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York v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 14, 2017

RODDY YORK, Plaintiff,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, f/k/a Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company Defendant.

          ORDER

          SCOTT T. VARHOLAK, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Renewed Motion for a More Definite Statement (the “Motion”) [#11]. This Court has carefully considered the Motion and related briefing, the case file and the applicable case law, and has determined that oral argument would not materially assist in the disposition of the Motion. For the following reasons, the Court DENIES the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 2, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant Action pursuant to the Federal Employers' Liability Act (“FELA”) alleging that from 1976 through 1991 Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as a brakeman/conductor. [#1, ¶ 4] During the course of his employment, Plaintiff alleges that he was “exposed to various toxic substances and carcinogens including but not limited to chemicals, solvents, diesel fuel/exhaust, benzene, heavy metals, creosote, manganese and rock/mineral dust and fibers.” [Id. at ¶ 5] Plaintiff maintains that this exposure caused or contributed to his development of bladder cancer. [Id. at ¶ 6] According to the Complaint, Plaintiff's cancer is “the result of the negligence of the Defendant railroad in that it utilized known cancer causing materials in its operations, which the Defendant knew, or in the ordinary exercise of ordinary care should have known, were deleterious, poisonous, toxic and highly harmful to its employees' health.” [Id. at ¶ 8] The Complaint then provides eleven examples of such negligence. [Id. at ¶ 9]

         On June 12, 2017, Defendant filed the instant Motion. Defendant maintains that “[i]n its present form, the Complaint lacks sufficient substantive information to allow the Defendant to perform an adequate pre-answer investigation and provide a meaningful answer.” [#11 at 2] Plaintiff responded on June 14, 2017 [#13], Defendant replied on June 27, 2017 [#14], and Plaintiff provided supplemental authority on July 13, 2017 [#21].

         II. ANALYSIS

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e), “[a] party may move for a more definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” “A motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e) is generally disfavored by the Court.” Shankar v. Wells Fargo Bank NA, No. 14-cv-02000-CMA-KLM, 2015 WL 870797, at *1 (D. Colo. Feb. 26, 2015). As such, Rule 12(e) motions are “rarely granted unless the complaint is ‘so excessively vague and ambiguous as to be unintelligible' or defendant would be prejudiced in its attempt to answer it.” Id. (quoting Greater N.Y. Auto. Dealers Ass'n v. Env't Sys. Testing, Inc., 211 F.R.D. 71, 76 (E.D.N.Y. 2002)).

         Here, the Complaint is not so vague and ambiguous as to be unintelligible. It asserts that Plaintiff worked as a brakeman/conductor for Defendant for fifteen years. Through the course of his employment, he was exposed to various toxic substances and carcinogens. The Complaint further provides eleven examples of Defendant's alleged negligence that caused Plaintiff's bladder cancer.

         Defendant contends that the Complaint is too vague to answer because it does not allege the specific substances and quantities of substances to which Plaintiff was exposed, where or exactly when he was exposed to such substances, how the exposure injured him and what his alleged injuries include. [#11 at 2-3] But, many of these details are in the Complaint. The Complaint lists numerous materials that Plaintiff was exposed to [#1 at ¶ 5], states that he was exposed during his fifteen year employment [id. at ¶ 4], that he was exposed while working at the La Junta Yard [id. at ¶ 5], and that as a result of such exposure Plaintiff suffers from bladder cancer [id. at ¶ 6]. To the extent Defendants wish to obtain more detailed information regarding Plaintiff's claims, such information is readily available through discovery. See 5C Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1376 (3d ed. 2010) (noting the “overall scheme of the federal rules calls for relatively skeletal pleadings and places the burden of unearthing the underlying factual details on the discovery process”).[1]

         Accordingly, the Defendant's Renewed Motion for a More Definite Statement [#11] is DENIED. Defendant shall answer the Complaint within fourteen days of the date of this Order.

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Notes:

[1] The Court's conclusion is bolstered by a recent decision from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Phylpo v. BNSF Railway Co., 17-cv-472-JPS (E.D. Wis. July 7, 2017), available at #21-1. There, in a nearly identical case with a nearly identical Complaint, the district ...


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