Diehl v. CSX Transp., Inc.

Decision Date01 October 2018
Docket NumberCase No. 3:18-cv-122
Citation349 F.Supp.3d 487
Parties Denora DIEHL, on Behalf of Herself and All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiff, v. CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania

Troy M. Frederick, Frederick Law Group, PLLC, Bryan S. Neiderhiser, Marcus & Mack, P.C., Indiana, PA, David G. Bryant, David Bryant Law, PLLC, Louisville, KY, David B. Honeycutt, Fayard & Honeycutt, APC, Denham Springs, LA, Emily Roark, Mark P. Bryant, Bryant Law Center, PSC, Paducah, KY, for Plaintiff.

Jeffrey A. Jackson, T. H. Lyda, Burns White LLC, Pittsburgh, PA, Carolyn Wagner, Eric A. Stahl, Scott L. Winkelman, Crowell & Moring LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KIM R. GIBSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. Introduction

This case arises out of a train derailment that occurred near Hyndman, Pennsylvania in August 2017. Plaintiff Denora Diehl ("Plaintiff") filed a Class Action Complaint alleging that Defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. ("Defendant") negligently operated its train, causing it to derail. Plaintiff avers that she and other proposed class members ("Proposed Class") were subsequently forced to evacuate their homes and subjected to inconvenience as Defendant repaired the derailment site.

Pending before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant on July 20, 2018. (ECF No. 7.) Plaintiff filed her Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss on August 23, 2018. (ECF No. 22.) Therefore, the instant Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

For the reasons that follow, this Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 7).

II. Subject Matter Jurisdiction & Venue

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2), the Court has "original jurisdiction [over] any civil action in which the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $5,000,000, exclusive of interests and costs, and is a class action in which—(A) any member of a class of plaintiffs is a citizen of a State different from any defendant." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2)(A). In order to receive the benefit of § 1332(d)(2), the proposed class of plaintiffs must have at least 100 members. Id. § 1332(d)(5)(B).

Here, Plaintiff is a resident of Hyndman, Bedford County, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 1.) Plaintiff brings this proposed class action on behalf of Proposed Class, which consists of approximately 1,000 other residents of Hyndman. (Id. ¶ 33(a).) Defendant is a corporation organized under the laws of the State of Virginia with its principal place of business in Florida. (Id. ¶ 2.) Therefore, there is diversity between Defendant and Plaintiff.

Furthermore, the $5 million amount in controversy requirement is met. Although Plaintiff does not specify the amount of damages sought, Plaintiff brings claims of negligence and private nuisance for herself and on behalf of Proposed Class, alleging that she was forcibly evacuated from her property; deprived of quiet enjoyment of her property; subjected to loss of use of her property; and subjected to inconvenience, fear, anxiety, and mental anguish. (Id. ¶¶ 49, 55.) Plaintiff seeks actual and punitive damages for her and Proposed Class. (Id. at 33.) Based on the nature of Plaintiff's claims and the fact that claims for punitive damages, alone, " ‘will generally satisfy the amount in controversy requirement because it cannot be stated to a legal certainty that the value of the plaintiff's claim is below the statutory minimum,’ " Huber v. Taylor , 532 F.3d 237, 244 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Golden ex rel. Golden v. Golden , 382 F.3d 348 (3d Cir. 2004), abrogated on other grounds ), this Court cannot say to a legal certainty that the amount in controversy does not reach the requisite $5 million threshold. See Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Stevens & Ricci, Inc. , 835 F.3d 388, 395 (3d Cir. 2016) (" ‘It must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal.’ " (quoting St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co. , 303 U.S. 283, 288-89, 58 S.Ct. 586, 82 L.Ed. 845 (1938) ) ). Accordingly, this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2).

Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). See Polizzi v. Cowles Magazines, Inc. , 345 U.S. 663, 666, 73 S.Ct. 900, 97 L.Ed. 1331 (1953) (explaining that the proper venue of a removed action is "the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such [removed] action is pending").

III. Procedural History

Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a Class Action Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, on May 22, 2018. (ECF No. 1.) Defendant filed a Notice of Removal with this Court on June 8, 2018. (Id. ) Defendant then filed the instant Motion to Dismiss and accompanying brief in support thereof on July 20, 2018.1 (ECF Nos. 7, 8.) Plaintiff submitted her Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant CSXT's Motion to Dismiss on August 23, 2018.2 (ECF No. 22.) On August 31, 2018, Defendant filed a Reply in Support of its Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 25), after receiving leave of this Court to do so (ECF No. 24).

IV. Factual Allegations Set Forth in the Complaint

For the purposes of deciding Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, the Court accepts the allegations of Plaintiff's Complaint as true. See infra Part V.

According to the Complaint, Plaintiff is a resident of and property owner in Hyndman, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 1.) Plaintiff's allegations can be divided into two parts: the derailment and the aftermath of the derailment.

A. The Derailment3

On August 2, 2017, Defendant was operating a train that was traveling from Illinois to New York, a route that took the train through Hyndman. (Id. ¶ 6.) This train, which consisted of five locomotives and 178 railcars, was carrying mixed freight, including propane, molten sulfur, asphalt, and phosphoric acid residue. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 8.)

As the train approached Hyndman, Defendant's crew stopped the train because it was experiencing air brake problems. (Id. ¶ 9.) The crew applied 58 hand brakes during this stop, as the train was on a descending grade. (Id. ) Upon inspection, the crew discovered a leak in the brake system, which an employee of Defendant attempted to repair. (Id. ) However, according to the Complaint, this repair was unsuccessful. (Id. )

During the course of the inspection and attempted repair of the brake system, a new crew took over for the original crew. (Id. ) Defendant ordered this new crew to finish the route, and the new crew complied, although the crew knew that the problem with the air brake system persisted. (Id. ¶ 10.) Because the crew members knew that the brake problems continued, they first attempted to operate the train with the 58 hand brakes still applied. (Id. ¶ 11.) When they were unable to move the train with the hand brakes applied, the conductor released the first 25 hand brakes, leaving 33 hand brakes applied. (Id. ) The crew was then able to move the train, although the Complaint alleges that the crew knew or should have known that operating the train in such a manner was unsafe. (Id. )

As the train proceeded to Hyndman, the 35th railcar partially derailed. (Id. ¶ 13.) However, Defendant's crew continued to operate the train, in spite of the fact that the crew knew or should have known about the derailment and that the continued operation of the train was unsafe. (Id. ) The crew thus dragged the derailed railcar for two miles before reaching a railroad crossing. (Id. ¶ 14.) Upon reaching the crossing, the derailed railcar moved further off the rail, causing the derailment of the 33rd to the 65th railcars near Hyndman.4 (Id. ¶¶ 8, 14.) Some of these derailed railcars had been transporting hazardous materials, including propane and molten sulfur (Id. ¶ 8), and the derailment of these cars caused a fire that burned for more than two days. (Id. ) Due to the derailment, approximately 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes. (Id. ¶ 7.)

B. The Aftermath of the Derailment

On August 2, 2017 at 5:00 a.m., Plaintiff evacuated her home due to the derailment. (Id. ¶ 20.) Other residents of Hyndman were also evacuated. (Id. ¶ 21.) Evacuated residents were not permitted to return to their homes for periods of two days to multiple weeks. (Id. ¶ 20.) During this period, Plaintiff was forced to leave two dogs unattended in her home for 48 hours. ( Id. ¶ 22.) After she was reunited with her dogs, she was required to professionally board one of them for approximately two weeks. (Id. ) Furthermore, by the time Plaintiff returned home, the food in her refrigerator had expired and had to be thrown away. (Id. ¶ 23.) Finally, because of the derailment, Plaintiff was not able to can any vegetables from her garden in 2017.5 (Id. ¶ 27.)

Following Plaintiff's return home, Defendant worked at the derailment site 24 hours a day for three months. (Id. ¶ 24.) Defendant used bright lights to illuminate the site while it was dark; operated heavy machinery, which caused extreme noise; and used machinery to cut, weld, and burn railcars, creating noxious fumes and odors that Plaintiff could smell inside her home. (Id. ¶¶ 24-26.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's actions caused Plaintiff aggravation, fear, and anxiety; "rendered the property's ordinary use of physical occupation uncomfortable, unsafe and/or impossible"; and "endangered [Plaintiff's] life and health, gave offense to the senses, and prohibited the reasonable and comfortable use of [the] property." (Id. ¶¶ 24-28, 54.)

V. Standard of Review

A complaint may be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Rule 12(b)(6) for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp. , 809 F.3d 780, 786 (3d Cir. 2016). But, detailed pleading is not generally required. Id. The Rules demand only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" to give the...

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