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Logsdon v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

June 30, 2017

STEVEN C. LOGSDON, Plaintiff,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          John M. Gerrard United States District Judge.

         The plaintiff, Steven Logsdon, is suing his former employer, BNSF Railway, for alleged violations of the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. § 20101, et seq., and the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. BNSF has moved for summary judgment on both claims. For the reasons explained below, BNSF's motion will be granted in part, and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are not meaningfully disputed. Logsdon began his employment with BNSF as a laborer in 2006. Filing 126 at 1. He worked in that position, and later as a first line supervisor, until his termination on August 27, 2013. Filing 126 at 13. Throughout his employment, Logsdon worked in the railroad's maintenance shop in Alliance, Nebraska, where he assisted in the repair of damaged coal cars.

         Generally speaking, when a damaged coal car enters the Alliance facility, certain precautionary measures must be performed before it reaches a BNSF carman-the employee who is ultimately responsible for repairing the railcar. One such measure is the removal of "residual" coal, which can sometimes stick to the bottom or sides of a railcar due to cold weather or moisture. Filing 126 at 14. Typically, when the removal process is performed inside the facility, a BNSF carman opens the railcar's "dump doors, " causing the coal to fall onto heavy cardboard paper-or "slip paper"-which is placed underneath each opening. Filing 126 at 15. A laborer then bends down, slides the coal-laden slip paper from under the railcar, and shovels the coal into a nearby dumpster. Filing 126 at 15.[1]

         Logsdon alleges that he was injured in September 2012 while removing coal that was dumped inside of the Alliance maintenance facility. Specifically, Logsdon claims that he was pulling slip paper from under a railcar when his back "popped, " causing immediate pain in his shoulders and chest. Filing 127-2 at 2. The slip paper, Logsdon estimates, contained 150 to 200 pounds of coal. Filing 126 at 16.

         Logsdon did not immediately report the incident to management. But approximately 3 months later, on January 16, 2013, he met with his direct supervisor, Andrew Callahan. Filing 126 at 3. According to Logsdon, Callahan provided him with a company injury form, which Logsdon began filling out. But as Logsdon started describing the slip paper incident, Callahan allegedly grabbed the form and threw it away. Filing 126 at 20. According to Logsdon, Callahan explained that he would not allow another "reportable injury, " and instructed Logsdon to start over with a new report.[2]Filing 126 at 20; filing 127-2 at 4. Callahan then allegedly dictated to Logsdon the substance of the report-making sure that the cause of injury was not attributable to a specific workplace event. Rather, Logsdon says, Callahan made him list as the cause of his injury: "Pain Accumulated over a Period of Time." Filing 125-6 at 27; filing 126 at 20. Logsdon claims that he went along with Callahan's alleged demands out of fear of termination, and ultimately submitted a report without any reference to the slip paper incident. Seefiling 125-6 at 27.

         BNSF held a standard hearing on Logsdon's injury report on May 29, 2013. Filing 126 at 4. At the hearing, Logsdon informed the claims administrator that he was injured while pulling slip paper from underneath a railcar. Filing 125-6 at 55. But that explanation conflicted with his earlier description on the incident report-i.e., that the injury stemmed from a condition that had deteriorated over time. Filing 125-6 at 27. So, based on these inconsistencies, BNSF opened a separate investigation into Logsdon's "conduct/dishonesty" in reporting the underlying injury. See filing 126 at 5. As part of this investigation, the railroad held a hearing, in which Logsdon was permitted to testify, call witnesses, and submit evidence on his own behalf. There, Logsdon admitted that his January injury report, to the extent that it omitted the slip paper incident, was inaccurate. But, he argued, such inaccuracies were the result of intimidation that he endured at the hands of his supervisor, Callahan. Filing 126 at 7; filing 125-10 at 7. Logsdon submitted evidence on this point, including a handwritten note that he allegedly wrote (and kept) after the January 16 meeting with Callahan, and an email that he had sent to a union official. See, filing 125-6 at 29; filing 125-6 at 65.

         Callahan also testified at the investigatory hearing. He acknowledged meeting with Logsdon on January 16, but denied Logsdon's description of events. According to Callahan, Logsdon never mentioned the slip paper incident, and he (Callahan) at no point demanded that Logsdon lie or omit information regarding the injury. Filing 125-10 at 9; filing 125-5 at 12.

         The transcript of the investigatory hearing and all accompanying exhibits were sent to BNSF's "PEPA" department for review. Filing 126 at 9. That department is charged with overseeing the railroad's discipline process, and making initial determinations as to whether disciplined employees can and should be terminated. Filing 126 at 9; filing 125-10 at 3. After reviewing the documents in this case, Derek Cargill, the Director of Labor Relations, recommended that Logsdon be dismissed for dishonesty-which is, as both parties acknowledge, a standalone dismissible offense. Filing 124 at 4; filing 126 at 3; filing 126 at 9; filing 125-10 at 5. Cargill later testified that his decision was based on discrepancies in Logsdon's story, and on credibility determinations of the testifying witnesses. See filing 125-10 at 9. Cargill's recommendation was then sent to Brandon Mabry, an Assistant Vice President, who-according to BNSF[3]-made the final decision regarding Logsdon's termination. Filing 126 at 12; filing 125-10 at 6; filing 125-16 at 1-2. Logsdon was informed of this decision, and officially dismissed from BNSF's employ, on August 27, 2013. Filing 126 at 13.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is proper if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. SeeFed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for the motion, and must identify those portions of the record which the movant believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). If the movant does so, the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.

         On a motion for summary judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts. Id. Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the evidence are jury functions, not those of a judge. Id. But the nonmovant must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. In order to show that disputed facts are material, the party opposing summary judgment must cite to the relevant substantive law in identifying facts that might affect the outcome of the suit. Quinn v. St. Louis County, 653 F.3d 745, 751 (8th Cir. 2011). The existence of a mere scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmovant's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could conceivably find for the nonmovant. Barber v. C1 Truck Driver Training, LLC, 656 F.3d 782, 791-92 (8th Cir. 2011). Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Torgerson, 643 F.3d at 1042.

         ANALYSIS

         Logsdon has sued BNSF, alleging violations of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) and the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA). Logsdon generally alleges that BNSF breached its non-delegable duty "to provide Plaintiff with a reasonably safe place to work, " which contributed to his September 2012 workplace injury. Filing 1 at 2-5. He further contends that he was fired for reporting his injury to his supervisor in violation of the FRSA. BNSF has moved for summary judgment on both claims, which the Court will address, in turn, below.

         A. FELA

         Logsdon's FELA claim is premised on his September 2012 injury, in which Logsdon allegedly hurt his back and chest while pulling slip paper from under a railcar. According to Logsdon, that injury was due in whole or in part to BNSF's negligence in failing to provide a reasonably safe work environment. BNSF moves for summary judgment, ...


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