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Straub v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 13, 2017

GEORGE W. STRAUB, IV, Plaintiff,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. # 56), DENYING DEFENDANT'S UNOPPOSED MOTION FOR ORAL ARGUMENT (DOC. # 68) AND DENYING AS MOOT PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ENTRY OF JUDGMENT UNDER RULE 54(B) (DOC. # 54)

          CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant BNSF Railway Company's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 56). On September 6, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Response (Doc. # 59), to which BNSF Railway Company replied on September 20, 2016 (Doc. # 61).[1] On September 27, 2016, this Court granted Plaintiff's motion for leave to file a surreply, and Plaintiff filed the surreply on November 23, 2016 (Doc. ## 65, 67). On December 1, 2016, Defendant filed an unopposed motion seeking oral argument on its motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 68.)

         For the following reasons, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted, Defendant's motion for oral argument is denied, and Plaintiff's motion for entry of judgment under Rule 54(b) is denied as moot.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff began working for Defendant on May 9, 1978, and worked as a locomotive engineer his entire career. (Doc. # 56 at 2, Doc. # 59 at 5.) On September 9, 2012, Plaintiff attempted to adjust the locomotive engineer's seat of the train on which he was working, BNSF 6295. (Doc. # 27 at 3 ¶ 9.) While in the process of adjusting the seat, Plaintiff was injured when the seat stopped “abruptly and unexpectedly.” (Id.)

         The engineer's cab seat in locomotive BNSF 6295 was installed in 2008. (Doc. # 56 at 5; Doc. # 59 at 7.) On March 1, 2012, a BNSF employee reported to the company that the “engineer's seat won't adjust and the foot pedal is broke.” (Doc. # 56-3, at p. 16.) On March 22, 2012, the seat was inspected by a mechanical inspector who noted that the inspector found no issues with the seat. (Id.)

         From April 10 to April 13, 2012, Defendant again performed an inspection of BNSF 6295, which included two inspectors testing the engineer's seat adjustment mechanism. (Doc. # 59-2 at p. 10.) All BNSF locomotives in regular use, including BNSF 6295, undergo routine six month inspections called M184 and M368 inspections. The records reflect that on April 10, 2012, BNSF 6295's cab operator seats were checked which included checking the “height adjustment assembly.” (Doc. # 59-2 at 20.) This was confirmed by the deposition of Beau Price who stated that during the M184 and M368 inspections, the seat's ability to move “fore and aft and lateral” is inspected. (Doc. # 61-2 at 15.) Also on April 10, 2012, Tyson Westphal, who was a cab carpenter for Defendant performed a cab seat leveling inspection (Doc. # 59-2 at p. 23.) Although Mr. Westphal's deposition reflects that he does not have any independent memory of his inspection of the engineer's seat on BNSF 6295, he stated that when conducting these inspections, he “run(s) though all motions of the seat, forward, back, up, down, seat tilt and back tilt to make sure everything is working properly.” (Doc. # 67-1 at p. 7.)

         Following these inspections, on September 9, 1012, while attempting to adjust the locomotive engineer's seat of the train on which he was working, BNSF 6295, Plaintiff was injured when the seat stopped “abruptly and unexpectedly.” (Doc. # 27 at 3 ¶ 9.)

         Plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. # 27) advances claims for relief under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. § 51-60, arguing that Defendant negligently failed to provide Plaintiff with a safe workplace. (Doc. # 27 at 2.) Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant furnished him with a defective engineer's seat adjustment mechanism, creating an unsafe risk of injury. (Doc. # 27 at 3 ¶ 12-13.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         Defendant has moved for summary judgment arguing that Plaintiff has adduced no evidence showing that the seat adjustment mechanism rendered the seat unreasonably unsafe or that Defendant had actual or constructive notice of the allegedly defective condition. (Doc. # 56 at 2.)

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is warranted when “the movant shows that 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). A fact is “material” if it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim under the relevant substantive law. Wright v. Abbott Labs., Inc., 259 F.3d 1226, 1231-32 (10th Cir. 2001). A dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that it might lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Allen v. Muskogee, Okla., 119 F.3d 837, 839 (10th Cir. 1997). When reviewing a motion for summary judgment, a court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. However, conclusory statements based merely on conjecture, speculation, or subjective belief do not constitute competent summary judgment evidence. Bones v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc., 366 F.3d 869, 875 (10th Cir. 2004).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine dispute of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Id. In attempting to meet this standard, a movant who does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial need not disprove the other party's claim; rather, the movant need simply point the Court to a lack of evidence for the other party on an essential element of that party's claim. Adler ...


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