Winslow v. Montana Rail Link, Inc., 03-743.

Citation2005 MT 217,121 P.3d 506,328 Mont. 260
Decision Date06 October 2005
Docket NumberNo. 03-743.,03-743.
PartiesGary WINSLOW, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. MONTANA RAIL LINK, INC., a Montana corporation, Defendant, Respondent and Cross-Appellant.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Montana

For Appellant: Erik B. Thueson, Thueson Law Office, Helena, Montana, Dennis Patrick Conner, Conner & Shannon, Great Falls, Montana, James T. Towe, Towe Law Office, Missoula, Montana.

For Respondent: Randy Cox and Natasha Prinzing Jones, Boone & Karlberg, Missoula, Montana, David Potter and Jennifer Eggers, Oppenheimer, Wolff & Donnelly, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Justice JIM RICE delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 This case involves claims of negligent management resulting in discharge from employment brought by Gary Winslow (Winslow) against Montana Rail Link, Inc. (MRL), in the First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County. The District Court initially dismissed Winslow's claim for lack of jurisdiction, which was reversed by this Court in Winslow v. Montana Rail Link, Inc., 2000 MT 292, ¶ 27, 302 Mont. 289, ¶ 27, 16 P.3d 992, ¶ 27 (Winslow I). After remand, the case went to trial and the jury concluded that MRL had acted negligently and awarded Winslow compensatory damages. The jury further determined that punitive damages should be assessed, but specifically found that MRL had not acted with malice regarding its termination of Winslow's employment, an apparent inconsistency. The District Court then ruled that, pursuant to § 27-1-221, MCA, a finding of malice is a prerequisite for imposition of punitive damages, and dismissed the jury without allowing deliberation on punitive damages. Winslow appeals from the rulings of the District Court, but does not challenge the jury's verdict on his negligence claim and the damages awarded thereunder. He seeks only "a new trial limited to a determination of the amount of punitive damages." Additionally, Winslow asks this Court to grant attorney fees and sanctions.

¶ 2 Given this posture of the case, we conclude it is unnecessary to address a number of issues Winslow has raised on appeal, as they are directed to the trial and the unchallenged verdict on Winslow's negligence claim, including whether MRL: (1) made misrepresentations to the jury; (2) interjected collateral sources; (3) presented an unlawful defense that its compliance with the grievance procedure under the collective bargaining agreement absolved it of liability; and whether the District Court: (4) deprived Winslow of his right to present evidence that MRL had an ongoing hidden business plan designed to discourage the reporting of work-related injuries; and (5) failed to instruct the jury that an award of interest could be awarded pursuant to § 27-1-212, MCA.1

¶ 3 MRL cross-appeals from the District Court's denial of its summary judgment and Rule 50(b), M.R.Civ.P., motions. We affirm all issues.

¶ 4 The following issues are dispositive on appeal:

¶ 5 Did the District Court err in denying MRL's summary judgment and Rule 50(b) motions by incorrectly concluding that § 39-2-703, MCA, provides Winslow with a statutory cause of action?

¶ 6 Did the District Court err in denying MRL's motion for summary judgment and its subsequent Rule 50(b) motion on the merits of Winslow's negligent management claim?

¶ 7 Did the District Court err by not allowing the jury to deliberate on the amount of punitive damages?

¶ 8 Did the District Court abuse its discretion in concluding that MRL properly responded to discovery and should not be subject to sanctions?


¶ 9 Winslow, who is a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) labor union, obtained employment at MRL as a switchman in 1988. The terms of Winslow's employment agreement were governed by a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between BLE and MRL. The CBA provided that Winslow, after completing the probationary period, could not be dismissed absent just cause and without an impartial fact-finding hearing, which included mandatory procedures concerning the assessment of discipline and subsequent internal appeals. In addition, MRL required its employees to be honest, and to report all information related to on-duty and off-duty injuries affecting job performance.

¶ 10 On March 13, 1992, Winslow's treating physician, Dr. Earl Book (Dr. Book), diagnosed Winslow with a left femoral hernia. On March 24, 1992, Winslow filed an injury report with MRL claiming that he "strained something," but did not disclose that a hernia had been diagnosed two weeks earlier. Winslow claimed that he did not think he had to inform MRL about the hernia diagnosis because it did not interfere with his ability to work. Even though Dr. Book recommended hernia-repair surgery, Winslow opted to not seek further treatment at that time because the pain dissipated. However, between 1992 and 1995 Winslow experienced increasing pain in his groin area.

¶ 11 On September 7, 1995, Winslow attempted to "throw" a railroad switch, and as a result felt a hot, burning pain in his groin, inhibiting his ability to walk. Winslow filed an MRL injury report describing the pain, and signed a written authorization allowing MRL to obtain medical information from "any physician . . . who has examined or treated [Winslow] in regard to the injury." The following day, Dr. Book examined Winslow and concluded that the groin pain was related to the hernia he had originally diagnosed in 1992. Upon the advice of Dr. Book, Winslow decided to have hernia-repair surgery.

¶ 12 On September 8, 1995, Winslow informed his supervisor, Tim VanOrden (VanOrden), that he had a hernia and was making arrangements to have it repaired. MRL's claims manager, Mark Bjorlie, commenced an investigation and obtained Winslow's medical records which disclosed that his hernia was first diagnosed in 1992. Although Winslow would claim that he never represented to anyone that the hernia was caused by the throwing of the switch on September 7, 1995, MRL asserted in later proceedings that Winslow led VanOrden to believe that his hernia initially appeared on September 7, 1995, and that the hernia-repair surgery was first recommended by Dr. Book the following day.

¶ 13 After Winslow's hernia-repair surgery, he submitted his medical bills to MRL for payment. In October Winslow was briefly re-hospitalized to be tested for possible blood clots, which further increased medical costs. Thereafter, Winslow attempted to pay the medical expenses through Blue Cross/Blue Shield (Blue Cross), which administers MRL's self-insured medical plan.

¶ 14 Winslow returned to work in October 1995 and began to receive notices from Blue Cross that indicated it was not paying Winslow's medical bills. Winslow gave the notices to VanOrden. MRL subsequently sent Winslow a written order requiring him to attend a fact-finding hearing to address his "failure to provide factual information regarding [his] injury."

¶ 15 The MRL fact-finding hearing commenced on January 10, 1996, the purpose and effect of which were contested at trial. Winslow attended, but was not represented by counsel. At the hearing, VanOrden stated that Winslow led him to believe that the hernia first appeared on September 7, 1995, and that surgery was first recommended at that time. MRL noted that Winslow initially denied having knowledge of the hernia in 1992, but finally admitted that he was aware of it when confronted with his medical records, and argued that Winslow's failure to report that he had a hernia three years earlier rendered his claim fraudulent. Winslow countered by arguing that MRL presented no evidence at the hearing that he had represented that his hernia was as a direct result of the switch incident, that he had not been dishonest with VanOrden, and that his injury report was accurate.

¶ 16 On January 19, 1996, MRL notified Winslow that he was being terminated from employment because Winslow had been repeatedly dishonest, and had failed to report all of the facts to MRL surrounding his hernia in violation of MRL rules. MRL further concluded that Winslow's hernia was not work-related, and informed Winslow's medical providers to this effect.

¶ 17 Following the termination of his employment, and after MRL denied Winslow's internal appeal, Winslow submitted his case to arbitration before the Special Board of Adjustment (SBA) as provided in the CBA. The SBA met on December 20, 1996, affirmed Winslow's termination, and concluded that Winslow received a fair and impartial fact-finding hearing.

¶ 18 On August 29, 1997, Winslow filed a complaint in the First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County, claiming that MRL "negligently mismanaged its investigation" and that he was wrongfully discharged. Winslow argued that, pursuant to § 39-2-703(1), MCA, MRL's termination constituted "mismanagement and neglect." Section 39-2-703(1), MCA, provides in pertinent part:

Every person or corporation operating a railway or railroad in this state is liable for all damages sustained by any employee of such person or corporation in consequence of the neglect of any other employee thereof or by the mismanagement of any other employee thereof and in consequence of the willful wrongs, whether of commission or omission, of any other employee thereof when such neglect, mismanagement, or wrongs are in any manner connected with the use and operation of any railway or railroad on or about which he is employed.

¶ 19 The District Court initially dismissed Winslow's complaint for lack of jurisdiction on MRL's Rule 12(h), M.R.Civ.P., motion, concluding that Winslow's claim "requires interpretation of the CBA and is therefore preempted" by the Railroad Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. §§ 151-188. Winslow I, ¶ 26. However, this Court reversed, concluding that the plain language of Winslow's complaint properly invoked the...

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