Walls v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 8:20-CV-413

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Nebraska
Writing for the CourtBrian C. Buescher United States District Judge
PartiesCHRISTOPHER WALLS, Plaintiff, v. UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, a Delaware corporation, Defendant.
Docket Number8:20-CV-413
Decision Date22 July 2022


UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, a Delaware corporation, Defendant.

No. 8:20-CV-413

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

July 22, 2022


Brian C. Buescher United States District Judge

Christopher Walls has sued Union Pacific Railroad Company (Union Pacific) for negligence and negligence per se under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA). In his negligence per se claim, Walls claims that an employee of Union Pacific violated Federal Railroad Administration regulation 49 C.F.R. § 218.103 and Union Pacific operating rule 8.2 when the employee threw a railroad switch early. Walls alleges that when the switch was thrown early, the train on which he was working had to stop, ejecting him from the rear car of the train and causing severe injury to his leg. In a January 14, 2022, Memorandum and Order, the Court granted Walls summary judgment on his negligence per se claim on the issue of Union Pacific's liability. Filing 72. Before the Court is Union Pacific's Motion for Reconsideration, which asks the Court to revisit its grant of summary judgment to Walls on his negligence per se claim. Filing 86. For the reasons stated herein, the Court denies Union Pacific's Motion.


The Court's January 14, 2022, Order provided a detailed background of the relevant events leading to this suit, Filing 72 at 1-5, which is incorporated here by reference. Briefly summarized, the facts are as follows.


On February 18, 2020, Walls travelled with two other Union Pacific employees-Toby Becker and Scott Jones-on one of Union Pacific's trains to a railyard in Topeka, Kansas. Filing 54-2 at 4-6; Filing 54-3 at 6-7. As the crew neared the Topeka yard in the afternoon, Jones exited the train to operate an electric, hand-operated switch. Filing 54-2 at 5; Filing 54-4 at 6-8. The train continued with Walls and Becker aboard for about another mile until it reached Milepost 70. Filing 54-2 at 5; Filing 54-4 at 7. At Milepost 70 is a signal that flashes colored lights so that train operators know when it is safe for the train to enter the Topeka yard. Filing 54-3 at 11; Filing 54-4 at 8; Filing 65-1 at 7-8. Once the train reached Milepost 70, Walls went to the rear car of the train and faced the signal at Milepost 70. Filing 54-2 at 5.

To enter the Topeka yard, the train needed to reverse directions and proceed rear-car-first into the yard. Filing 65-1 at 7; Filing 65-3 at 6-7. Railroad workers refer to this maneuver as a “shove” move. Filing 54-3 at 10-11. From his vantage point at the rear car, Walls could watch the signal at Milepost 70 to ensure that it did not flash red. Filing 54-3 at 10; Filing 54-4 at 6-7. If the signal went red before the rear of the train passed the signal at Milepost 70, Walls would have to radio Becker, who was operating the train from the locomotive, to stop the train. Filing 54-2 at 5; Filing 65-2 at 11-12.

Once Walls received approval to enter the Topeka yard, he radioed Becker to begin moving the train in reverse. Filing 54-3 at 11; Filing 65-2 at 8-9. Jones, standing a distance away at the switch operator, waited until he believed that he could see the rear of the train passing the signal at Milepost 70 and then threw the switch to allow the train to enter the Topeka Yard. Filing 54-4 at 8. Unfortunately, when Jones threw the switch, the rear of the train had not passed the signal. Filing 54-2 at 5; Filing 54-4 at 8-9. Walls, standing on the rear car of the train, saw the signal flash red when Jones threw the switch and ordered Becker to stop the train. Filing 54-2 at 5. When the


train stopped, slack between the train cars caused a chain reaction that ultimately led to Walls being ejected from the rear car. Filing 54-2 at 7, 9-10. Walls landed on a railroad tie and severely injured his leg. Filing 54-2 at 7-8, 12.

On October 12, 2020, Walls filed suit against Union Pacific, bringing a negligence claim under FELA in Count I and a FELA negligence per se claim in Count II. In his negligence per se claim, Walls alleged that Union Pacific, through its employee, Jones, violated a Federal Railroad Administration regulation when Jones threw the switch early, i.e., before the rear of the train had passed the signal at Milepost 70. Filing 1 at 3-4. On August 13, 2021, Walls filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Filing 52, which this Court granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, the Court granted Walls summary judgment on the issue of liability as to his negligence per se claim and denied him summary judgment on his negligence claim. Filing 72. In its Order, the Court found that Jones violated 49 C.F.R. § 218.103(b)(4) and Union Pacific's operating rule 8.2 when he threw the switch early.

Union Pacific filed its pending Motion for Reconsideration on April 14, 2022. Filing 86. In its Motion, Union Pacific asks the Court to reconsider the narrow issue of whether Jones violated § 218.103(b)(4) and operating rule 8.2. Union Pacific provides several new arguments for its position concerning the proper reading of § 218.103(b)(4) and operating rule 8.2, including pointing to other parts of the regulation claiming such provisions assist in the interpretation of the relevant provision and providing the Court with guidance from the Federal Railroad Administration. Filing 87. Union Pacific also reiterates its argument that Walls's evidence is insufficient to take the issue of causation away from the jury. Filing 87 at 10-14



A. Standard of Review

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that “district courts can reconsider earlier rulings ‘to avoid later reversal.'” Ayala v. CyberPower Sys. (USA), Inc., 891 F.3d 1074, 1077 n. 2 (8th Cir. 2018) (quoting Lovett v. Gen. Motors Corp., 975 F.2d 518, 522 (8th Cir. 1992)); see also K.C.1986 Ltd. P'ship v. Reade Mfg., 472 F.3d 1009, 1017 (8th Cir. 2007) (“The district court has the inherent power to reconsider and modify an interlocutory order any time prior to the entry of judgment.” (quoting Murr Plumbing, Inc. v. Scherer Bros. Fin. Servs. Co., 48 F.3d 1066, 1070 (8th Cir. 1995))). Although no Federal Rule of Civil Procedure expressly permits motions for reconsideration, these motions are typically construed as falling under Rule 59(e), which governs motions to alter or amend judgment, or Rule 60(b), which governs motions for relief from a judgment or an order. See Peterson v. The Travelers Indem. Co., 867 F.3d 992, 997 (8th Cir. 2017). When a motion seeks reconsideration of a non-final order, it is best characterized as a motion under Rule 60(b). Williams v. York, 891 F.3d 701, 706 (8th Cir. 2018) (“This court construes motions for reconsideration of non-final orders as motions under Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”). Moreover, because Union Pacific did not file its motion within 28 days of the Court's January 14, 2022, Order, as required by Rule 59(e), see Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) (“A motion to alter or amend a judgment must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of the judgment.”), the Court shall consider Union Pacific's motion as being made under Rule 60(b).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) delineates several grounds on which a party may be relieved from a non-final order: mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; newly discovered evidence; fraud, misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party; voidness; satisfaction of judgment; or “any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b). “Rule 60(b) ‘provides for extraordinary relief which may be granted only


upon an adequate showing of exceptional circumstances.'” Williams, 891 F.3d at 706 (quoting Jones v. Swanson, 512 F.3d 1045, 1048 (8th Cir. 2008)). “Motions for reconsideration serve a limited function: to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.” Arnold v. ADT Sec. Servs., Inc., 627 F.3d 716, 721 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Hagerman v. Yukon Energy Corp., 839 F.2d 407, 414 (8th Cir. 1988)). A motion for reconsideration is not the appropriate place to “tender new legal theories for the first time.” Id. (quoting Hagerman, 839 F.2d at 414). Nor is it “a vehicle for simple reargument on the merits.” Broadway v. Norris, 193 F.3d 987, 990 (8th Cir. 1999). It is typically within the “sound discretion of the trial court” to grant or deny a Rule 60(b) motion. McCormack v. Citibank, N.A., 100 F.3d 532, 542 (8th Cir. 1996) (quoting MIF Realty L.P. v. Rochester Assocs., 92 F.3d 752, 755 (8th Cir. 1996)).

B. Interpretation of 49 C.F.R. § 218.103 and Operating Rule 8.2

In its Motion for Reconsideration, Union Pacific first argues that the Court erred when it concluded that the regulation at issue in this case, 49 C.F.R. § 218.103, and Union Pacific's operating rule 8.2 required Jones to throw the switch after the rear of the train passed Milepost 70. Filing 87 at 4-10. In support, Union Pacific argues that the text of the regulation and the operating rule show that both are only concerned with ensuring that a switch allows a train to proceed along its intended route. Filing 87 at 4-8. Union Pacific also claims that the Federal Railroad Administration's own interpretation of its regulation reveals that the regulation has nothing to do with the timing of throwing switches. Filing 87 at 8-9. In response, Walls urges the Court to stand by its interpretation of the regulation and the operating rule that it made in its January 14, 2022, Order. Filing 89 at 3-6.

FELA provides a federal cause of action to railroad employees who sustain injuries “in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of [the railroad company].” 45 U.S.C. § 51. “Under FELA, an employer's ‘fault may consist of a breach of the


duty of care . . . or of a breach of some statutory duty.'” Miller v. Union...

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