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Staley v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

February 27, 2015

SAMUEL STALEY, Plaintiff,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, a Delaware corporation and LYNN LUDWIG, Defendants.

OPINION and ORDER

SUSAN P. WATTERS, District Judge.

Plaintiff Samuel Staley ("Staley") initially filed this action in a Montana state court. Defendants BNSF Railway Company ("BNSF") and Lynn Ludwig ("Ludwig") (collectively the "Defendants") removed the case to this Court on both diversity and federal question grounds. Although Staley and Ludwig are both Montana citizens, Ludwig contends that she was fraudulently joined and should not be considered for diversity purposes. The Defendants also argue that Staley's claims are completely pre-empted by federal law, even though Staley only alleges Montana common law negligence in his Complaint. Staley filed a Motion for Remand. BNSF has also filed a Motion for Protective Order Staying Discovery. For reasons discussed below, the Court grants Staley's motion and remands this case back to state court. Because this action is remanded to state court, the Motion for Protective Order is moot.

I. Background

A. The accident

The following facts are taken from Staley's Complaint and are assumed true. BNSF operates a railroad line that generally runs east/west through the town of Hysham, Montana. In Hysham, the line consists of two tracks: one mainline track and a parallel siding track. There are only two crossings that allow motorists to cross the railroad line in Hysham. The west side crossing ("West Crossing") is protected and guarded by automatic warning gates and lights. About one-quarter mile to the east is the other crossing ("East Crossing"). The East Crossing is only equipped with crossbuck signs.

In September 2012, BNSF designated Ludwig as the "point of contact" for any issues that arose in Hysham. Soon after her appointment, Hysham town officials began complaining to Ludwig that BNSF trains routinely were standing unoccupied on the siding track for extended periods of time and blocking the West Crossing. When a train blocked the West Crossing, motorists were forced to use the East Crossing. Not only was the East Crossing unprotected, but the parked trains blocked southbound motorists' view of any approaching eastbound trains using the mainline. Despite these concerns, Ludwig and BNSF ignored the Hysham officials and continued to block the West Crossing.

On October 13, 2013, Staley was driving a beet truck south through Hysham. A BNSF train was standing unoccupied on the siding track in a manner that completely blocked the West Crossing, forcing Staley to use the East Crossing. As he approached the East Crossing, the parked train blocked Staley's view of the mainline. When Staley began crossing the track, a previously unseen eastbound train collided with his truck. Staley suffered severe injuries.

B. Procedural history

On September 15, 2014, Staley sued BNSF and Ludwig in the Montana Sixteenth Judicial District, Treasure County. In his Complaint, Staley alleges that he is a Montana citizen, Ludwig is also a Montana citizen, and that BNSF is a foreign corporation. Staley also claims that BNSF and Ludwig's negligence caused his injuries. Specifically, Staley contends that the Defendants breached their standard of care by: (1) Repeatedly blocking the West Crossing and forcing motorists to use the East Crossing; (2) Obstructing the view of oncoming eastbound trains for southbound motorists at the East Crossing; (3) Arrogantly ignoring the complaints about the unsafe practices at the crossings in Hysham; (4) Failing to properly sound an audible warning at the East Crossing in violation of Montana and federal law; (5) Failing to operate the train at a safe speed when approaching the East Crossing, which "constituted a unique, specific, and individual hazard;" (6) Failing to keep a proper lookout for vehicles approaching the East Crossing; (7) Failing to install proper warning signs and signalization at the East Crossing; and (8) The catch-all "otherwise failing to use due care under the circumstances."

The Defendants removed the case to this Court on October 13, 2014. In their Notice of Removal, the Defendants claim that complete diversity exists among the parties. The Defendants acknowledge that both Staley and Ludwig are Montana citizens. However, the Defendants contend that Staley fraudulently joined Ludwig to avoid federal jurisdiction. In addition, BNSF claims that federal jurisdiction exists as Staley's negligence claims are completely pre-empted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 ("ICCTA").

Staley moved to remand the case back to state court. Staley argues that he pied sufficient facts to state a cause of action against Ludwig. If true, then Staley did not fraudulently join Ludwig and diversity jurisdiction does not exist. Staley also argues that his claims are not completely pre-empted by the ICCTA. He contends that even if successful, his negligence claims will not unreasonably burden BNSF's operations.

C. Supplemental Evidence

In support of their respective arguments, both Staley and the Defendants have attached additional evidence to their briefs. See Morris v. Princess Cruises, Inc., 236 F.3d 1061, 1068 (9th Cir. 2001) ("[F]raudulentjoinder claims may be resolved by piercing the pleadings' and considering summary judgment-type evidence such as affidavits and deposition testimony") (citation omitted).

Staley provides emails involving a Hysham town official and BNSF employees. Prior to September 2012, Josh Capps served as the Supervisor of Engineering Support and communicated with Hysham town official C. Robert Keele, Jr. In an email to Capps, Keele raised the issue of rail traffic blocking the West Crossing. Keele noted that, "One of [his] council members did speak with the train master in Forsyth, and in response one train has been broken to allow crossing at this ...


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