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Leflore v. Norfolk Southern Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 15, 2020


         SECTION: “J” (3)

          ORDER & REASONS


         Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Defendant/Third-Party Plaintiff Archer-Daniels Midland Company (“ADM”) (Rec. Doc. 72) and Third-Party Defendant Federal Insurance Company (“Federal”) (Rec. Doc. 74). Having considered the motions and memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that ADM's motion should be GRANTED and Federal's motion should be DENIED.


         This litigation arises from injuries allegedly sustained by Plaintiff Malcolm LeFlore while acting in the course and scope of his employment with Domino Sugar Company (“Domino”) at its railyard in Arabi, Louisiana. Plaintiff alleges that his right foot was crushed by a defective or unsafe railcar on or about July 16, 2018, and requires numerous surgeries and future prosthetics. ADM owns the railcar in question and had leased it to Defendant Total Sweeteners, Inc., d/b/a Batory Foods (“Total Sweeteners”) prior to the alleged incident.

         The Railcar Lease Agreement (“Lease”) between ADM and Total Sweeteners required Total Sweeteners to preserve the railcar in good condition and to defend, indemnify, and hold ADM harmless from and against any claim arising out of Total Sweeteners' “default” under the Lease.[1] The Lease also required Total Sweeteners to maintain certain insurance coverage, including comprehensive general liability insurance, and to name ADM as an additional insured “in respect of risks arising out of the condition, maintenance, use or ownership of the [railcar].”[2] Total Sweeteners obtained a comprehensive general liability insurance policy (the “Policy”) from Federal that was in effect at the time of Mr. LeFlore's injuries.[3]

         In their Fourth Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs Malcolm LeFlore and his wife, Peola LeFlore, asserted claims against ADM as the owner of the railcar, Total Sweeteners as the lessee of the railcar, and Norfolk Southern Corporation (“Norfolk”), who allegedly serviced and delivered the railcar to Domino prior to the incident. Plaintiffs allege that ADM, Total Sweeteners, and Norfolk were negligent in failing to warn Mr. LeFlore of the defective railcar, failing to properly train and supervise Mr. LeFlore, failing to adhere to the Safety Appliance Act and other applicable federal regulations, and failing to properly inspect the railcar. ADM filed a crossclaim against Total Sweeteners and a third party claim against Federal, who filed a counterclaim against ADM. ADM and Federal then filed the instant cross-motions for partial summary judgment.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when “the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56); accord Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When assessing whether a dispute as to any material fact exists, a court considers “all of the evidence in the record but refrains from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.” Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398 (5th Cir. 2008). All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated assertions. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. A court ultimately must be satisfied that “a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Delta, 530 F.3d at 399.

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party “must come forward with evidence which would ‘entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.'” Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1264-65 (5th Cir. 1991). The nonmoving party can then defeat the motion by either countering with sufficient evidence of its own, or “showing that the moving party's evidence is so sheer that it may not persuade the reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in favor of the moving party.” Id. at 1265.

         If the dispositive issue is one for which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by merely pointing out that the evidence in the record is insufficient with respect to an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who must, by submitting or referring to evidence, set out specific facts showing that a genuine issue exists. See Id. at 324. The nonmovant may not rest upon the pleadings but must identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue at trial. See Id. at 325; Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.


         This is an issue of contract interpretation. The Court must first determine whether ADM qualifies as an “insured” under the Policy issued by Federal to Total Sweeteners; if the Court determines that it does, the next question is whether the allegations in Plaintiffs' complaint are sufficient to trigger Federal's duty to defend ADM. See, e.g., Gilbane Bldg. Co. v. Admiral Ins. Co., 664 F.3d 589, 594 (5th Cir. 2011). As the Lease provides that it is “governed by the laws of the state of Illinois, ”[4]the Court will apply Illinois law.

         Under Illinois law, ADM must prove by competent summary judgment evidence that it qualifies as an insured under the Policy for Federal to have a potential duty to defend ADM. See Pekin Ins. Co. v. Centex Homes, 72 N.E.3d 831, 837 (Ill.App.Ct. 2017). If it does, then the Court “must compare the allegations in the underlying complaint to the policy language” to determine whether Federal has a duty to defend ADM. Id. at 839 (citation omitted). As explained by the Appellate Court of Illinois:

An insurer may not justifiably refuse to defend an action against its insured unless it is clear from the face of the underlying complaint that the allegations set forth in that complaint fail to state facts that bring the case within or potentially within the insured's policy coverage. If the underlying complaint alleges facts within or potentially within policy coverage, an insurer is obligated to defend its insured even if the allegations are groundless, false or fraudulent. In making this determination, the allegations in the underlying complaint must be liberally construed in favor of the insured. Where the facts alleged support multiple theories of recovery, there is a duty to defend if any one of those theories potentially falls within policy coverage. It is the alleged conduct, rather than the labeling of the claim in the complaint, that determines whether the insurer has a duty to defend.
In certain circumstances, the court may look beyond the underlying complaint in order to determine whether an insurer has a duty to defend. Thus, [Illinois courts] have recognized that it may be appropriate to consider the written agreements between the named insured and the additional insured in determining whether the insurer has a duty to defend an additional insured.

Id. at 839-40 (internal quotation marks, brackets, and citations omitted).

         I. ADM Qualifies as an Insured under the Policy

         ADM contends that it qualifies as an insured under the provision of the Policy titled “Lessors Of Equipment, ” which provides:

Persons or organizations from whom you lease equipment are insureds; but they are insureds only with respect to the maintenance or use by you of such equipment and only if you are contractually obligated to provide them ...

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