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Hughs v. Union Pacific Railroad Company

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri.

April 14, 2017

RHONDA HUGHS, NEXT FRIEND TO TSG; RANDY GROVES, T.S.G., MINOR, BY NEXT FRIEND RHONDA HUGHS; Plaintiffs,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          ROSEANN A. KETCHMARK, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Now pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Doc. 38.) After careful review, Defendant's motion (doc. 38) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background

         This action for wrongful death arises from an automobile/train collision that occurred at a public railroad grade crossing in Trenton, Missouri. The accident occurred when a car driven by Nancy Groves (“Decedent”) collided with a train owned by Defendant. The resulting collision killed Ms. Groves and her two passengers. Plaintiffs allege a number of ways in which Defendant was negligent. Defendant moves for summary judgment on a number of Plaintiffs' claims.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party who moves for summary judgment bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). An issue of fact is only genuine if it has a real basis in the record, and is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. at 248. When considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must scrutinize the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and the nonmoving party “must be given the benefit of all reasonable inferences.” Mirax Chem. Prods. Corp. v. First Interstate Commercial Corp., 950 F.2d 566, 569 (8th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted).

         In resisting summary judgment, the nonmoving party may not rest on the allegations in its pleadings, but must, by affidavit and other evidence, set forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Thomas v. Corwin, 483 F.3d 516, 527 (8th Cir. 2007) (“mere allegations, unsupported by specific facts or evidence beyond the nonmoving party's own conclusions, are insufficient to withstand a motion for summary judgment”). In so doing, the nonmoving party “cannot create sham issues of fact in an effort to defeat summary judgment.” RSBI Aerospace, Inc. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 49 F.3d 399, 402 (8th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). “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 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         Defendant moves for summary judgment on the following grounds: (A) Plaintiffs' claims that Defendant was negligent in failing to close and to maintain the crossing fail as a matter of law; (B) Plaintiffs' negligent training claims fail as a matter of law; (C) Plaintiffs' claims of negligent management fail to state a claim and are factually unsupported; (D) Plaintiffs' claims that the crew failed to keep a proper lookout and to slacken speed fail as a matter of law; (E) Plaintiffs' claim that the crossing is ultra-hazardous fails for lack of evidence to support it; (F) Plaintiffs' negligence per se claims fail as a matter of law; (G) Plaintiffs' claims for damages for pre-death pain and suffering are unsupported by any evidence; and (H) Plaintiffs can present no evidence of conduct by Defendant to support a claim for punitive damages.

         A. Negligent in Failing to Close the Crossing (doc. 1 at ¶ 19(p)) and Maintenance of the Crossing (id. at ¶¶ 19(a), (b), (c), (m))

         Defendant moves for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claim that Defendant was negligent in failing to close the crossing until all dangerous conditions were remedied and on Plaintiffs' claims that Defendant was negligent for failing to maintain that crossing.

         First, Defendant argues that it had no duty to close the crossing because Missouri's Highways and Transportation Commission (“MHTC”) had the exclusive power to close railroad crossings as provided in Missouri Revised Statute § 389.610. Next, Defendant argues it had no duty to maintain the approaches and crossing surfaces because under the regulations implemented by MHTC, the roadway authority (and not the railroad) is responsible for the approaches, including the grade, profile, and composition of the approaches. Finally, with respect to signage, Defendant asserts, without citation to law or fact, that Plaintiffs cannot present facts showing the inadequacy of signage or causation related to such inadequate signage.

         Plaintiffs counter by arguing that the “exclusive power” provision in section 389.610 has been interpreted by the Missouri Supreme Court to supplement, rather than repeal any existing law placing duties on the railroad. Plaintiffs cite Alcorn v. Union Pacific Railroad Company, 50 S.W.3d 226, 235 (Mo. 2001) (overruled on other grounds) which states:

Nothing in the statute negates the railroad's common law duty to use reasonable care in providing adequate warning of railroad crossings. In fact, section 389.610.2 sets forth the duty by requiring the railroad to “construct and maintain good and sufficient crossings.” While the statute provides a regulatory mechanism for ordering the upgrading of crossings, it does not supercede the railroad's common law duty.

         Additionally, Plaintiffs contend that Missouri has a long-standing common law duty requiring a railroad to construct and maintain its crossing and approaches in a reasonable manner. To support that contention, Plaintiffs cite Hartmann v. St. Louis-S.F. Ry. Co., which states, “[i]t is well settled that when a railroad crosses a public road, there is a duty upon the railroad company, not only to construct the crossing in accordance with the provisions of Section 389.610 . . ., but also to maintain it in a condition that makes it reasonably safe for travel.” 280 S.W.2d 442, 446 (Mo. App. 1955).

         Based on the cases cited by Plaintiffs, the Court finds that Defendant had a duty to use reasonable care in providing adequate warning of the crossing and that it had a duty to maintain that crossing. These duties are not displaced by Section 389.610. Therefore, Defendant's arguments that it had no such duties with respect to Plaintiffs' claims for failure to maintain the crossing fail. Moreover, “the question of whether an injury in fact was caused by negligence is for the jury.” Alcorn, 50 S.W.3d at 239. The Court simply determines “whether there are sufficient ...


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