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O'Neal v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

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

November 27, 2018

JAMES O'NEAL
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD CO.

          KAREN L. HAYES Magistrate Judge

          ORDER

          TERRY A. DOUGTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         RULING

         This matter arises from an accident at a railroad crossing. Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 21] filed by Defendant Union Pacific Railroad Co. (“Union Pacific"). Plaintiff James O'Neal (“O'Neal”) filed a Motion for Extension of Time to respond to the Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 29], an opposition memorandum to the Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 32');">32], and a Motion to Continue Trial and Pretrial Deadlines [Doc. No. 31]. Union Pacific filed a memorandum in opposition to the Motion for Extension of Time [Doc. No. 28] and memorandum in opposition in part to the continuance of any pre-trial deadlines [Doc. No. 33], but not the continuance of trial. Finally, Union Pacific filed a reply in support of its Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 34].

         For the following reasons, O'Neal's Motion for an Extension of Time is DENIED, Union Pacific's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED, and O'Neal's Motion to Continue is DENIED AS MOOT.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On August 29, 2016, O'Neal, a seasonal employee of McLeod Farms, was driving a tractor trailer loaded with corn to the grain bins in Mer Rouge, Louisiana. At approximately 8:47 a.m., O'Neal, who was traveling eastbound, proceeded onto the railroad tracks in front of a southbound Union Pacific locomotive at the Harp Lane crossing, resulting in a collision.

         O'Neal had driven over that crossing hundreds of times. The Harp Lane crossing is posted with a stop sign and cross buck. The engineer operating the train, Timothy Bland (“Bland”), sounded the horn on the train's approach to the crossing. O'Neal alleged in his original Petition that he had stopped at the crossing, but at his deposition, he admitted that he does not have a distinct memory of stopping. The train's lead engine had a Track Image Recorder (“TIR”) that recorded the view of the engine looking forward down the track. The video shows O'Neal failing to stop at the stop sign and proceeding over the crossing. Upon viewing the video, he admitted that he must not have stopped.

         The lead engine was also equipped with an Event Recorder that records data, including speed, throttle position, amount of train air braking, and horn. The Event Recorder confirmed Bland's account that he sounded the horn and also showed that the train was traveling fifty miles per hour when Bland applied the emergency brake. Because of the proximity to the crossing, however, Bland could not stop the train in time to avoid a collision.

         O'Neal admitted: (1) if he had stopped at the stop sign and looked to his left, he would have seen the oncoming train; (2) if he had stopped at the stop sign, he would have avoided the accident; (3) the stop sign and crossbuck at the crossing gave him sufficient warning that he was approaching railroad tracks; (4) there was a stopped train on the siding, but it did not obscure his view of the oncoming train; (5) there was a field of corn adjacent to the tracks which had not been harvested, but it did not obscure his view of the oncoming train; (6) the TIR video contains an audio track on which the train's horn can be heard on its approach to the crossing; and (7) he has no basis for the claim the train crew had ample time and opportunity to stop.

         On August 29, 2017, O'Neal, acting pro se, filed suit in the Fourth Judicial District Court for Morehouse Parish, Louisiana. Union Pacific timely removed the case to this Court on September 27, 2017, under diversity jurisdiction.

         On January 5, 2018, a Scheduling Order [Doc. No. 10] issued, setting trial for January 14, 2019. At that time, the discovery completion deadline was August 29, 2018. On August 23, 2018, counsel enrolled on behalf of O'Neal, and the following day, he filed an unopposed motion to continue the pre-trial deadlines. The Court granted the motion and, among others, extended the discovery completion deadline to September 17, 2018, and the dispositive motion deadline to October 31, 2018. O'Neal did not seek any further extensions or move to continue prior to the expiration of these deadlines.

         On October 31, 2018, Union Pacific filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. No. 21]. O'Neal's opposition was due no later than November 21, 2018.

         On November 21, 2018, O'Neal filed a Motion for Extension of Time [Doc. No. 29]. O'Neal seeks a 60-day extension to respond to the Motion for Summary Judgment because “discovery is incomplete, ” and he needs additional time. Id. Union Pacific opposes the motion. [Doc. No. 28].

         The same day O'Neal filed a Motion to Continue Trial and Pretrial Deadlines [Doc. No. 31] and opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 32');">32].

         Union Pacific filed a Memorandum in Opposition to the Motion to Continue Trial and Pretrial Deadlines. [Doc. No. 33]. Union Pacific does not oppose a continuance of the trial date, but does oppose a continuance of the deadlines that have passed.

         On November 26, 2018, Union Pacific filed a reply in support of its Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 34].

         These motions are now ripe, and the Court is 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');">32 (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.

         However, Rule 56(d) provides:

If a nonmovant shows by affidavit or declaration that, for specified reasons, it cannot present facts essential to justify its opposition, the court may:
(1) defer considering the motion or deny it;
(2) allow time to obtain affidavits or declarations or to take discovery; or
(3) issue any other appropriate order.

         B. ...


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