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Wolfe v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

February 22, 2017

SCOTT R. WOLFE, Plaintiff,
v.
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, a Delaware corporation Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN P. WATTERS United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant BNSF's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 131). BNSF argues it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff Scott Wolfe's negligent mismanagement claim regarding the reinstatement process and on Wolfe's punitive damages claim. For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the motion.

         I. Facts [1]

         Wolfe is a longtime employee of BNSF. In December 2008, Wolfe worked in Shelby, Montana, as a track inspector for the first time. Before then, he worked primarily as a foreman and a machine operator at BNSF. BNSF provided Wolfe with a hi-rail truck, which can be driven along the rails, to inspect track.

         On the morning of December 18, 2008, Wolfe requested track authority from the dispatcher, James Trotchie, to go east on a particular stretch of track. Trotchie did not hear whether Wolfe requested east or west. (Doc. 56-10 at 25). Trotchie assumed Wolfe wanted to go west and granted Wolfe's request. (Doc. 56-10 at 25). Trotchie was aware there was a westbound train approaching from the east. (Doc. 56-10 at 29). Wolfe, thinking he had been approved to go east, headed east.

         Wolfe encountered the westbound train head on. Wolfe jumped off the hi-rail truck before it was hit by the train. The truck was damaged, but Wolfe was not physically injured.

         BNSF conducted a formal investigation into the accident, determined Wolfe was at fault, and terminated his employment. Wolfe challenged his termination before the National Railroad Adjustment Board (NRAB). The NRAB reduced Wolfe's termination to a long-term suspension and ordered him reinstated.

         Wolfe filed a complaint in Montana state court under Mont. Code Ann. § 39-2-703, which creates a cause of action against railways for negligent mismanagement. Wolfe's amended complaint alleged BNSF's mismanagement caused the collision which led to his dismissal ("Collision Claim") and that BNSF mismanaged the subsequent investigation ("Investigation Claim"). (Doc. 69). The amended complaint included a claim for punitive damages ("Punitives Claim"). BNSF removed the case to federal court and filed for summary judgment, arguing Wolfe's claims were preempted by the Railway Labor Act. This Court granted summary judgment to BNSF. Wolfe appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Ninth Circuit held the Investigation Claim was preempted but the Collision Claim was not preempted.

         While the case was on appeal, Wolfe underwent a medical exam as part of the reinstatement process. (Doc. 133 at 3). BNSF concluded Wolfe failed the medical exam and refused to reinstate Wolfe. (Doc. 133 at 3-4). On remand from the Ninth Circuit, Wolfe moved to amend the complaint, which this Court granted. (Doc. 101). Wolfe's second amended complaint alleges BSNF mismanaged Wolfe's reinstatement process ("Reinstatement Claim"). (Doc. 102).

         II. Summary judgment standard

         "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         Material facts are those which may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., Ml U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue of fact exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         BNSF argues summary judgment is appropriate on the Reinstatement Claim because, among other reasons, the Reinstatement Claim is time-barred and does not relate back to the original complaint. Wolfe agrees the claim is time-barred, but argues the Reinstatement Claim does relate back. BNSF contends summary judgment is appropriate on the Punitives Claim because ...


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