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Hananburgh v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 18, 2015

ROBERT HANANBURGH, Plaintiff,
v.
METRO-NORTH COMMUTER RAILROAD, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JESSE M. FURMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Robert Hananburgh ("Plaintiff") filed this lawsuit against his employer Metro-North Commuter Railroad ("Defendant" or "Metro-North") under the Federal Employee's Liability Act ("FELA"), alleging that Defendant's negligent track inspection and maintenance practices caused injuries he suffered while working as an assistant conductor on one of Defendant's train routes. Defendant now moves for summary judgment and to preclude Plaintiff's proposed expert witness, Raymond Duffany. (Docket No. 31). Plaintiff cross-moves to preclude Defendant's proposed expert witnesses. (Docket No. 27). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motions for summary judgment and to preclude Plaintiff's proposed expert are DENIED, and Plaintiff's motion to preclude Defendant's expert witnesses is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

The following facts - derived from the admissible material submitted by the parties with respect to the three motions - are viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See, e.g., Gould v. Winstar Commc'ns, Inc., 692 F.3d 148, 157-58 (2d Cir. 2012).

Plaintiff first began working for Metro-North on October 6, 2008, as a conductor-in-training. (Aff. Supp. Def.'s Mot. To Preclude Raymond A. Duffany & Summ. J. (Docket No. 32) ("Rios Aff."), Ex. I ("Hananburgh Depo.") at 7:6-11). After completing training, and throughout his time of employment until his medical disqualification, Plaintiff served as assistant conductor or conductor, depending on his seniority relative to his coworkers on any given trip. ( Id. at 6:16-7:5; 7:18-8:2).

On September 2, 2011, Plaintiff was working as an assistant conductor on a train that left Grand Central Terminal at approximately 10:05 p.m., headed for Poughkeepsie. ( Id. at 21:8-11; 22:7-17; 24:16-20). As the assistant conductor, Plaintiff's principal tasks were to collect tickets from seated passengers while walking through the train and to signal the conductor to close the doors when all passengers had embarked at each stop. ( Id. at 29:14-30:4). After leaving the Yankee Stadium/153rd Street stop, Plaintiff was moving through the train to collect tickets, and in the process of opening a door from one car to the other, when he was - in his words - "thrown violently" into the train's outside wall. ( Id. at 31:3-32:17). After Plaintiff got up and walked back down the car, he felt his back "tightening up." ( Id. at 41:16-18). Shortly thereafter, after the train had passed the Tarrytown stop, Plaintiff told the conductor what had happened, and then sat down in one of the passenger cars and attempted to contact the train master and yard master. ( Id. at 42:5-43:24). Upon arriving in Poughkeepsie, passenger Jeff Piontowski assisted Plaintiff with his bag as Plaintiff got off the train. ( Id. at 46:18-47-9; Aff. Opp'n Def.'s Mot. To Preclude & Opp'n Summ. J. (Docket No. 38) ("Kantor Aff.") ¶ 9). Plaintiff's landlord - whom Plaintiff called from the train, sensing that he would not be able to drive with his level of discomfort - then drove Plaintiff to Vassar Brothers Hospital, also located in Poughkeepsie. (Hananburgh Depo. at 45:9-21; 46:23-47:2).

At the hospital, Plaintiff was given morphine and was prescribed muscle relaxants and painkillers. ( Id. at 48:22-49:10). While at the hospital, Plaintiff received a phone call from Metro-North Operations Manager James Rasser, who met Plaintiff at the hospital to take an incident statement. ( Id. at 49:17-50:15; Rios. Aff., Ex. K ("Rasser Depo.") at 14:3-11). Rasser then ordered a three-man inspection team to check the train car on which Plaintiff was injured for mechanical defects. ( Id. at 16:17-20). Rasser did not order an inspection of the track, allegedly because he did not know where the accident had occurred and thus "couldn't give... the exact milepost." ( Id. at 19:4-7).

In the weeks following the incident, Plaintiff made several visits to his primary care doctor, Dr. Laura Vallero, who ordered X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging examinations ("MRIs"), and referred Plaintiff to physical therapy. (Hananburgh Depo. at 54:18-22; 55:25-56:20, 58:5-14). The MRIs revealed that Plaintiff had a herniated disk. ( Id. at 58:19-59:4). Plaintiff then began to see a series of specialists, including a neurosurgeon and a pain-management specialist. ( Id. at 59:13-18; 60:7-13). When Plaintiff continued to experience back pain and stiffness in his neck, and began to experience discomfort in his left leg, he visited a Dr. Andrew Hecht in March 2012, who recommended - and subsequently performed - a laminectomy on Plaintiff. ( Id. at 64:2-66:13; 67:16-22). Plaintiff also visited a chiropractor, Dr. Joseph Olmo, beginning in November 2011 - a doctor whom he had previously visited in 2010 for soreness in his back. ( Id. at 73:6-74:7). Since the incident, Plaintiff reports that he has had to stop participating in many of the activities he used to enjoy, such as serving as a volunteer firefighter, and is unable to sit or stand for long periods of time. ( Id. at 94:15-95:9). He also still uses painkillers and muscle relaxants to treat his discomfort. ( Id. at 95:2-9).

DEFENDANT'S SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION

A. Legal Standards in Reviewing Summary Judgment Motions Generally

Summary judgment is appropriate where the admissible evidence and the pleadings demonstrate "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); see also Johnson v. Killian, 680 F.3d 234, 236 (2d Cir. 2012) (per curiam). An issue of fact qualifies as genuine if the "evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a judgment for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); accord Roe v. City of Waterbury, 542 F.3d 31, 35 (2d Cir. 2008). Generally, to avoid summary judgment, a party must advance more than a "scintilla of evidence, " Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, and demonstrate more than "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, all evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Overton v. N.Y. State Div. of Military & Naval Affairs, 373 F.3d 83, 89 (2d Cir. 2004), and the court must "resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought, " Sec. Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004).

B. Legal Standards in FELA Cases

FELA mandates that "[e]very common carrier by railroad... shall be liable in damages to any person suffering injury while he is employed by such carrier... for such injury or death resulting in whole or in part from the negligence of any of the officers, agents, or employees of such carrier." 45 U.S.C. § 51. The Supreme Court has noted that, at the time FELA was enacted in 1908, Congress was "[c]ognizant of the physical dangers of railroading that resulted in the death or maiming of thousands of workers every year, " and accordingly "crafted a federal remedy that shifted part of the human overhead of doing business from employees to their employers." Consol. Rail Corp. v. Gottshall, 512 U.S. 532, 542 (1994) (internal quotation marks omitted). Because "FELA's language on causation... is as broad as could be framed, " the Court has recognized that, "in comparison to tort litigation at common law, a relaxed standard of causation applies under FELA." CSX Transp., Inc. v. McBride, 131 S.Ct. 2630, 2636 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). In addition to finding that FELA creates liability "for risks that would be too remote to support liability under common law, " Syverson v. Consol. Rail Corp., 19 F.3d 824, 826 (2d Cir. 1994), the Second Circuit has held that "the right of the jury to pass on factual issues ...


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