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Walton v. The Kansas City Southern Railway Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

April 1, 2019

BENNIE WALTON PLAINTIFF
v.
THE KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN RAILWAY COMPANY DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Plaintiff Bennie Walton attempted to climb between the cars of a stopped train when the it suddenly began moving. Walton fell and lost part of his right leg as a result. Walton sued the owner of the train, Defendant Kansans City Southern Railway Company ("KCSR"). KCSR now moves for summary judgment [63]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the motion should be granted.

         Background

          On March 21, 2016, Walton traveled from his house along a pedestrian pass to go to a nearby convenience store. Bennie Walton Depo. [67-1] at 74-75. This path had been used to cross the tracks for many years. See Eric Lewis Depo. [67-3] at 16.

         He arrived at where the path crossed the tracks and found a KCSR train sitting there. The train crew was in the process of moving cars between the main track and a nearby sidetrack. See Foster Peterson Aff. [63-1] at 1-2. There is a dispute about how long the train remained stationary on the tracks. KCSR maintains the crew stopped for only 19 seconds to align switches on the track. Id. at 2. Walton, however, stated that the train was there for at least an hour, Walton Depo. at 208, and was stationary long enough for him to climb between the rail cars, go to the store, and begin walking back home. Id. at 104-108.

         Walton again tried to climb between the cars. As he was climbing over, the train began moving. Id. at 114-17. Walton lost his balance and fell over. The train ran over his leg, amputating it. Id. at 115.

         Walton maintains that the crew did not sound the train's horn before it began moving. The crew says that they did. Peterson Aff. at 3. While at least one member of the crew was aware that the pedestrian path crossed over the tracks, it is undisputed that no member of the crew knew that Walton was passing between the rail cars when they began moving the train. Stephen Cox Depo. [63-3] at 15; Tony Dantzler Depo. [63-6] at 8; Chris McGlothin Depo. [63-7] at 13-15.

         Walton brought this action alleging that KCSR was negligent both in leaving the train on the tracks for too long and for moving the train without warning. KCSR moves for summary judgment.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing 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." Id. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Id. "An issue of fact is material only if 'its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.'" Manning v. Chevron Chem. Co., LLC, 332 F.3d 874, 877 (5th Cir. 2003) (quoting Wyatt v. Hunt Plywood Co., 297 F.3d 405, 408 (5th Cir. 2002)).

         The burden then shifts to the nonmovant to "go beyond the pleadings and by ... affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (internal quotation marks omitted.); Littlefleld v. Forney Indep. Sch Dist., 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir. 2001); Willis v. Roche Biomedical Labs., Inc., 61 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir. 1995). The Court "resolve[s] factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party, but only where there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Antoine v. First Student, Inc., 713 F.3d 824, 830 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005)). "[T]he nonmoving party 'cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence.'" Hathaway v. Bazany, 507 F.3d 312, 319 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Turner v. Baylor Richardson Medical Center, 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007)).

         Analysis

         KCSR argues that summary judgment is appropriate for several reasons. First, KCSR contends that the ICC Termination Act of 1995, 49 U.S.C. §§ 10101, et seq. preempts Walton's negligence claim for blocking the track. Second, it argues Walton cannot establish KCSR had a duty to minimize the time it blocked the track. Third, KCSR argues that Walton was a trespasser at the time the accident occurred, and therefore KCSR only had to refrain from injuring him willfully or wantonly. Finally, KCSR argues that even if Walton were a licensee, KCSR still only had a duty not to injure him willfully or wantonly because the crew was unaware of his presence.

         I. ...


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