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Vasquez v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 4, 2014

KERWIN VASQUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
METRO-NORTH COMMUTER RAILROAD, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

J. PAUL OETKEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Kerwin Vasquez injured his left wrist on October 19, 2009 while working as an electrician for his employer, Metro-North Commuter Railroad ("Metro-North"). He returned to work the next day, but later discovered that his injury had worsened. Vasquez brings claims against Metro-North under the Federal Employers Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. ยง 51 ("FELA"), for (1) failure to provide a safe workplace, leading to the injury, and (2) negligently directing Vasquez to immediately return to full-duty work, aggravating the injury. Metro-North seeks summary judgment dismissing the second claim only. For the reasons that follow, that motion is denied.

I. Applicable Legal Standards

A. Summary Judgment

In general, summary judgment is appropriate when "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 fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, " Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986), and a dispute is genuine if, considering the record as a whole, a rational jury could find in favor of the non-moving party, Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

The initial burden on a party moving for summary judgment is to provide evidence of each element of his claim or defense illustrating his entitlement to relief. Vt. Teddy Bear Co. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 244 (2d Cir. 2004). If the movant makes this showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to identify specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial, i.e., that reasonable jurors could differ about the evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(f); Anderson, 447 U.S. at 250-51. The court should view all evidence "in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor, " and a motion for summary judgment may be granted only if "no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party." Allen v. Coughlin, 64 F.3d 77, 79 (2d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). At the same time, the non-moving party cannot rely upon mere "conclusory statements, conjecture, or speculation" to meet its burden. Kulak v. City of New York, 88 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 1996) (citing Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587).

B. FELA

In FELA cases, the standard for summary judgment is "liberally construed" in light of the "strong federal policy in favor of letting juries decide cases arising under FELA." DeRienzo v. Metro. Transp. Auth., Metro N. Commuter R.R., 237 F.Appx. 642, 644 (2d Cir. 2007) (internal quotations omitted). It is well established in this Circuit that "[a] FELA case must not be dismissed at the summary judgment phase unless there is absolutely no reasonable basis for a jury to find for the plaintiff.'" Id. at 644-45 (quoting Syverson v. Consol. Rail Corp., 19 F.3d 824, 828 (2d Cir. 1994)). Additionally, "there is a considerably more relaxed standard of proof for determining negligence in FELA cases": plaintiffs need only "offer some evidence that would support a finding of negligence." Sinclair v. Long Island R.R., 985 F.2d 74, 76-77 (2d Cir. 1993) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

"In FELA actions, the plaintiff must prove the traditional common law elements of negligence: duty, breach, foreseeability, and causation." Tufariello v. Long Island R. Co., 458 F.3d 80, 87 (2d Cir. 2006). As recently summarized by the Second Circuit, the emphasis is on reasonable foreseeability:

For an employer to be found negligent, the plaintiff must show reasonable foreseeability. This turns on whether the employer knew or should have known of a potential hazard in the workplace, and yet failed to exercise reasonable care to... protect its employees.

DeRienzo, 237 F.Appx. at 645 (quotation marks and citations omitted). "Elements that a trier of fact may consider in determining whether a risk is unreasonable... are (1) the likelihood that harm will eventuate and (2) the cost of preventing that harm...." Murphy v. Metropolitan Transp. Auth., 548 F.Supp.2d 29, 37 (S.D.N.Y. 2008).

Additionally, FELA relaxes the causation standard and provides that "a defendant railroad caused or contributed to a plaintiff employee's injury if the railroad's negligence played any part in bringing about the injury." CSX Transp., Inc. v. McBride, 131 S.Ct. 2630, 2634 (2011) (emphasis added). Under FELA, "a tortfeasor must compensate his victim for even the improbable or unexpectedly severe consequences of his wrongful act." Gallick v. Baltimore & O. R. Co., 372 U.S. 108, 121 (1963).

II. Facts

Unless otherwise stated, these facts are taken from the parties' Rule 56.1 Statements, and are undisputed. Given the applicable legal standard, the Court summarizes the facts in the ...


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