.
TAYLOR TRUCK LINE, INC., ET AL. R & L BUILDERS SUPPLY, INC., ET AL.
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, ET AL.

          KAREN L. HAYES, MAG. JUDGE

          RULING

          ROBERT G. JAMES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Regarding Speed [Doc. No. 191] filed by Union Pacific Railroad Co. (“Union Pacific”). Defendants Daniel Shackleford (“Shackleford”), College City Leasing, LLC (“College City”), Taylor Truck Lines, Inc. (“Taylor Truck”), Taylor Logistics, Inc. (“Taylor Logistics”), and Taylor Consolidated, Inc. (collectively, “the Taylor Entities”) oppose the motion. [Doc. No. 235]. Union Pacific filed a reply. [Doc. No. 249].

         For the following reasons, the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 5, 2014, Shackleford was operating a 2013 Kenworth tractor with trailer and dolly (hereinafter “tractor-trailer”) loaded with a Freuhoff Terex RT-780 crane. He was en route to deliver the crane to a construction company in Mississippi. The tractor-trailer driven by Shackleford was owned by College City, but leased to Taylor Truck. Taylor Logistics was the shipment broker.[1]

         At approximately 1:00 p.m., Shackleford was driving the tractor-trailer south on U.S. Highway 165 in Mer Rouge, Louisiana. At the intersection of 165 and U.S. Highway 425/La. Highway 2, Shackleford stopped at the stop sign and then turned left onto U.S. Highway 425/La. Highway 2, also known as Davenport Avenue. He then proceeded to the Highway 2/Davenport Avenue highway/railway grade crossing (“the Crossing”) over a Union Pacific main line railroad track (identified as DOT crossing number 441-531N at railroad milepost 473.60). The elevated Crossing has pavement markings, crossbuck signs, flashing lights, gates, and bells.

         As Shackleford attempted to drive over the Crossing, the trailer became lodged, straddling the tracks. He exited the tractor to attempt to extricate the trailer, but did not notify law enforcement or Union Pacific.

         There are federal speed regulations in effect with regard to the Crossing, the type of track, and the type of train operated by Union Pacific. The Crossing is located at milepost 473.6, which is part of the McGehee Subdivision. The Union Pacific North Little Rock Timetable Number 5 was in effect at that time and governed the McGehee Subdivision. The track was graded Class 4. According to federal regulations, the maximum authorized speed for freight trains was sixty miles per hour, the same speed limit under Union Pacific's Timetable No. 5. However, Union Pacific also had a Company System General Order Number 2, which provided that the speed for key trains was fifty miles per hour.

         Before Shackleford could extricate the tractor-trailer, a Union Pacific train traveling north on the track began to approach the Crossing. Union Pacific engineer, Russell Rowe, was operating the lead locomotive, and Union Pacific conductor, James Kovalyshyn, was in the cab as well. The flashing lights, bell, and crossing gate were activated. When he saw the tractor-trailer, Rowe recalled that the train was traveling between forty-eight and fifty miles per hour. Kovalyshyn also testified that the train was traveling less than fifty miles per hour. When they realized that the tractor-trailer was stopped, crew members applied the emergency brakes in an effort to avoid the collision. The crew members were unsuccessful, and the train collided with the trailer and attached crane. As a result of the accident, approximately 17 or 18 railroad cars and 2 locomotives left the railroad tracks, cargo spilled, and a tank car leaked Argon onto surrounding property, including land owned by R & L Properties of Oak Grove, LLC (“Properties”).

         On January 14, 2015, Union Pacific brought the instant suit against the Taylor Entities seeking to recover the property damage caused by the accident and derailment.

         Properties and R & L Builders Supply, Inc. (“Builders Supply”) had filed a separate lawsuit against the Taylor Entities, Union Pacific, and Union Pacific's contractors, Prewett Enterprises, Inc., and Hulcher Services, Inc., seeking to recover their damages. On November 4, 2015, the Properties and Builders Supply lawsuit was consolidated with the Union Pacific lawsuit.

         Although they have not made a claim against Union Pacific, as one of their defenses, the Taylor Entities contend that Union Pacific was comparatively negligent by failing “to follow applicable statutory, regulatory or legal standards” and because the train was “traveling at an excessive rate of speed.” [Doc. Nos. 8, 81, 115].

         After discovery was complete, Union Pacific filed the instant motion, arguing that federal preemption bars any claims or defenses that Union Pacific was negligent because of the speed of the train . The motion is fully briefed [Doc. Nos. 235 & 249], and the Court is now prepared to rule.

         II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), “[a] party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense--or the part of each claim or defense--on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment 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.” The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion by identifying portions of the record which highlight the absence of genuine issues of material fact. Topalian v. Ehrmann, 954 F.2d 1125, 1132 (5th Cir. 1992); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1) (“A party asserting that a fact cannot be . . . disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . .). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under applicable law in the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable fact finder could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

         B. Train Speed

         Union Pacific asserts that it is entitled to summary judgment on any claims or defenses related to the speed of the train or the timetable speed limit because such claims or ...


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