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Richard W. Monington v. Csx Transportation

March 6, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe Chief Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Richard W. Monington commenced this negligence action against his employer, defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX), under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA or "the Act").*fn1 (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) Monington alleges, among other things, that CSX and/or its agents, servants, workmen and/or employees were negligent by failing to: (1) provide him with a safe work place; (2) comply with CSX safety rules and regulations; and (3) comply with CSX operating rules and regulations. (See id. ¶ 8.) Pending is CSX's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. (See Dkt. No. 22.) For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted.

II. Background

A. Facts*fn2

On March 29, 2007, Monington injured his left knee*fn3 while working as a carman for CSX. (See Def.'s Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶¶ 5-6, Dkt. No. 22, Attach. 2.) Before the accident in question, Monington was connecting the air hoses of a series of railcars when he came to a bathtub gondola in the line for the same purpose.*fn4 (See Dkt. No. 22, Attach. 10 at 5.) Because he was riding in an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) that required him to ride along the right side of the track-and the bathtub gondola's air hoses and angle cock were on the left side*fn5 -Monington had to "cross over" to connect the hoses. (See id. at 5, 13, 15) The bathtub gondola was "equipped with two sill steps, a handrail and two hand-holds." (Def.'s SMF ¶ 7; see Dkt. No. 22, Attach. 12.). During his descent from the railcar, apparently after connecting the air hoses, Monington's right hand, which he was using to grip a handrail, became "'tingly'" and he lost his grip, falling from the bathtub gondola. (Def.'s SMF ¶¶ 8-9.) At the time of the accident, Monington was exceedingly familiar with climbing over railcars and had been "well" trained by CSX "on how to descend a railcar." (Id. ¶¶ 13-15.) Monington was also "required to know and adhere to the applicable safety rules," (id. ¶ 15), which included mandates that an employee getting on or off of equipment "[m]aintain three points of contact" and "[m]aintain a handhold until [his] feet are firmly positioned." (Dkt. No. 22, Attach. 14.)

Approximately five months after falling, Monington told an orthopaedic surgeon during a consultation that he injured his knee on March 29, 2007 because his right hand, which is affected by carpal tunnel syndrome, "g[a]ve way." (Dkt. No. 22, Attach. 16.) Thereafter, on April 22, 2008, Monington settled a claim with CSX regarding his carpal tunnel syndrome-afflicted right hand for $15,000. (See Def.'s SMF ¶ 19; Dkt. No. 22, Attach. 15.) The "Settlement and Final Release" acknowledges that certain occupational hazards "caused [Monington] to suffer from right carpal tunnel syndrome including any disorder of any type or origin or any related conditions, illness or injury resulting therefrom or relating thereto." (Dkt. No. 22, Attach. 15 at 1.) The settlement agreement also purports to release CSX from "any and all liability for all claims, actions or controversies described" in the document. (Id.)

B. Procedural History

Monington commenced this action in the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on September 10, 2010, claiming violations of FELA.*fn6 (See Compl., Dkt No. 1.) The Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted a motion by CSX to transfer the case to this court in November 2010 and the matter was thereafter transferred. (See Dkt. Nos. 10-11.) Following discovery, CSX moved for summary judgment. (See Dkt. No. 22.)

III. Standard of Review

The standard of review pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard, the court refers the parties to its decision in Wagner v. Swarts, No. 1:09--cv--652, 2011 WL 5599571, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Nov. 17, 2011).

IV. Discussion

CSX argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because Monington has failed to present "any evidence of an unsafe workplace." (Dkt. No. 22, Attach. 1 at 3-7.) More particularly, CSX contends that Monington can show only that he was injured while working. (See id. at 3.) All of Monington's claims, CSX asserts, rest upon accusations that were resolved against him by his own testimony during a deposition-namely, whether: (1) CSX "negligently failed to provide . . . power grips and grip points"; (2) "it was unreasonably unsafe for [Monington] to climb over railcars"; and (3) CSX "should have developed a safe means of climbing and descending steps." (Id. at 3-4.) Alternatively, CSX asserts that, should the court find a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Monington presented sufficient evidence of negligence, the absence of evidence regarding causation requires dismissal of the complaint. (See id. at 6-7.) CSX also alleges that Monington released it from liability "from any and all injuries resulting from his right carpal tunnel syndrome" and, thus, summary judgment may be granted on that independent basis as well. (Id. at 8-10.)

Monington counters that, given the plaintiff-friendly nature of the FELA, his complaint can be dismissed only if there is "'zero probability'" of CSX negligence or that any such negligence contributed to his injury. (Dkt. No. 26, Attach. 2 at 1.) Monington further contends that a genuine issue of material fact exists on the question of whether CSX was negligent. (See id. at 2-3.) Specifically, he claims that a jury could infer that, by CSX requiring him to use an ATV to inspect railcars, instead of permitting him to walk, he was forced to climb over railcars while inspecting them and CSX has potentially "sacrificed the safety of their [sic] employees" for the sake of speeding up inspections. (Id. at 2-3.) Monington has ...

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