Holstine v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp.

Decision Date16 June 2015
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 3:14cv58-DPJ-FKB
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Mississippi

This case is before the Court on the following motions filed by Defendants National Railroad Passenger Corporation d/b/a Amtrak and Illinois Central Railroad Company: a Motion for Summary Judgment [86]; a Daubert Motion to Exclude Testimony of Plaintiff's Proffered Expert Keith Ferguson [90]; and a Daubert Motion to Exclude the Testimony of Plaintiff's Proffered Expert Jim Scott [92]. As set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment [86] is granted in part. The Court defers ruling on the Daubert motions at this time.

I. Facts1 and Procedural History

On January 28, 2012, Herbert Cole pulled his pickup truck onto a railroad crossing in Yazoo City, Mississippi, straddled the tracks with his tires, and sat motionless inside his cab for more than 12 seconds as a southbound Amtrak locomotive approached, blaring its horn. The track leading to the crossing was long and straight, and the visibility was excellent. Yet Cole never moved and was killed seconds later. Plaintiff Leo Holstine was a passenger on the train and claims that he was injured during the collision.

These events were captured on a video camera mounted on the Amtrak locomotive.2 In one of the final pre-crash frames, Cole is seen sitting in his truck between the fully deployed crossing gates. The parties do not dispute that Cole's left-rear brake light is illuminated. Notably, the gate in front of Cole would not have prevented him from pulling off the tracks had he wanted—or been able—to do so:

Image materials not available for display.

Allen Decl. [86-8] at Ex. BA-1.

In addition to the video, the equipment at the crossing had an event data recorder. The data shows that the crossing lights had been flashing for 27 seconds, the crossing bells had been sounding for 27 seconds, and the crossing gates had been in the horizontal position for 15 seconds before the train reached the crossing. Dunn Dep. [86-12] at 80-90. Holstine disputes this data.

Though Cole's estate initially sued, that case was voluntarily dismissed, as were Holstine's claims against Yazoo County, Mississippi, and Canadian National Railway Company. That leaves only Holstine's negligence claims against Amtrak and Illinois Central. According to Holstine, Defendants breached the standard of care in the following respects: "the lack of a functioning electrical or mechanical device or the lowering of a crossgate which would alert drivers to the presence of an approaching train," First Am. Compl. [1-1] ¶ 9; the fact that "no horn or whistle was sounded pursuant to applicable law to signal the train's approach to the subject intersection," id. ¶ 10; the failure "to repeatedly sound [the] horn in advance of approaching the crossing," id. ¶ 16; the failure "to operate the train at a safe speed, specifically through railroad crossings," id. ¶ 17; a failure "to properly maintain necessary warning signs and markings at intersections where vehicles would cross a railroad," id. ¶ 19; the "[f]ailure to stop prior to colliding with Cole's vehicle," id. ¶ 20(c); a "[f]ailure to properly supervise and train its employees" and "to properly instruct its employees in the operation of a locomotive," id. ¶¶ 20(f) & (g); and a failure to provide adequate "warnings of approaching locomotives" and "roadway markings/controls to prevent automotive/locomotive collisions," id. ¶¶ 20(I) & (k).

Following the close of discovery, Defendants filed their motion for summary judgment and Daubert motions. The matters raised have been fully briefed, and the Court has personal and subject-matter jurisdiction and is prepared to rule.

II. Standard

Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323. The nonmoving party must then "go beyond the pleadings" and "designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324. Conclusory allegations, speculation, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic arguments are not an adequate substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick James of Wash., 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (per curiam); SEC v. Recile, 10 F.3d 1093, 1097 (5th Cir. 1993) (per curiam).

Finally, "the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor. In reviewing the evidence, the court must therefore refrain from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence." E.E.O.C. v.WC & M Enters., Inc., 496 F.3d 393, 397 (5th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

III. Analysis

Defendants assert that a number of Holstine's claims—for example, the claim that the train "exceed[ed] the regulated speed for trains through cities and towns per Miss. Code Ann. § 77-9-237"—are preempted by federal law. First Am. Compl. [1-1] ¶ 18; see Defs.' Mem. [87] at 9. Holstine appears to concede that some of his state-law claims—including the excessive-speed claim—are preempted. As such, he focuses his response on four claims he says are not preempted: (1) "claims regarding the Defendants' failure to slow and stop" to avoid the collision, Pl.'s Mem. [117] at 6; (2) "claims regarding defective warnings and signals," id. at 13; (3) "claims regarding the misuse of the horn," id. at 22; and (4) "claims regarding negligent training," id. at 26. The Court will address each claim in turn.

A. Failure to Slow and Stop to Avoid Collision

Holstine faults the train's engineer, Benton Allen, with failing to slow then stop the train prior to the collision with Cole's truck. Under Mississippi law, "train crews have a right to assume that a vehicle will heed warning signals and the visual approach of a train and that the driver will stop. . . . Train crews do not have a duty to stop or slow the train until it becomes apparent that a driver will not stop." Ill. Cent. Gulf R.R. Co. v. Travis, 106 So. 3d 320, 330 (Miss. 2012). Said differently, the train engineer has a duty "to slacken his speed [when] circumstances arise which appear to his mind, or should bring to his mind, the reflection that the person . . . will probably not seek his safety in due time." New Orleans Great N. R. Co. v. Branton, 146 So. 870, 872 (Miss. 1933).

In this case, the parties generally agree that Cole's truck would have been visible to Allen for more than 12 seconds. In addition, the train was equipped with an event data recorder similar to an airplane's "black box." That device's data indicates that the train was traveling approximately 77 miles per hour as it approached the crossing and that the emergency brake was engaged approximately 502 feet (or five seconds) before the collision. Peterson Decl. [86-9] ¶ 9B. Allen testified about the seconds between seeing the truck and placing the train in emergency-brake mode:

A. . . . And as I got to the—close to the yard office, I could seen [sic] this pickup truck sitting on the track and, you know, hoping that he would move on along. And when I got closer to the crossing, he—it was obvious he didn't, he wasn't. And so I put the train in emergency.
Q. All right. Why did you feel like he—why did you think he might go ahead and move along?
A. Well, that's usually what people do. They'll—they'll—either—you know, they'll either run around gates or they'll pull up and stop and look to—"Oh, is that really a train coming?" You know, I don't know what they think. But they'll sit there and—and then they'll move along. I'm not saying they wait till just the last second, you know.
Q. Yeah.
A. And—but when it was apparent that this guy wasn't going to go, in my opinion, I—that's when I applied the emergency brake.

Allen Dep. Vol. II [86-1] at 33-34.

Allen had no duty to slow or stop the train the moment he first saw Cole's truck on the tracks. Travis, 106 So. 3d at 330. But he did have that obligation once it became "apparent" that Cole would not move. Id. So the question is whether Allen should have concluded earlier than 5 seconds before impact that Cole would not seek safety. The Court will not answer that questionas a matter of law; a jury should decide "whether the train engineer's efforts to avoid the collision were sufficient." Ill. Cent. R.R. Co. v. Cryogenic Transp., Inc., 901 F. Supp. 2d 790, 804 (S.D. Miss. 2012). Summary judgment is denied as to this claim.

B. Defective Warnings, Signals, and Horn

Holstine concedes that "[a]ny claim raising the issue of inadequacy of . . . warning devices installed with the use of federal funds would be preempted." Pl.'s Mem. [117] at 13. He also concedes that lights and gates were installed at the crossing in 1995 using federal funds. See id. at 14; Defs.' Mem. [87] at 13 (citing Stubbs Decl. [86-7]). Holstine nevertheless asserts that he may pursue a claim based on the adequacy of the warnings and signals at the crossing for two reasons: (1) the devices or some part thereof could have been replaced "subsequent to the...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT