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SINDONI v. CONRAIL

September 23, 1996

FRED L. SINDONI and BETTY SINDONI, Plaintiffs,
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, SCHNEIDER NATIONAL CARRIERS, INC., and EDWARD BROWN, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KOSIK

MEMORANDUM

 Before this court is a motion for summary judgment by Defendant Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail). Defendant Conrail contends that there exists no genuine issue of a material fact as it pertains to a violation of the Federal Employee Liability Act (FELA). We agree.

 I. BACKGROUND

 At relevant times, Plaintiff was an engineer for Defendant Conrail. On the night of January 8, 1994, Plaintiff was operating a Conrail train through Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. The train consisted of four locomotives pulling 114 cars, 103 of the cars were loaded and eleven were empty. The railroad tracks and the roadways were snowcovered as a result of a recent snowfall.

 At some point during the same night, Defendant Edward Brown was operating a truck in Tunkhannock at the direction of Defendant Schneider National Carriers, Inc. (Schneider). Defendant Brown's passenger was an employee of Defendant Schneider named William Stambaugh. After missing a turn, Defendant Brown attempted to turn his tractor trailer around. Defendant Brown attempted to turn the truck to proceed up Warren Street which intersected with the applicable railroad crossing. Plaintiff's first attempt to turn the truck around failed prior to the truck's reaching the point of intersection as a result of the snow-covered road. Defendant Brown attempted another turn with similar results. On the third attempt, Defendant Brown was able to partially negotiate the turn prior to his truck becoming disabled in a snow drift on the side of the road. On this attempt, Defendant Brown breached the railway intersection and lodged the truck's tandem wheels on the tracks.

 A bystander with a four-wheel drive vehicle attempted to extract the tractor trailer from the tracks by attaching chains to the truck and the vehicle. This was unsuccessful. At some point, another person arrived who also attempted to clear the truck from the railway. These attempts of pushing/pulling and applying cinders also did not work. Just after the truck became disabled during the third attempt, two police officers from Tunkhannock Borough arrived on the scene. Minutes after arriving, Officer Edwards contacted the Wyoming County Communication Center (WCCC) to notify them of the obstruction and to direct them to call Conrail. The truck was blocking the railway for less than ten minutes when the train Plaintiff was operating was observed by Defendant Brown, Stambaugh, the two volunteers, and the police officers.

 Plaintiff was unaware of the hazard on the tracks until he visually observed the stranded truck. Plaintiff was hindered from observing the stranded truck until the train was within 200 to 300 yards from the truck. Plaintiff immediately implemented an "emergency" in an attempt to stop the train prior to impact. As part of this emergency procedure, Plaintiff assumed a position on the floor of the train, face down, to avoid any debris which may be propelled through the windshield at the point of impact. The train collided with the truck around 10:50 p.m. Plaintiff alleges that the impact caused Plaintiff to topple forward and strike the control console. Plaintiff Fred Sindoni alleges a shoulder and neck injury. Plaintiff Betty Sindoni sets forth an action for loss of consortium.

 Plaintiffs filed this action on April 4, 1995, pursuant to FELA, 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. and several state law claims. Plaintiff Fred Sindoni exclusively raises claims brought pursuant to FELA against Defendant Conrail. The court construes Plaintiff Fred Sindoni's claims against Conrail as including the following: failure to warn Plaintiff of the obstruction; failure to provide a crashworthy train; failure to properly train Plaintiff on how to survive a crash; and failure to comply with internal operating procedures concerning limitations on the load in cold weather. The parties have filed various crossclaims. *fn1"

 Defendant Conrail filed a motion for summary judgment on January 10, 1996. See Document 21. Plaintiff opposed the motion except to the crashworthy claim. Defendants Schneider and Brown opposes the motion as it pertains to the crashworthiness claim.

 II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

 Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states:

 
Summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file together with any affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. *fn2"

 The Supreme Court has held that Rule 56(c) "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient 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." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986). "Summary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is "genuine," that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986); see also Gile v. Optical Radiation Corp., 22 F.3d 540, 541 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 965, 115 S. Ct. 429, 130 L. Ed. 2d 342 (1994).

 Initially, to support its motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show the absence of a genuine issue concerning any material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. Once the moving party has satisfied its burden, the non-moving party must present "affirmative evidence" to defeat the motion for summary judgment, consisting of verified or documented materials. See Lujan v. National Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888-89, 110 S. Ct. 3177, 3189, 111 L. Ed. 2d 695 (1990); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. This affirmative evidence must be sufficient as to each of the nonmoving party's essential elements of his case upon which he bears the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. This includes situations in which such affirmative evidence is likely to be in the exclusive control of the moving party, as long as the nonmoving party has possessed the opportunity to conduct sufficient discovery. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. Accordingly, mere conclusory allegations or denials taken from the pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment. Schoch v. First Fidelity, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990) (citations omitted).

 In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, giving that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences derived from the evidence. Torre v. Casio, Inc., 42 F.3d 825, 830 (3d Cir. 1994); White v. Westinghouse Electric Company, 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988).

 In addition to the traditional standard of review articulated above, FELA demands a more stringent approach to the granting of summary judgment in actions brought pursuant to its provisions. In quoting the Supreme Court, the Third Circuit has stated:

 
Under this statute the test of a jury case is simply whether the proofs justify with reason the conclusion that employer negligence played any part, even the slightest, in producing the injury or death for which damages are sought. It does not matter that, from the evidence, the jury may also with reason, on grounds of probability, attribute the result to other causes, including the employee's contributory negligence.

 Pehowic v. Erie Lackawanna Railroad Company, 430 F.2d 697, 699 (3d Cir. 1970) (quoting Rogers v. Missouri Pacific Railroad Co., 352 U.S. 500, 506, 1 L. Ed. 2d 493, 77 S. Ct. 443 (1957)).

 Accordingly, the Third Circuit has articulated that a liberal construction favoring the plaintiff ...


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