Mills v. Csx Transp., Inc., No. E2006-01933-SC-R11-CV.

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJanice M. Holder
Citation300 S.W.3d 627
Docket NumberNo. E2006-01933-SC-R11-CV.
Decision Date07 December 2009
PartiesCharles D. MILLS v. CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC.
300 S.W.3d 627
Charles D. MILLS
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC.
No. E2006-01933-SC-R11-CV.
Supreme Court of Tennessee, at Nashville.
June 2, 2009 Session.
December 7, 2009.

[300 S.W.3d 629]

Emily H. Thompson and John William Baker, Jr., Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, CSX Transportation, Inc.

Carol Morris Ballard and Michael Alan Anderson, Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the appellee, Charles D. Mills.

OPINION

JANICE M. HOLDER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which CORNELIA A. CLARK and WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., JJ., and WALTER C. KURTZ, SP.J., joined.


The plaintiff railroad worker filed an action under the Federal Employers Liability Act alleging that the defendant railroad company violated its duty to provide a reasonably safe workplace during an offsite meeting by failing to anticipate that a stairway defect or debris on the stairway constituted a tripping hazard. The railroad company filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiff was not within the scope of his employment when he fell, that he cannot prove that the railroad breached its duty under the Federal Employers Liability Act to provide a reasonably safe workplace, and that he cannot prove causation. The trial court granted the railroad company's motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court erred in its application of Tennessee's summary judgment standard. We affirm the intermediate appellate court's judgment and hold that the railroad company's summary judgment motion fails to shift the burden of production to the plaintiff and, alternatively, that the plaintiff states a genuine issue of material fact. We remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Facts

Charles D. Mills was employed as a "signal maintainer" for CSX Transportation ("CSX"), a railroad company. He and

300 S.W.3d 630

other CSX employees attended mandatory safety-certification training in Cartersville, Georgia, at a Quality Inn on February 4, 2003. Mr. Mills completed a test in the early afternoon and took advantage of a twenty-five-minute break between sessions to leave the second-floor meeting room to retrieve his blood pressure medication from his truck. He used the stairs located on the outside rear of the building, which offered the quickest route to the parking lot. Mr. Mills successfully descended the upper flight of stairs and two steps of the lower flight when he fell down the remaining three or four steps. As a result of the fall, Mr. Mills injured his head, neck, and right shoulder. Mr. Mills filed a complaint against CSX under the Federal Employers Liability Act ("FELA") alleging that CSX negligently failed to provide a reasonably safe work place.

CSX moved for summary judgment, arguing that Mr. Mills's fall did not occur within the scope of his employment and that he did not know what caused his fall. In support of its motion, CSX filed transcripts of two interviews of Mr. Mills conducted by CSX employees shortly after the incident and excerpts from a deposition of Mr. Mills. CSX also submitted photographs of the stairs in question taken some time after the day Mr. Mills fell. CSX argued that Mr. Mills could not identify the specific cause of his fall and that he therefore can only speculate as to whether he slipped, tripped, or fell for no reason.

Mr. Mills responded with the affidavit of Chris Miller, another CSX employee. In his affidavit, Mr. Miller described the stairway on which Mr. Mills fell as having an iron face and a concrete tread. The tread on the steps was slightly below the level of the face, creating a metal lip on each stair. Mr. Miller had tripped on the same stairs as Mr. Mills but was caught by a coworker.1 Mr. Mills argued that Mr. Miller's affidavit, coupled with statements from the deposition and interviews in which Mr. Mills stated that he saw debris on the stairs, created genuine issues of material fact as to whether CSX breached its duty under the FELA to protect Mr. Mills from the danger and whether the lip, the debris, or both caused his fall.

The trial court granted CSX's motion for summary judgment, reasoning that Mr. Mills offered "too many possible ways he could have fallen, and none of them which really causally can be ... connected to the actual fall." The trial court concluded, "I don't think he knows how he fell. I don't think a jury will have enough evidence to know how he fell."

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that CSX "failed to affirmatively negate an essential element of [Mr. Mills's] claim or to conclusively establish an affirmative defense." We granted CSX's application for permission to appeal.

Analysis

The FELA, enacted by Congress in 1908, provides that "[e]very common carrier by railroad ... shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier ... for such injury or death resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier ...." 45 U.S.C. § 51 (2006).2

300 S.W.3d 631

A plaintiff may bring an FELA action in either federal or state court. 45 U.S.C. § 56 (2006). While federal substantive law always controls FELA claims, claims brought in state courts "are subject to state procedural rules." St. Louis Sw. Ry. Co. v. Dickerson, 470 U.S. 409, 411, 105 S.Ct. 1347, 84 L.Ed.2d 303 (1985) ("As a general matter, FELA cases adjudicated in state courts are subject to state procedural rules, but the substantive law governing them is federal."); see Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Sorrell, 549 U.S. 158, 165, 127 S.Ct. 799, 166 L.Ed.2d 638 (2007); see also Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Bogle, 115 Ohio St.3d 455, 875 N.E.2d 919, 922 (2007) ("State procedural rules therefore govern FELA claims in state court."); Montgomery v. CSX Transp. Inc., 376 S.C. 37, 656 S.E.2d 20, 25 (2008) ("[An] FELA action brought in state court is controlled by federal substantive law and state procedural law.").

To apply this interplay of state and federal law, we first look to federal substantive law to determine the elements of an FELA claim. An FELA claim has four elements, requiring that: (1) the employee was injured in the scope of employment; (2) the employee's employment was in furtherance of the railroad's interstate transportation business; (3) the railroad was negligent; and (4) the railroad's negligence "played some part in causing the injury for which [the employee] seeks compensation under FELA." Van Gorder v. Grand Trunk W. R.R., 509 F.3d 265, 269 (6th Cir.2007).

After identifying the elements of the claim, we apply Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 56 to evaluate whether CSX is entitled to summary judgment. To be entitled to summary judgment, CSX must show that the case presents "no genuine issue as to any material fact and that [CSX] is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04. By imposing this burden of production on the moving party, Rule 56 precludes summary judgment from disposing of issues of material fact. Cf. Steelvest, Inc. v. Scansteel Serv. Ctr., Inc., 807 S.W.2d 476, 482 (Ky. 1991) ("[R]uling on a summary judgment ... requires a greater judicial determination and discretion since it takes the case away from the trier of fact before the evidence is actually heard.").

CSX may satisfy its burden of production by either producing evidence or referring to evidence in the record that affirmatively negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim or shows that the nonmoving party cannot prove an essential element of the claim at trial. Hannan v. Alltel Publ'g Co., 270 S.W.3d 1, 8-9 (Tenn.2008). To affirmatively negate an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim, CSX must point to evidence that tends to disprove a material factual allegation made by the nonmoving party. See Martin v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 271 S.W.3d 76, 84 (Tenn.2008). CSX cannot satisfy its burden of production with a conclusory assertion that the nonmoving party has no evidence or with a "presentation of evidence that raises doubts about the nonmoving party's ability to prove" a claim. Id. at 83-84. A trial court must dismiss the summary judgment motion if the moving party fails to satisfy this initial burden of production. Hannan, 270 S.W.3d at 5.

If CSX satisfies its burden of production, we examine the evidence produced by Mr. Mills, the nonmoving party,

300 S.W.3d 632

to determine whether he has shown that the case presents genuine issues of material fact or that CSX is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In this FELA claim, we would again consult the FELA and federal cases applying the statute to...

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43 practice notes
  • Blackmon v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., No. W2013-01605-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 16 Mayo 2014
    ...when FELA cases are tried in state courts, the applicable state rules generally govern procedural matters. Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn. 2009); May v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 361 S.W.3d 511, 518 n.9 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011); Jennings, 993 S.W.2d at 70. Accordingly, ......
  • Rye v. Women's Care Ctr. of Memphis, MPLLC
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 26 Octubre 2015
    ...832 (Tenn. 2010) ; Home Builders Ass ' n of Middle Tenn. v. Williamson Cnty., 304 S.W.3d 812 (Tenn. 2010) ; Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627 (Tenn. 2009) ; Stanfill v. Mountain, 301 S.W.3d 179 (Tenn. 2009) ; Giggers v. Memphis Hous. Auth., 277 S.W.3d 359 (Tenn. 2009) ; Martin v. N......
  • King v. Betts, No. M2009-00117-SC-R11-CV
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • 18 Noviembre 2011
    ...claim, they must apply the federal substantive law in conjunction with the Tennessee rules of procedure. See Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn. 2009); Jennings v. Illinois Cent. R.R., 993 S.W.2d 66, 70 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998); Plunk v. Illinois Cent. R.R., No. 02A01-9707-C......
  • King v. Betts, No. M2009–00117–SC–R11–CV.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 18 Noviembre 2011
    ...claim, they must apply the federal substantive law in conjunction with the Tennessee rules of procedure. See Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn.2009); Jennings v. Illinois Cent. R.R., 993 S.W.2d 66, 70 (Tenn.Ct.App.1998); Plunk v. Illinois Cent. R.R., No. 02A01–9707–CV–00......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
43 cases
  • Blackmon v. Ill. Cent. R.R. Co., No. W2013-01605-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • 16 Mayo 2014
    ...when FELA cases are tried in state courts, the applicable state rules generally govern procedural matters. Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn. 2009); May v. Illinois Central R.R. Co., 361 S.W.3d 511, 518 n.9 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011); Jennings, 993 S.W.2d at 70. Accordingly, ......
  • Rye v. Women's Care Ctr. of Memphis, MPLLC
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 26 Octubre 2015
    ...832 (Tenn. 2010) ; Home Builders Ass ' n of Middle Tenn. v. Williamson Cnty., 304 S.W.3d 812 (Tenn. 2010) ; Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627 (Tenn. 2009) ; Stanfill v. Mountain, 301 S.W.3d 179 (Tenn. 2009) ; Giggers v. Memphis Hous. Auth., 277 S.W.3d 359 (Tenn. 2009) ; Martin v. N......
  • King v. Betts, No. M2009-00117-SC-R11-CV
    • United States
    • Tennessee Supreme Court
    • 18 Noviembre 2011
    ...claim, they must apply the federal substantive law in conjunction with the Tennessee rules of procedure. See Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn. 2009); Jennings v. Illinois Cent. R.R., 993 S.W.2d 66, 70 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998); Plunk v. Illinois Cent. R.R., No. 02A01-9707-C......
  • King v. Betts, No. M2009–00117–SC–R11–CV.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Tennessee
    • 18 Noviembre 2011
    ...claim, they must apply the federal substantive law in conjunction with the Tennessee rules of procedure. See Mills v. CSX Transp., Inc., 300 S.W.3d 627, 631 (Tenn.2009); Jennings v. Illinois Cent. R.R., 993 S.W.2d 66, 70 (Tenn.Ct.App.1998); Plunk v. Illinois Cent. R.R., No. 02A01–9707–CV–00......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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