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MILLER v. CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION

December 27, 2005.

DONALD E. MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KIM GIBSON, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER

SYNOPSIS

This matter comes before the Court on the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 40) and Memorandum in Support (Document No. 41).*fn1 The Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to the Federal Employer's Liability Act (hereinafter "FELA") for physical injuries that are alleged to have resulted from exposure to toxic substances with which the Plaintiff came in contact during his employment with the Defendant. For the reasons stated herein, the Defendant's motion is granted.

  JURISDICTION/VENUE

  The Court has jurisdiction over this FELA action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 45 U.S.C. § 56 with venue being proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) and 45 U.S.C. § 56. CONCISE STATEMENTS OF MATERIAL FACTS

  The following are the concise statements of material facts submitted by the Defendant (See Document No. 34) pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 B)1) to which the Plaintiff did not respond pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 C) 1).*fn2 Therefore, for the purposes of the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, the following facts are found to be admitted by the Plaintiff based upon his counsel's failure to respond to the Defendant's proposed concise statements of material facts. See Local Rule 56.1 E).

 
[The] Plaintiff [is] one of seventeen present or former employees of Conrail who allege various work-place exposures during their employment. Exposures reportedly occurred at Conrail's Hollidaysburg Car Shop ("Car Shop" or "HCS") and Reclamation Plant ("Rec Plant"), located at Hollidaysburg, and at Conrail's Juniata Locomotive Shop, located in Juniata (collectively, "the Altoona Works"). These facilities are situated in Blair County, Pennsylvania. Conrail owned and operated the Altoona Works, beginning with its inception in April 1976. These cases arise, pursuant to the . . . [FELA], 45 U.S.C. §§ 51 et seq. While many of the Plaintiffs worked at the Altoona Works both before and after Conrail's inception, their allegations are limited to the Conrail era. Workers at the Hollidaysburg Car Shop refurbished old railroad cars. At the Reclamation Plant, used railroad cars were dismantled and sold for scrap. Most of the scrapping activities took place outdoors. At the Juniata Locomotive Shop, new locomotives are assembled and used locomotives are repaired. Mr. Miller started with the railroad on Janaury 3, 1974. Throughout his career, he worked at the Hollidaysburg Car Shop, the Juniata Locomotive Shop and the Reclamation Plant. He has been a Carman his entire career. Chronologically, he worked 3 years at the HCS, including 2 years in the paint booth and stencil gang. From 1977 to 1981-82, he worked at Juniata; from 1984 to 1988-89, he worked "all over" the HCS as a welder; and beginning in 1988-89, he worked at the Reclamation Plant. He testified that he was exposed to: degreaser; dumped chemicals; dust; oil; dirt; smoke from burning fuel oil and grease; moon dust; smoke and fumes from burning fire; fumes from burning materials in boxcars, gondolas, paint, pipe, compression fittings, angles, brackets, levers, rods and brake shoes, pins and wheels; paint over-spray; wood dust; paint fumes; sub-turps; lead based paint; paint thinner; asbestos; and smoke from burning paint, galvanized catwalk and foam insulation. He attributes the following medical ailments to his alleged exposures: skin irritation; lung problems; nervous; anxious; headaches; dry and split skin; dry eye; stiff joints; red rashes; "black-out," i.e. confusion; and chest pain. No doctor has told him that any of these conditions are employment-related. Dr. Hormell is a family practice physician who treated Mr. Miller from May 1994 to January 1996. Complaints included heartburn; eczema; nosebleeds; psoriasis; and dizziness. Mr. Miller did not complain about workplace exposure. Mr. Miller, on May 11, 1994, denied frequent headaches, dizziness/syncope, chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting. Dr. Hormell is not of the opinion that any of Mr. Miller's problems were caused by exposures to chemicals or toxic substances.
[This Plaintiff] did not identify an expert to testify that [his] alleged exposures caused [his] injuries. Dr. Melvyn Kopstein's modeling applies to workers (i) stationed on either side of the wash rack in the air brake shop and (ii) using gasoline in the garage. [The Plaintiff did not testify] that [he] worked in the garage or used gasoline as a cleaning agent there. [The Plaintiff has] presented no objective data or other evidence that [he was] exposed to chemical substances during [his] employment or that [he] received a dose of such substances. [The Plaintiff has] presented no air monitoring data or other evidence that [his] blood levels, or any other objective marker, exceed background levels. No treating physician has been identified in [this case] on the issue of medical causation.
Defendant's Concise Statement of Material Facts (Document No. 34), pp. 5-6, 8-9, 24-25.*fn3

  ANALYSIS

  The Defendant moves for summary judgment arguing that the Plaintiff presents no evidence of exposure or causation of the Plaintiff's injuries.

  The entry of summary judgment by a Court is proper when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with 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." FED.R.CIV. P. 56(c). All of the evidence submitted for purposes of a motion for summary judgment "must be viewed in the light most-favorable" to the non-moving party. Continental Ins. Co. v. Bodie, 682 F.2d 436, 438 (3d Cir. 1982). The Supreme Court in Celotex v. Catrett elaborated upon what is sufficient to establish summary judgment under Rule 56(c):
In our view, the plain language of 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. In such a situation, there can be "no genuine issue as to any material fact," since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265, 273 (1986).
 
The phrase "genuine issue as to any material fact" is also described as a "genuine issue for trial":
When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. In the language of the Rule, the nonmoving party must come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. Rule Civ.Proc. 56(e) (emphasis added). Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no "genuine issue for trial." Cities Service, supra, 391 U.S., at 289, 88 S.Ct. at 1592.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538, 552 (1986) (internal citations omitted) (footnote omitted). "The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial-whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202, 213 (1986). "[T]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party. If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-250, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2511, 91 L.Ed.2d 202, 212 (1986) (internal citations omitted). Materiality, in the context of summary judgment, is defined as follows: "As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202, 211 (1986).
  Therefore, the material facts in the case sub judice are determined by 45 U.S.C. § 51 which reads in pertinent part:
Every common carrier by railroad while engaging in commerce between any of the several States or Territories, . . . shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier in such commerce, or, in case of the death of such employee, to his or her personal representative, for the benefit of the surviving widow or husband and children of such employee; . . . for such injury or death resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier, or by reason of any defect or insufficiency, due to its negligence, in its cars, engines, appliances, machinery, track, roadbed, works, boats, wharves, or other equipment.
45 U.S.C. § 51. The Plaintiff alleges injuries resulting from exposure to toxic substances, excluding asbestos,*fn4 while in the employ of the Defendant.

  FELA presents a liberal view of negligence allowing for recovery from a defendant so long as the negligent acts of a defendant contributed in any way, "even the slightest" to a plaintiff's injuries, even in the face of a plaintiff's "contributory negligence" or "other causes" of the injury. Rogers v. Missouri Pac. R. Co., 352 U.S. 500, 506, 77 S.Ct. 443, 448, 1 L.Ed.2d 493, 500 (1957). To demonstrate the liberal bounds of FELA's causation requirements, the Court notes that it has been recognized that "the [alleged] injury need not be an immediate result of an accident." Hines v. Consolidated Rail Corporation, 926 F.2d 262, 268 (3d Cir. 1991) (citing Urie v. Thompson, 337 U.S. 163, 187, 69 S.Ct. 1018, 1033, 93 L.Ed. 1282, 1301-1302 (1949)). Furthermore, in regard to the issue of causation in a FELA negligence action "a medical expert can testify that there was more than one potential cause of a plaintiff's condition" and the jury can draw a reasonable causal inference from the evidence that the defendant's negligence caused the injury. Id. (citing Sentilles v. Inter-Caribbean Shipping Corp., 361 U.S. 107, 109-110, 80 S.Ct. 173, 175-176, 4 L.Ed.2d 142, 144-145 (1959)).

  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has summarized the law of summary judgment and its application to a FELA claim as follows:
A review of the decisions of the Supreme Court with reference to the integrity of the jury's function in these cases, keeping in mind the purposes of the Act and the liberal construction given it, teaches that a trial court is justified in withdrawing such issues from the jury's consideration only in those extremely rare instances where there is a zero probability either of employer negligence or that any such ...

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