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Lydia Monheim, Administratrix of the Estate of andrew Monheim, Deceased v. Union Railroad Company

April 20, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge.


I. Introduction

Defendant Union Railroad Company ("defendant" or "Railroad") filed a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 32) the amended complaint filed by plaintiff Lydia Monheim, Administratrix of the Estate of Andrew Monheim ("Estate"). (ECF No. 21.) The Railroad seeks dismissal of the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Rule 12(b)(6)") for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

II. Factual*fn1 and Procedural Background

On March 16, 2010, Andrew Monheim ("Monheim"), employed as a locomotive engineer by the Railroad, operated a northbound freight train near North Versailles Township, Pennsylvania. (Am. Compl. ¶ 12.) At approximately 4:30 a.m., Monheim‟s train struck another train. (Id. ¶ 14.) Monheim was ejected from the train and subsequently buried under the cargo of one of the trains containing several tons of iron ore pellets. (Am. Compl. ¶ 15.) The Railroad contacted an emergency response team one hour after the accident. (Id. ¶ 52.)

The Estate commenced a negligence suit against the Railroad under the Federal Employer‟s Liability Act, as amended, 45 U.S.C. §§ 51 et seq. ("FELA"). (Am. Compl. ¶ 5.) The Estate also brought multiple claims pursuant to the Federal Locomotive Inspection Act, as amended, 49 U.S.C. §§ 20701 et seq. ("LIA"), alleging violations of the Federal Railroad Administration ("FRA")*fn2 guidelines, 49 C.F.R. §§ 200 et seq., and the Federal Safety Appliances Act, as amended, 49 U.S.C. §§ 20301 et seq. ("FSAA").*fn3 Id.

A violation of the FRA guidelines constitutes a violation of the LIA. Oglesby v. Delaware & Hudson Ry. Co., 180 F.3d 458, 460 (2d Cir. 1999). A violation of the LIA constitutes negligence per se under FELA. Urie v. Thompson, 337 U.S. 163, 189 (1949). Under the LIA, the Estate asserts the train was defective in the following ways: (1) an unsafe and defective seat; (2) an improperly operating radio; and (3) the absence of an alerter or deadman‟s switch. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 71-74.) The Estate asserts the Railroad violated FRSA under 49 C.F.R. § 236 due to a malfunctioning railroad signal. Under FELA, the Estate alleges that the Railroad failed to respond promptly to the accident. (Id. ¶¶ 47-54.) The Estate contends the Railroad did not have sufficient personnel and tools to rescue Monheim and the Railroad did not contact emergency personnel in a timely manner. (Id.) The Estate alleged that the locomotive was not wired for cab signals, (id. ¶ 39), and the Railroad‟s radio dispatcher failed to maintain contact with Monheim prior to the collision. (Id. ¶ 45.) The Estate additionally claimed under the FELA that Monheim was not properly trained to operate a locomotive lacking an alerter or deadman‟s switch, (Am. Compl. ¶¶63-68) and that the Railroad failed to provide an additional person in the locomotive (id. at ¶¶24-30).

The Railroad argues that any negligence claims brought by the Estate are not cognizable under the FELA, are otherwise precluded by the LIA or would be inadmissible additions to the requirements of the FRSA, which govern the FRA guidelines. In the alternative, the Railroad moved, under Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for a "more definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(e).

The court held a hearing on February 3, 2011, regarding the motion to dismiss. As set forth on the record, the court dismissed with prejudice the failure to have an alerter or dead-man‟s switch claim, the failure to have an ejection-proof seat claim, and the failure to have a different signal claim because allegations of "design defect" or "failure to install" are preempted by the LIA and not cognizable under the FELA. The claim for negligence for failure to maintain properly the locomotive‟s radio remained under the FELA. The malfunctioning signal claim survived under the FRSA and FELA. The dispatcher negligence claim survived as a FELA claim, and the negligent failure to respond to the collision claim survived under the FELA. This memorandum opinion sets forth the reasons for the court‟s decision to grant in part and deny in part the motion to dismiss.

III. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court is not opining on whether the plaintiff will be likely to prevail on the merits; rather, when considering a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint and views them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. U.S. Express Lines Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002). While a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must provide more than labels and conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, and must be sufficient to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Id.

A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. [Twombly], 550 U.S. at 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement," but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Ibid. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant‟s liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of "entitlement to relief.‟" Id. at 557 (brackets omitted).

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

Two working principles underlie Twombly. Id. at 1949-50. First, the tenet that a court must accept a complaint's allegations as true is inapplicable to threadbare recitals of a claim‟s elements, supported by mere conclusory statements. Id. Second, determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is context-specific, requiring the reviewing court to draw on its experience and common sense. Id. "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged -- but it has not "show[n]‟ -- "that the pleader is entitled to relief.‟" Id. at 1950 (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2)).

A court considering a motion to dismiss may begin by identifying allegations that are mere conclusions and not entitled to the assumption of truth. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of the complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their ...

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