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Perkins v. Kaimichi Railroad Co., LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

December 18, 2017

RONALD C. PERKINS, JR. PLAINTIFF
v.
KIAMICHI RAILROAD COMPANY, LLC, and JOHN DOES 1-5 DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant Kiamichi Railroad Company's (“Kiamichi”) Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 24. Plaintiff has filed a response. ECF No. 31. Defendant Kiamichi has filed a reply. ECF No. 35. The Court finds this matter ripe for consideration.

         BACKGROUND

         This case concerns the death of Plaintiff's wife, Velma Marie Perkins (the “Decedent”). Plaintiff sues personally and on behalf of the Decedent's estate. ECF No. 3. The Decedent sustained injuries and damages while an employee of Domtar, Inc., (“Domtar”) as the result of an industrial accident on September 15, 2015. ECF No. 3, ¶ 5. At the time of the accident, the Decedent was riding on a railcar provided to Domtar by Defendant Kiamichi. The railcar was moving through a maintenance building on the Domtar premises when the top of the railcar collided with the top of the building's entryway because the railcar was too tall to enter the building. The Decedent was knocked off the railcar and killed.

         The railcar involved was a “high capacity” railcar, and the words “EXCESS HEIGHT CAR” were stenciled on each end. ECF No. 28, ¶ 11; ECF No. 32. The railcar's dimensions were stenciled on each side. ECF No. 28, ¶ 12; ECF No. 32. It is undisputed that “[t]here is no evidence that before this incident, car height was ever an issue at the mill or that Domtar ever discussed car- height and vertical-clearance requirements with Kiamichi, ” ECF No. 28, ¶ 17; ECF No. 32, and the Domtar employee who ordered railcars on Domtar's behalf was not aware of any railcar height restrictions, ECF No. 28, ¶ 20; ECF No. 32. It is also undisputed that “[o]f the six Domtar employees deposed in this case, including the safety manager and those involved in ordering and switching cars, none of them knew the maintenance building's height before the accident.” ECF No. 28, ¶ 18; ECF No. 32. Likewise, Plaintiff concedes that “[a]t the time of the accident, Domtar did not have signs posted telling the height at the entrance to the [] maintenance building.” ECF No. 28, ¶ 24; ECF No. 32. It is undisputed that Domtar owns the yard where the railcar was stored and that Kiamichi employees would need Domtar's permission to be in the yard. ECF No. 28, ¶¶ 3, 4; ECF No. 32.

         At the time of the incident, Domtar and Defendant Kiamichi were parties to a “Switching Allowance Contract” (the “Contract”). ECF No. 26-1; ECF No. 28, ¶ 2; ECF No. 32. Pursuant to the Contract, once Defendant Kiamichi delivered railcars to the yard at the Domtar facilities, Domtar employees would move the railcars within the Domtar premises for loading purposes and then return them to the yard for transport. ECF No. 32, p. 2; ECF No. 26-1 (“WHEREAS, Domtar performs its own switching services in and about the Facility and Domtar and [Kiamichi] have agreed upon the basis upon which Domtar shall provide its own switching services . . . Domtar agrees to perform its own switching services in and about the Facility[.]”). Under the Contract, Kiamichi paid Domtar $40.00 per loaded car for performing its own switching services. ECF No. 26-1. The Contract further provided that “Domtar assumes all responsibility for the performance of its own switching and spotting services in, on and about Domtar's facility.” ECF No. 26-1.

         Plaintiff seeks relief under theories of strict products liability and negligence. ECF No. 3. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney's fees and costs, and post-judgment interest. ECF No. 3.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that when a party moves for summary judgment “[t]he 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). The Supreme Court has issued the following guidelines for trial courts to determine whether this standard has been satisfied:

The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is a need for trial-whether, in other words, there are genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); see also Agristor Leasing v. Farrow, 826 F.2d 732 (8th Cir. 1987); Niagara of Wis. Paper Corp. v. Paper Indus. Union-Mgmt. Pension Fund, 800 F.2d 742, 746 (8th Cir. 1986). A fact is material only when its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. Id. at 252.

         The Court must view the evidence and the inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Enterprise Bank v. Magna Bank, 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. The nonmoving party must then demonstrate the existence of specific facts in the record that create a genuine issue for trial. Krenik v. Cnty. of Le Sueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995). A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsuhita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). “A case founded on speculation or suspicion is insufficient to survive a motion for summary judgment.” Nat'l. Bank of Commerce of El Dorado, Arkansas v. Dow Chem. Co., 165 F.3d 602, 610 (8th Cir. 1999). The non-moving party “must come forward with sufficient evidence to support their claims and cannot stand on their complaint and unfounded speculation.” Id. (internal citations omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         As noted above, Plaintiff seeks relief under theories of strict products liability and negligence. The Court will address each theory in turn.

         I. Strict Products Liability

         Defendant Kiamichi argues that Plaintiff's strict liability claims fail because the railcar in question was not defective or unreasonably dangerous.

         The Arkansas Code provides that:

A supplier of a product is subject to liability in damages for harm to a person or to property if: (1) The supplier is engaged in the business of manufacturing, assembling, selling, leasing, or otherwise distributing the product; (2) The product was supplied by him or her in a defective condition that rendered it unreasonably dangerous; and (3) ...

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