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Sigman v. CSX Corp.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

February 28, 2018

BRANDY SIGMAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CSX CORPORATION and CSX TRANSPORTATION INC., Defendants.

          OMNIBUS ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBER'S, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court are nine motions filed in anticipation of the impending trial date. In order to hear further argument on these motions, the Court held a Status Conference and Motions Hearing on Monday, February 26, 2018. During the nearly three-hour hearing, the Court ruled from the bench on a few of the currently pending motions. This Omnibus Order seeks to clarify and formalize those rulings.

         Upon consideration of the briefing and oral argument, the Court took the following action with regard to four of the currently pending motions: (1) DENIED Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 223); (2) GRANTED Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of the EPA Administrative Order on Consent (ECF No. 228); (3) DENIED Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Plaintiffs' Expert Dr. April Watkins (ECF No. 232); and (4) GRANTED, IN PART, Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Plaintiffs' Expert Samuel Wood (ECF No. 233).

         The Court took the five remaining motions under advisement, and will HOLD IN ABEYANCE consideration of the following five motions, until such time as the Court is prepared to rule: (5) Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 224); (6) Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Other Plaintiffs (ECF No. 227); (7) Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Any Reference, Testimony, or Evidence of Prior Derailments and Rail Defects (ECF No. 229); (8) Defendant's Motion in Limine to Advise Jury as to the Settlement of Plaintiffs' Claims Against Sperry Rail, Inc. (ECF No. 230); and (9) Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude, or in the Alternative Limit, Evidence of CSXT's Financial Condition and Conditional Motion to Bifurcate Punitive Damages (ECF No. 231).

         The Court will address each of the nine motions in turn. First, the Court will address those motions upon which it has made a ruling, and will expound upon the rationale provided during the hearing. Second, the Court will address the motions for which the Court has yet to take action. However, for those not yet adjudicated motions, the Court will delineate the directions for additional action and the expectations regarding the parties' steps to attempt to resolve these motions without the need for a judicial determination.

         1. Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 223)

         In their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Plaintiffs move the Court to reach four findings: (1) that Defendant has a non-delegable duty with regard to any violations of the Federal Railroad Administration's (“FRA”) Track Safety Standards (“TSS”) regulations because it is the track owner; (2) that Defendant is vicariously liable for the negligence of its subcontractor, Sperry Rail, Inc, for the damages arising from the February 16, 2015 train derailment in Mt. Carbon, West Virginia; (3) that Defendant is jointly and severally liable for those damages; and (4) that the vertical split head (“VSH”) defect that caused the derailment is the type of defect that Defendant would be required to take certain action to address under the regulations. Pls.' Mot. for Partial Summ. J., ECF No. 223, at 1-2.

         Plaintiffs appear to request that the Court make legal rulings which depend upon certain findings of fact. The Court, however, refuses to take that action. The factual issues underlying Plaintiffs' request are disputed, and fit for the jury's consideration. Further, the Court will not make legal findings that are contingent upon a jury's findings of fact. Instead of meandering in the hypothetically necessary application of law at the summary judgment stage, the Court will take up the issues of law upon consideration of the jury instructions. Therefore, the Court denies plaintiffs' motion because the questions presented are premature at this time.

         2. Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of the EPA Administrative Order on Consent (ECF No. 228)

         Defendant moved the Court, in limine, to exclude the use of, or reference to, an Administrative Order on Consent (“EPA Order”) Defendant entered into with the Environmental Protection Agency. Def.'s Mot. to Exclude EPA Order, ECF No. 228, at 1. Defendant argued that the Court should exclude the EPA Order due to its irrelevance and substantial level of probable prejudice against Defendant. See generally Id. Defendant noted that a majority of the EPA Order concerns escaped oil from the derailed train, and the legal ramifications of that spilled oil under the Clean Water Act. See Id. at 2. Additionally, Defendant pointed to the express provisions of the EPA Order that state that nothing in the order shall be construed as an admission of fact. Def.'s Reply, ECF No. 261, at 2. Plaintiffs countered that the Court should allow the use of the EPA Order because it provides an accurate factual recitation of the events, and demonstrates the continuing impact of the derailment on Plaintiffs' community. See generally Pls.' Resp. to Def.'s Mot. to Exclude EPA Order, ECF No. 246.

         The Court agrees with Defendant because the EPA Order would substantially prejudice Defendant in the eyes of the jury, and Plaintiffs can adduce facts regarding the ongoing impact of derailment through competent witnesses.

         Defendant correctly asserts that a consent order with a governmental agency carries inordinate weight in the eyes of the jury, which will likely construe the EPA Order as an admission of wrongdoing. See Def.'s Mot. to Exclude EPA Order, at 3 (citing Dahlgren v. First Nat. Bank of Holdrege, 533 F.3d 681, 699 (8th Cir. 2008)). Additionally, Plaintiffs can achieve their purpose of showing the ongoing nature of the derailment's effects through the testimony of their scheduled witnesses. Comparing the significant threat of prejudice with the rather minimal probative value of the EPA order, the former substantially outweighs the latter. Therefore, the Court grants Defendant's motion.

         However, the Court reserves the right to reconsider and revise this ruling if Defendant opens the door through which the EPA Order may enter. But, the Court will take that issue up at the appropriate time if it presents itself.

         3. Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Plaintiffs' Expert Dr. ...


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