Ainsworth v. Rapid City, Pierre & E. R.R., Inc., CIV. 18-5019-JLV

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. District of South Dakota
Citation447 F.Supp.3d 953
Parties Loren AINSWORTH, Plaintiff, v. RAPID CITY, PIERRE & EASTERN RAILROAD, INC., a Delaware Corporation, Defendant.
Docket NumberCIV. 18-5019-JLV
Decision Date20 March 2020

447 F.Supp.3d 953

Loren AINSWORTH, Plaintiff,
RAPID CITY, PIERRE & EASTERN RAILROAD, INC., a Delaware Corporation, Defendant.

CIV. 18-5019-JLV

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Western Division.

Signed March 20, 2020

447 F.Supp.3d 955

Aaron D. Eiesland, Johnson, Eiesland Law Offices, PC, Rapid City, SD, William Kvas, Pro Hac Vice, Hunegs, LeNeave & Kvas, P.A., Wayzata, MN, for Plaintiff.

Brian J. Donahoe, Donahoe Law Firm PC, Sioux Falls, SD, for Defendant.




Plaintiff Loren Ainsworth filed a two-count complaint against Defendant Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad, Inc., ("RCPE") for injuries allegedly suffered on May 22, 2015. (Docket 7). Mr. Ainsworth seeks recovery in count 1 under the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 51 - 60 ("FELA"), and in count 2 under the Federal Safety Appliance Act, 49 U.S.C. §§ 20301 - 20306 ("FSAA"). Id. Defendant's answer denied plaintiff's claims. (Docket 13).

Plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment. (Docket 20). Plaintiff's motion asserts RCPE violated the FSAA "and that its violation caused, in whole or in part," Mr. Ainsworth's injuries "as a matter of law." (Docket 20 at p. 1). The motion is accompanied by a statement of undisputed facts, an affidavit with five exhibits and a legal memorandum. (Dockets 21-22, 22-1 through 22-5 and 23). RCPE's response is accompanied by a response to plaintiff's statement of disputed facts, a statement of disputed facts, an affidavit with six exhibits and a legal memorandum. (Dockets 27, 27-1 through 27-6, 28 and 31). RCPE's response asserts there are disputed facts as to whether a FSAA violation occurred and whether Mr. Ainsworth was injured by the alleged violation. (Docket 26 at p. 19). Plaintiff filed a reply brief and a response to defendant's statement of disputed facts. (Dockets 32-33).

For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment is granted.


Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a), a movant is entitled to summary judgment if the movant can "show[ ] 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). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on the allegations or denials in the pleadings, but rather must produce affirmative evidence setting forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) ; Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (each party must properly support its own assertions of fact and properly address the opposing party's assertions of fact, as required by Rule 56(c) ). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the case under the governing substantive law will properly preclude summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. Accordingly, "the mere existence of some

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alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Id. (emphasis in original).

If a dispute about a material fact is genuine, that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, then summary judgment is not appropriate. Id. However, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law if the nonmoving party fails to "make a sufficient showing on an essential element of [his] case with respect to which [he] has the burden of proof." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In such a case, "there can be ‘no genuine issue as to any material fact,’ since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

In determining whether summary judgment should issue, the facts and inferences from those facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). The key inquiry is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to [the factfinder] or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52, 106 S.Ct. 2505. In order to withstand a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party "must substantiate [their] allegations with ‘sufficient probative evidence [that] would permit a finding in [their] favor on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy.’ " Moody v. St. Charles County, 23 F.3d 1410, 1412 (8th Cir. 1994) (citing Gregory v. Rogers, 974 F.2d 1006, 1010 (8th Cir. 1992) ).

In assessing a motion for summary judgment, the court is to "consider only admissible evidence and disregard portions of various affidavits and depositions that were made without personal knowledge, consist of hearsay, or purport to state legal conclusions as fact." Howard v. Columbia Public School District, 363 F.3d 797, 801 (8th Cir. 2004) ; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) (a party may not rely on his own pleadings in resisting a motion for summary judgment; any disputed facts must be supported by affidavit, deposition, or other sworn or certified evidence). The nonmoving party's own conclusions, without supporting evidence, are insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, 106 S.Ct. 2505 ; Thomas v. Corwin, 483 F.3d 516, 527 (8th Cir. 2007) ; Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir.2011) (en banc ).


The following recitation consists of the material facts developed from the amended complaint (Docket 7), defendant's answer (Docket 13), the parties' statements of undisputed material facts (Dockets 23 & 31), the parties' responses to opposing parties' statements of undisputed material facts (Dockets 28 & 33) and other evidence where indicated. Where a statement of fact is admitted by the opposing party, the court will only reference the initiating document.

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to RCPE as the nonmoving party, the following factual summary must be considered.

RCPE employed Mr. Ainsworth as a conductor and, at the time of the occurrence which is the subject of this litigation, all or part of his duties were in furtherance of defendant's business in interstate commerce. (Docket 7 ¶ 3). Mr. Ainsworth began working as a conductor on October

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9, 2014. (Docket 23 ¶ 1). The duties of conductors are more physically demanding than the duties of locomotive engineers. Id. ¶ 2. Engineers operate the locomotives over the tracks and conductors "are essentially the grunts of the railroad industry" as they are "on the ground walking the trains, letting the engineer know what he needs to know in order to operate safely." Id.

Mr. Ainsworth reported to the RCPE Rapid City yard at about 10 p.m. on May 21, 2015. Id. ¶ 3. As a conductor, Mr. Ainsworth was assigned to work with Jerry Larvie, an engineer. Id. ¶ 4. They began their work shift at approximately 10:50 p.m. and were assigned to train S/B LRC DJ-21 and intended to travel south to Chadron, Nebraska. (Dockets 7 ¶ 4 and 13 ¶ 3). The train consisted of three locomotives and between 30 to 35 freight cars comprising a mix of hoppers and boxcars. (Docket 7 ¶ 4).

Mr. Ainsworth described what happened at approximately 6:30 a.m. on May 22 near Hot Springs, South Dakota:

Everything was running pretty smooth. Just boring. You know, you're going 10 miles per hour. But there was nothing that stood out until it had happened. Me and my engineer, Larive, were just kind of carrying on a conversation to keep each other occupied and awake, and it just kind of suddenly happened, the train went into emergency.1 I mean, it (snapped fingers)—it happened pretty quick, to be honest.

Id. ¶ 5) (brackets omitted). After the train went into emergency, Mr. Ainsworth and Mr. Larvie held a briefing on what could be done. Id. ¶ 6. The train came to a stop on a bridge. Id. Because there was no walkway on the bridge, safety rules precluded Mr. Ainsworth from walking on the bridge to safely inspect the train. Id. ¶ 8; Docket 28 ¶ 6. Mr. Ainsworth decided to exit the locomotive, walk down to "get a better view" to see what happened and determine whether there was a separation of the train cars' knuckles or couplers. (Dockets 23 ¶ 7 and 28 ¶ 7).

Mr. Ainsworth got off the locomotive on the conductor's side—the left side facing forward.2 (Docket 23 ¶ 9). Because it was about 6 a.m., Mr. Ainsworth described the lighting conditions as "it was still a little bit dark out[,]" so he used a flashlight to help see where he was going.3 Mr. Ainsworth's plan was to go "down a fairly steep incline from the railbed down to the bottom of the gulch, try to cross the creek, climb back up the other side, [and] walk as much of the train as he could to complete the inspection."4 Id. ¶ 8 (ellipse omitted);

447 F.Supp.3d 958

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