Union Pac. R.R. Co. v. Taylor Truck Line, Inc.

Decision Date29 September 2017
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 15-2460,CIVIL ACTION NO. 15-0074
PartiesUNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY v. TAYLOR TRUCK LINE, INC., ET AL. --(consolidated with)-- R & L BUILDERS SUPPLY, INC., ET AL. v. UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, ET AL.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Louisiana

JUDGE ROBERT G. JAMES

MAG. JUDGE KAREN L. HAYES
RULING

Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment on Liability [Doc. No. 209] filed by Union Pacific Railroad Co. ("Union Pacific"). For the following reasons, the Motion for Summary Judgment on Liability is DENIED.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On October 5, 2014, Daniel Shackleford ("Shackleford") was operating a 2013 Kenworth tractor with trailer and dolly (hereinafter "tractor-trailer") loaded with a Freuhoff Terex RT-780 crane. Shackleford had picked up the crane in Iowa and was en route to deliver it to a construction company in Mississippi. The tractor-trailer driven by Shackleford was owned by College City Leasing, LLC ("College City"), but leased to Taylor Truck Lines, Inc. ("Taylor Truck"). Taylor Logistics, Inc. ("Taylor Logistics") was the shipment broker.1

The trailer's clearance could be adjusted. It had five "teeth" and was set at the second tooth prior to loading. Shackleford decided to leave the trailer at the same setting after the crane was loaded.

Because the load was oversized, Shackleford was traveling through Louisiana with a Louisiana Department of Transportation ("LDOT") Overweight Permit. However, he did not have an escort vehicle, as required by the permit.

At approximately 1:00 p.m., Shackleford was driving the tractor-trailer south on U.S. Highway 165 in Mer Rouge, Louisiana. At the time, he was talking on his cell phone with another driver, Frank Murphy ("Murphy"), using the hands-free mode.

At the intersection of 165 and U.S. Highway 425/La. Highway 2, Shackleford stopped at the stop sign and then turned left onto U.S. Highway 425/La. Highway 2, also known as Davenport Avenue. He then proceeded to the Highway 2/Davenport Avenue highway/railway grade crossing ("the Crossing") over a Union Pacific main line railroad track (identified as DOT crossing number 441-531N at railroad milepost 473.60). There are pavement markings, crossbuck signs, flashing lights, gates, and bells at the Crossing. This was the first time Shackleford had traversed this Crossing, which is somewhat elevated and humped. Shackleford had not contacted Union Pacific to notify it of his intent to traverse the Crossing.

Shackleford did not adjust the ground clearance on the trailer prior to attempting to traverse the Crossing. The trailer became lodged and was "high centered," straddling the tracks. Shacklefordtold Murphy what had happened, but remained on the call with him while he engaged the parking brake, put the tractor in neutral, and exited. Shackleford then attempted to dislodge the trailer by raising the trailer up one "tooth," and then going backwards and forwards. The trailer was still stuck, so he exited again, and raised the trailer another tooth. During the time he was attempting to dislodge the trailer, Shackleford did not notify law enforcement or Union Pacific.2

Approximately two minutes after the trailer became lodged on the tracks3 and before he could try again to dislodge it, a Union Pacific train traveling north on the track, which runs parallel to U.S. Highway 165/La. Highway 138, began to approach the Crossing. The train activated its flashing lights, bells, and crossing gate. When he saw the approaching train, Shackleford exited the truck and ran.

At the time of the accident, Union Pacific engineer, Russell Rowe, was operating the lead locomotive, and Union Pacific conductor, James Kovalyshyn, was in the cab as well. Once they saw the tractor-trailer at the Crossing, crew members applied the emergency brakes in an effort to avoid the collision. The crew members were unsuccessful, and the train collided with the trailer and attached crane. As a result of the collision, approximately 17 railroad cars and 2 locomotives left the railroad tracks, cargo spilled, and a tank car leaked Argon onto surrounding property, including land owned by R & L Properties of Oak Grove, LLC.

Following the collision, the tractor-trailer was too damaged to measure the exact ground clearance of trailer. Prior to this incident, vehicles had been "stuck" or "hung up" on the track on three occasions: March 18, 2011; October 25, 2011; and May 15, 2014.4

On January 14, 2015, Plaintiff Union Pacific brought the instant suit against the Taylor Entities seeking to recover the property damage caused by the accident and derailment.

R & L Properties of Oak Grove, LLC ("Properties") and R & L Builders Supply, Inc. ("Builders Supply") had filed a separate lawsuit against the Taylor Entities, Union Pacific, and Union Pacific's contractors, Prewett Enterprises, Inc., and Hulcher Services, Inc., seeking to recover their damages. On November 4, 2015, the Properties and Builders Supply lawsuit was consolidated with the Union Pacific lawsuit.

Although they have not made a claim against Union Pacific, the Taylor Entities contend that Union Pacific was comparatively negligent in causing the accident for several reasons.

After discovery was complete, Union Pacific filed the instant motion, arguing that there is no genuine issue of material fact for trial that the Taylor Entities are liable for the collision. The Taylor Entities filed an opposition memorandum [Doc. No. 234] to Union Pacific's motion. UnionPacific filed a reply [Doc. No. 251], and the Taylor Entities filed a sur-reply. [Doc. No. 260]. Finally, Union Pacific filed a supplemental reply. [Doc. No. 271].

The Court is now prepared to rule.

II. LAW AND ANALYSIS
A. Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), "[a] party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense--or the part of each claim or defense--on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The moving party bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion by identifying portions of the record which highlight the absence of genuine issues of material fact. Topalian v. Ehrmann, 954 F.2d 1125, 1132 (5th Cir. 1992); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1) ("A party asserting that a fact cannot be . . . disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . ). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under applicable law in the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable fact finder could render a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.

B. Claims and Issues Resolved by the Court's Prior Rulings

Since the instant motion was originally filed, the Court has ruled on numerous motions in this case, and some of the Court's previous rulings resolved issues raised in the briefing on this motion. First, the Court granted Union Pacific's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Regarding Allegations of Inadequate Training of the Train Crew, and opposing parties are precluded frompresenting testimony or arguing to the jury that the Union Pacific train crew were not properly trained or instructed or were not qualified to operate the locomotive and train. [Doc. No. 290]. Second, the Court granted Union Pacific's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the Issue of Preemption of Liability for Additional Signs or Signalization at the Crossing, and the Taylor Entities and other opposing parties are precluded from presenting testimony or arguing that Union Pacific was negligent or at fault for failing to post a low clearance warning sign because such a claim or defense is preempted by the Federal Railroad Safety Act ("FRSA"). [Doc. No. 344]. Third, the Court granted Union Pacific's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Regarding Speed, and the Taylor Entities and other opposing parties are precluded from presenting testimony or arguing to the jury in support of a claim or defense that Union Pacific was negligent based on the speed of the train at the time of the collision. [Doc. No. 359]. Finally, the Court denied the Taylor Entities' Motion for Summary Judgment, finding that LA. REV. STAT. § 32:174 is not preempted by the FRSA. [Doc. No. 362]. Thus, there are no genuine issues of material fact for trial that Union Pacific was negligent for failing to adequately train or instruct its crew, for failing to post a low clearance warning sign, or based on the speed of its train at the time of the collision. As these arguments have been resolved as indicated, the Court will not address them again. With respect to arguments about the application of LA. REV. STAT. § 32:174, the Court has resolved the issue of preemption, but the Court will address remaining arguments in this Ruling.

C. Duty-Risk Analysis

Under Louisiana law, negligence claims are subject to a duty risk analysis containing five elements: "(1) whether the defendant had a duty to conform his conduct to a specific standard (the duty element); (2) whether the defendant's conduct failed to conform to the appropriate standard (thebreach element); (3) whether the defendant's substandard conduct was a cause-in-fact of the plaintiff's injuries (the cause-in-fact element); (4) whether the defendant's substandard conduct was a legal cause of the plaintiff's injuries (the scope of liability or scope of protection element; and (5) whether the plaintiff was damaged (the damages element)." Hanks v. Entergy Corp., 944 So.2d 564, 579 (La. 2006)

Union Pacific moves for summary judgment on the bases that the Taylor Entities held several duties which they, through Shackleford, breached, and the breach of these...

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