United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division
C. CHAMBER'S, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
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).
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).
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.
Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No.
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
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.
Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence
of the EPA Administrative Order on Consent (ECF No.
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.
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.
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
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.
Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude
Plaintiffs' Expert Dr. ...