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Rhinehart v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 23, 2018


          DECISION & ORDER


         Eight years ago, a train operated by the defendant, CSX Transportation, Inc., severed the legs of the plaintiff, Alfred R. Rhinehart, Jr. Soon after, Rhinehart sued CSX alleging that the negligent maintenance and operation of its tracks and trains contributed to his injuries. Docket Item 1-3. Seven years ago, the first case management order was issued. Docket Item 24. Four years ago, fact discovery was completed. Docket Item 83. Three years ago, CSX moved for summary judgment. Docket Item 92. Two years ago, United States Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio issued a report and recommendation denying the motion. Docket Item 98. And last year, this Court accepted that recommendation in part. Docket Item 119.

         That decision held that "Rhinehart's claim of negligence under the common law is not preempted as to CSX's duty to deter expected trespassers from using the cut-through." This Court agreed with CSX that railroads have no general duty to fence its tracks, but it found that CSX had not established, as a matter of law, that there was no duty to use barriers, signs, or other means to discourage trespassers from using a well-known but unauthorized spot to cross. Moreover, the Court found that "because CSX's internal operating rules were not created pursuant to federal regulation, and because federal regulations preempt common-law liability for CSX's alleged violation of those internal rules, there are no material issues of fact that would preclude summary judgment with respect to a duty to sound a train's horn or to uncouple cars when a train is stopped." Rhinehart v. CSX Transp., Inc., 2017 WL 3500018, at *13 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 16, 2017) (footnote omitted).

         Now, CSX asks this Court to reconsider its denial of summary judgment. Docket Item 123-4. In the alternative, CSX moves this Court for an order granting an interlocutory appeal. CSX attached to its motion the decision in Moody v. CSX Transportation, 07-CV-6398, granting summary judgment in part and denying it in part. Docket Item 123-3.

         Presumably, CSX attached this decision because the court in that case held that CSX had no duty to erect fences or barriers under New York law. But the court in that case also ruled against CSX, finding that the plaintiff's negligence claim against CSX survived with respect to allegedly failing to sound the train's horn-a claim this Court found preempted by the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970 ("FRSA"). Perhaps sensing that CSX had opened Pandora's Box, Rhinehart cross-moved for reconsideration on that finding. Docket Item 127.


         Strict standards govern motions for reconsideration and interlocutory appeal. Consequently, those motions are granted only in exceptional and rare circumstances. Motions for reconsideration "will generally be denied unless the moving party can point to controlling decisions or data that the court overlooked-matters, in other words, that might reasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court." Shrader v. CSX Transp., Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir. 1995). Similarly, motions for an interlocutory appeal are generally denied because "only exceptional circumstances will justify a departure from the basic policy of postponing appellate review until after the entry of a final judgment." In re Facebook, Inc., 986 F.Supp.2d 524, 529-30 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (internal quotations, alteration and citation omitted). In fact, the Second Circuit urges "district courts to exercise great care in making a § 1292(b) certification." Westwood Pharm., Inc. v. Nat'l Fuel Gas Distrib. Corp., 964 F.2d 85, 89 (2d Cir. 1992). As discussed below, because neither CSX nor Rhinehart can demonstrate exceptional or rare circumstances that would justify reconsideration or an interlocutory appeal, the motions are denied.


         A motion to reconsider must set forth a compelling reason why the court should revisit its prior decision. Reconsideration is appropriate when (1) there is a change of controlling law, (2) there is newly discovered evidence, or (3) there is clear error or an obvious injustice the court must correct or prevent. See Virgin Atl. Airways, Ltd. v. Nat'l Mediation Bd., 956 F.2d 1245, 1255 (2d Cir. 1992). Reconsideration is not appropriate, however, when a party simply does not like or disagrees with the outcome of an initial decision and seeks to reargue issues already considered by the court. See Reed v. Aqueon Products, 2015 WL 506434, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 6, 2015) (citing In re Houbigant, Inc., 914 F.Supp. 997, 1001 (S.D.N.Y. 1996)).

         CSX does not present a change in controlling law or newly discovered evidence, but it claims that this Court committed clear error by misapplying state law. Instead of identifying the clear error, however, CSX does no more than rehash case law from its summary judgment motion that previously was considered by this Court. Because CSX does not offer anything more than it offered before, its motion to reconsider is denied.

         A. Duty to Deter Expected Trespassers

         CSX claims that under New York law "a railroad does not have a duty to fence its tracks, either in general (as this Court acknowledged) or (contrary to the Court's holding) at the many unauthorized crossing throughout the railroad's systems." Docket Item 123-4 at 2. But CSX misstates this Court's initial holding and, in doing so, highlights the nuances in the case law and the unresolved issues of material fact that actually reinforce the denial of summary judgment.

         CSX argues that this Court erred in light of New York Railroad Law section 52. In relevant part, that statute provides that "[n]o railroad need be fenced, when not necessary to prevent horses, cattle, sheep and hogs from going upon its track from the adjoining lands." N.Y.R.R. Law § 52. According to CSX, that provision relieves railroads of any duty to deter expected trespassers-specifically, to erect barriers or to warn expected trespassers of danger.

         This Court agrees with CSX that section 52 does not "safeguard any individual who might unconsciously trespass upon the right of way." DiCaprio v. N.Y. Cent. R.R., Co., 231 N.Y. 94, 98 (1921). But saying that there is no duty to fence railroad tracks except to protect livestock does not mean that there never is a duty to discourage trespassers from using a well-known cut-through, as was the case here. What is more, the supporting cases CSX cites are distinguishable. And most important on a motion for reconsideration, many of the ...

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