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Peterson v. Pan Am Systems, Inc.

United States District Court, Second Circuit

August 28, 2013

KURT E. PETERSON Plaintiffs,
v.
PAN AM SYSTEMS, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

LAWRENCE E. KAHN, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This action arises out of an injury pro se Plaintiff Kurt E. Peterson ("Plaintiff") suffered while working as a railroad superintendent. See Dkt. No. 5 ("Amended Complaint"). Named as defendants are a variety of entities ("Entity Defendants")[1] and their individual managers ("Individual Defendants")[2] (collectively with the Entity Defendants, "Defendants"). Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claim for negligence under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq., to the extent the claim is brought against any of Individual Defendants or any Entity Defendant other than Springfield, which Defendants contend was Plaintiff's sole employer. Dkt. Nos. 14 ("First Motion"); 14-1 ("First Memorandum"); 21 ("Second Motion"); 21-3 ("Second Memorandum").[3] They also seek dismissal of Plaintiff's disability-discrimination claim on a variety of grounds. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motions are granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND[4]

Plaintiff was employed as "the Superintendent Mechanical Division West" and was responsible for the repair and maintenance of railroad equipment. Am. Compl. at 4-5. In late 2009, Defendants allegedly failed to provide an adequate number of "ice creepers"-over-the-shoe traction devices that maintenance employees were required to wear in icy conditions. Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff was therefore forced to give his ice creepers to a subordinate; as a result, Plaintiff fell and injured himself while inspecting a locomotive. Id. at 6. He filed an accident/incident report with the Entity Defendants, received medical treatment, and continued to work until he got into a car accident, at which point he went on leave to recover from his injuries. Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff's employment was terminated after his Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") leave expired and he was unable to return to work. Id. at 7.

In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff brings claims for: (1) negligence under FELA; and (2) failure to accommodate and discriminatory termination. See generally Am. Compl. Defendants seek dismissal of both claims against all Defendants except Springfield, arguing that the Amended Complaint is "completely devoid of any allegations of wrongdoing on behalf of any of the named defendants other than S[pringfield]" because all of Plaintiff's claims, "by their very nature, " can be asserted against only an employer.[5] Second Mot. at 4. Defendants also seek complete dismissal of the disability claim, on the grounds that Plaintiff has not alleged that he timely filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), cannot perform the essential functions of his job, and has not alleged that he requested accommodations. Id. at 5-6.

Plaintiff filed Responses to both Motions, each Response consisting of an affidavit detailing his employment relationship with Defendants and extensive supporting documentation. Dkt. Nos. 17, 17-1 ("First Response"); 28 ("Second Response") (collectively, "Responses"). Defendants filed a Reply to each Response, arguing that: (1) the affidavits and documentation could not be considered by the Court in resolving the Motions; and (2) because Plaintiff had "admitted" that he received his paycheck from Springfield, Plaintiff and Defendants were "in agreement" that only Springfield was Plaintiff's employer. First Reply; Dkt. No. 28 ("Second Reply"). Plaintiff subsequently filed a Letter Motion seeking to introduce additional documentary evidence of his employment status, his injury, and its financial consequences. Dkt. No. 31 ("Letter Motion). Defendants objected to the Letter Motion as untimely and unnecessary. Dkt. No. 32 ("Objection"). The Court permitted the filing of the Letter Motion and its attached documentation but reserved deciding whether that documentation would be considered in deciding Defendants' Motions. Dkt. No. 33.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). A court must accept as true the factual allegations contained in a complaint and draw all inferences in favor of a plaintiff. See Allaire Corp. v. Okumus , 433 F.3d 248, 249-50 (2d Cir. 2006). A complaint may be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) only where it appears that there are not "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570. Plausibility requires "enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the alleged misconduct]." Id. at 556. The plausibility standard "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556). "[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id . (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555). Where a court is unable to infer more than the mere possibility of the alleged misconduct based on the pleaded facts, the pleader has not demonstrated that she is entitled to relief and the action is subject to dismissal. See id. at 678-79.

However, the allegations of a pro se litigant are to be construed under a "less stringent standard[] than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); see also Harris v. Mills , 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009). "A pro se plaintiff... should be afforded an opportunity fairly freely to amend his complaint." Holmes v. Goldin , 615 F.2d 83, 85 (2d Cir. 1980); see also Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant , 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008); Cuoco v. Moritsugu , 222 F.3d 99, 112 (2d Cir. 2000) ("A pro se complaint is to be read liberally. Certainly the court should not dismiss without granting leave to amend at least once when a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated.").

B. FELA

Only "common carriers by railroad" that are the "employer" of an injured worker are liable under FELA. 45 U.S.C. § 51; see also Schmidt v. Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. , 605 F.3d 686, 689 (9th Cir. 2010). It is undisputed that the Entity Defendants were common carriers by railroad. See Am. Compl. at 4; First Mem.; Second Mem. The term "common carrier" is statutorily defined to include " persons or corporations charged with the duty of the management and operation of the business of a common carrier." 45 U.S.C. § 57 (emphasis added). The plan language of the statute permits individual liability, and Defendants have not pointed to, nor has the Court found, any authority holding otherwise. Plaintiff has alleged that each of the Individual Defendants was involved in the management and control of one or more of the Entity Defendants. See Am. Compl. at 2-4. As it is undisputed that the Entity Defendants were common carriers by railroad, Plaintiff has thus sufficiently alleged that the Individual Defendants were "persons... charged with the duty of the management and operation of the business of a common carrier" and therefore constituted common carriers themselves. 45 U.S.C. § 57.

Defendants must also have been Plaintiff's employer to be liable under FELA. "Under FELA, the test of whether a company is the employer of a particular worker turns on the degree of control the company exerts over the physical conduct of the worker in the performance of services." Id . (citing Kelley v. S. Pac. Co. , 419 U.S. 318, 324 (1974)). The Supreme Court has ...


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