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Supreme Court of the United States Affirms Summary Judgment Granted to Railroad in Illinois

On Behalf of | May 11, 2022 | Firm News

In Ledure v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., the Supreme Court of the United States recently affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant railroad company that was sued for negligence for alleged violations of the Locomotive Inspection Act (“LIA”) and Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”). Summary Judgment was originally awarded by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois and prior to the Supreme Court of the United States, the ruling was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

While the Supreme Court’s per curiam decision sets no precedent as the judgment was affirmed by a 4/4 split (Justice Barrett did not take part in the consideration of the case), the Illinois District Court’s ruling was upheld and the opinion of the Appellate Court addresses pertinent issues for railroad cases. Specifically, the focus of Ledure was whether the subject locomotive was “in use” at the time of the plaintiff’s injury, a requirement for the LIA to apply, and whether the plaintiff’s injury was reasonably foreseeable under the FELA.

On the date of injury, the plaintiff’s job was to assemble a train for a trip and the first step was to determine how many locomotives were necessary. There were three locomotives coupled together on a sidetrack and the plaintiff was to tag each one to indicate whether or not they would operate. After deciding that only one locomotive would be powered on, the plaintiff tagged the first locomotive for operation, the second for non-operation, and proceeded to the third locomotive to shut it down and tag it accordingly. As he was on the third locomotive, the plaintiff claimed that he was injured when he slipped on a slick spot located on the exterior walkway causing him to fall down the locomotive’s steps. Following the incident, the defendant railroad conducted an inspection and reported cleaning a “small amount of oil” on the walkway. At his deposition, the plaintiff testified that the slick spot was small, isolated, and without explanation.

In granting summary judgment for the defendant railroad, regarding the alleged LIA violation, the district court reasoned that the subject locomotive was stationary, on a sidetrack, and part of a train needing to be assembled before it could be used. Thus, it was determined that the locomotive was not “in use” and that the LIA and its regulations were inapplicable.

As for the alleged FELA violation, the plaintiff argued that the defendant railroad was liable due to a failure to inspect the locomotive and clean up the slick spot beforehand or alternatively, a failure to maintain the walkway free of hazards. However, the District Court held that the plaintiff failed to provide evidence sufficient to prove his injuries were reasonably foreseeable because he did not claim that the railroad had notice of the slick spot or any hazardous condition that could have leaked the oil and there was no evidence that an earlier inspection would have cured the hazard. Therefore, the District Court also held that because the plaintiff’s injury was not reasonably foreseeable under the FELA, the railroad breached no duty of care. In affirming the grant of summary judgment, the Appellate Court agreed with the District Court’s analysis and findings.

Ledure v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 962 F.3d 907 (7th Cir. 2020) and Ledure v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 2022 U.S. LEXIS 2229; 2022 WL 1243660.