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Ginn v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

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

December 3, 2019

ADONIS GINN, Plaintiff,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., a Virginia Corporation, CRAIG S. HELIGMAN, M.D. an individual, jointly and severally, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. CHAMBERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is a Motion to Stay Litigation Pending Arbitration filed by Defendants CSX Transportation, Inc. (“CSXT”) and Craig S. Heligman, M.D. (“Heligman”). Mot. to Stay, ECF No. 34. The relevant issues have been adequately presented to the Court and are ripe for review. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of Plaintiff Adonis Ginn's August 21, 2017 termination by Defendant CSXT after approximately eleven years of employment. See Resp. in Opp'n, ECF No. 38, at 1-2. At the time of his discharge, Plaintiff worked as a Signal Foreman with CSXT's special maintenance team in Huntington, West Virginia. Compl., ECF No. 1, at ¶ 10. Plaintiff alleges that he had “suffered from a right shoulder condition that caused flare-ups with significant pain radiating to his arm and shoulder blade” for several years prior to his discharge, and that the condition “began to worsen beginning in February 2017.” Id. at ¶¶ 12-13.

         Over the following months, Plaintiff recalls visiting several doctors for various injuries and treatments. Id. at ¶¶ 14-24. On July 6, 2017, Plaintiff treated with Shannon Johnson, a chiropractor, after injuring his back the prior day. Id. at ¶¶ 19, 25. Plaintiff claims he visited Dr. Johnson because his wife “was already a patient of” hers, and her “office was the most convenient chiropractic office location” to his home. Id. at ¶ 26. Dr. Johnson concurred with an earlier medical opinion that his back injury “occurred as a direct result of [his] shoulder condition, ” and that he “would be required to be out of work for approximately two months.” Id. at ¶¶ 27, 29. Plaintiff contacted his supervisor and advised him of his Dr. Johnson's opinion, which she independently communicated to CSXT by filling out a “CSX Medical Department Certification of Ongoing Illness or Injury” form. Id. at ¶¶ 30-31.

         On July 21, 2017, Plaintiff received a letter from CSXT advising him of a formal investigation into his injury. Id. at ¶ 34. The investigation focused on allegations that Plaintiff was “dishonest and attempted to defraud the Company and/or benefits providers when [he], as well as more than 50 other craft employees, submitted potentially fraudulent documentation” from certain medical providers, including Dr. Johnson.[1] Id. The letter also served as a notice of Plaintiff's termination “pending the outcome of the formal investigation.” Id.

         Pursuant to internal grievance procedures mandated by the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”), a series of “on-property” dispute resolution proceedings began on August 1, 2017. Mem. of Law, ECF No. 35, at 3. At that point, CSXT conducted an investigative hearing into Plaintiff's alleged fraud and formally fired Plaintiff soon after. Id. at 4. Through his union, Plaintiff unsuccessfully appealed his termination to CSXT's Director of Labor Relations. Id. After the parties were unable to resolve their dispute in conference, Plaintiff submitted his claim to the National Railroad Adjustment Board (“NRAB”) on September 28, 2018 for arbitration proceedings. Id. While NRAB acknowledged receipt of Plaintiff's notice on November 28, 2018, no arbitration has been scheduled to date. Id. at 4; Resp. in Opp'n, at 5.

         On September 27, 2018-fourteen months ago-Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court, alleging violations of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), the West Virginia Human Rights Act (“WVHRA”), and the Railroad Safety Act (“RSA”). Compl., at ¶¶ 50-98. These statutory claims are distinct from the contractual claims under consideration in Plaintiff's ongoing arbitration. On January 17, 2019, the Court entered a Scheduling Order setting trial for January 14, 2020. Scheduling Order, ECF No. 15. On November 13, 2019-just twenty-six days before the pretrial conference, and well after the close of discovery and the deadline for dispositive motions- Defendants filed the instant motion to stay proceedings in this matter. Mot. to Stay, at 1. Plaintiff timely filed his Response in Opposition two weeks later, arguing that this case should be permitted to proceed to trial as scheduled. Resp. in Opp'n, at 11. The Court considers the parties' arguments below.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “The grant or denial of a request to stay proceedings calls for an exercise of [a] district court's judgment to balance the various factors relevant to the expeditious and comprehensive disposition of the causes of action on the court's docket.” Maryland v. Universal Elections, Inc., 729 F.3d 370, 375 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. Ga. Pac. Corp., 562 F.2d 294, 296 (4th Cir. 1977)). “The party seeking a stay must justify it by clear and convincing circumstances outweighing potential harm to the party against whom it is operative.” Williford v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc., 715 F.2d 124, 127 (4th Cir. 1983). Put somewhat differently, a movant “must make out a clear case of hardship or inequity in being required to go forward, if there is even a fair possibility that the stay for which he prays will work damage to someone else.” Id. (quoting Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 255 (1936)). Ongoing arbitration does not narrow a court's wide discretion in deciding whether a stay is warranted in a given case. See Moses H. Cone Mem. Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 20 n. 23 (1983) (“In some cases . . . it may be advisable to stay litigation . . . pending the outcome of the arbitration. That decision is one left to the district court . . . as a matter of its discretion to control its docket.”). With this discretionary framework in mind, the Court will undertake a review of the instant motion.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants ask the Court to stay this entire action pending conclusion of Plaintiff's ongoing arbitration proceedings before the NRAB. In considering whether to grant such a motion, courts consider “(1) the interests of judicial economy; (2) hardship and equity to the moving party if the action is not stayed; and (3) potential prejudice to the non-moving party.” Tolley v. Monsanto Co., 591 F.Supp.2d 837, 844 (S.D. W.Va. 2008). The Court turns to an analysis of each factor below.

         A. Interests of Judicial Economy

         First, Defendants contend that “principles of . . . efficiency[] and judicial economy favor awaiting the outcome of arbitration.” Mem. of Law, at 9. The Court finds this argument perplexing. This case was initiated over fourteen months ago, and-as Plaintiff notes-“Defendants were aware that [Plaintiff's] union representation was simultaneously proceeding with the collective bargaining agreement['s] . . . grievance procedure” the entire time. Resp. in Opp'n, at 5. While a stay could conceivably have served the interests of efficiency at an earlier point in this litigation, these interests are now far less compelling than they may once have been. Defendants appear to admit as much, arguing that “a court may impose a stay pending arbitration if it will help ensure the ...


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