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Frye v. CSX Transporation, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

September 18, 2017

JESSICA FRYE, as Personal Representative of the Estate of SHYAN FRYE, Plaintiff,
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [34]

          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         Shyan Frye, a minor, was struck and killed by a train when traversing a grade crossing in Wayne County, Michigan. Her mother, Jessica Frye ("Frye"), brought suit based on negligence in her capacity as the personal representative of the Estate of Shyan Frye. Defendants are the owners, maintainers, and operators of the railroad crossing and the train that struck Shyan. Defendants removed the case and filed a motion for summary judgment. Because the briefing failed to clearly state the claims in genuine dispute, the Court denied the motion without prejudice and ordered the parties to confer and rebrief. They did so, and their efforts resulted in the present motion for summary judgment. The Court held a hearing and will, for the reasons below, grant the motion in part and deny it in part. The Court will also order the parties to mediate prior to trial.

         BACKGROUND

         West Road runs east-west in Huron Charter Township, Michigan. ECF 34, ¶ 1. It is bisected by Lincoln Secondary, a railroad track running north-south. Id. ¶ 2. The grade crossing where the road and track meet is equipped with signs and signals which, along with the crossing itself, are maintained by Defendant Consolidated Rail Corporation ("Conrail"). Id. ¶¶ 5, 37.

         On April 15, 2011, 13-year-old Shyan Frye was walking her bicycle eastbound on West Road toward the grade crossing. ECF 1-2, ¶ 17. She proceeded into the crossing itself and onto the tracks. There, she was struck and killed by Defendant CSX's Locomotive 8454, which was headed northbound. The train was operated by CSX employees, including Defendant Gallacher, the conductor, and Defendant Fischer, the engineer. ECF 34, ¶¶ 18-19. The entire sequence of events took place in the course of about 40 seconds.

         Other events leading up to the tragedy are undisputed. Fischer began sounding the lead locomotive's horn 19 seconds before impact and he did not apply the breaks until just before impact with the girl. Both Fischer and Gallacher saw Shyan before she was struck. And at the time of the accident, the train was traveling at about 43 miles per hour-seven miles an hour below the speed limit.

         What the parties dispute is the timing and order of the events. Defendants claim that when Shyan was first spotted, she was standing beside the tracks, but had not yet crossed onto them. They claim that she only proceeded onto the tracks just before the train arrived at the crossing. Frye contends that she was on the tracks with her bicycle wheel stuck from the moment the defendants first spotted her-while the train was still a quarter of a mile off. The parties also disagree on the particular sequence of long and short horn blasts.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is proper if 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 fact is material for purposes of summary judgment if its resolution would establish or refute an "essential element[] of a cause of action or defense asserted by the parties[.]" Kendall v. Hoover Co., 751 F.2d 171, 174 (6th Cir. 1984).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Stiles ex rel. D.S. v. Grainger Cty., Tenn., 819 F.3d 834, 848 (6th Cir. 2016). The Court must then determine "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). And although the Court may not make credibility judgments or weigh the evidence, Moran v. Al Basit LLC, 788 F.3d 201, 204 (6th Cir. 2015), a mere "scintilla" of evidence is insufficient to survive summary judgment; "there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff, " Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Abandoned Claims

         In the first round of briefing, the parties disputed whether Defendants' motion for summary judgment was all-encompassing or merely a motion for partial summary judgment that left some claims unaddressed. Frye argued that Defendants failed to address some of the theories of liability asserted in her complaint, while Defendants, in their reply, argued that Frye had abandoned certain claims. Pursuant to the Court's subsequent order, the parties conferred and Defendants' new brief listed five discrete issues of liability. See ECF 34, PgID 875. Frye did not dispute the list, and responded to the arguments raised by Defendants' in their brief.

         "[A] plaintiff is deemed to have abandoned a claim when a plaintiff fails to address it in response to a motion for summary judgment." Brown v. VHS of Mich., Inc., 545 F.App'x 368, 372 (6th Cir. 2013). The abandonment need not be explicit and "such an inference may be fairly drawn from the papers and circumstances viewed as a whole[.]" Jackson v. Fed. Exp., 766 F.3d 189, 196 (2d Cir. 2014). If summary judgment is granted, the Court "must provide an explanation sufficient to allow appellate review. This explanation should, where appropriate, include a finding of abandonment of undefended claims or defenses." Id. at 198.

         In light of the Court's direction to rebrief the motion, Defendants' clear statement concerning the outstanding issues, and Frye's declination to respond, the Court finds that all claims but the following have been abandoned:

a) Negligence (Failure to Slow the Train);
b) Negligence (Failure to Maintain the Grade Crossing);
c) Negligence (Failure to Train Employees Regarding Inspection or Repair of Crossings); and
d) Negligence (Failure to Properly Sound the Horn).

         II. Failure to Slow the Train

         Frye alleges that Defendants were negligent in failing to slow the train upon seeing Shyan in the crossing. Defendants argue that the crew had no duty to slow the train or apply the brakes earlier than they did and were therefore not negligent.

         Under Michigan law, train operators may assume that a seemingly able-bodied person will exercise "reasonable precautions" to observe any oncoming trains and will "seasonably step aside." Bonner v. Grand Trunk W. Ry. Co., 191 Mich. 313, 319 (1916). As such, train operators have no duty to stop "simply because they see ahead of them upon or approaching the track persons who are apparently without disability and of sufficient age to understand the hazards of a railroad track[.]" Wexel v. Grand Rapids & I. Ry. Co., 190 Mich. 469, 477 (1916). Even minors of a sufficient age are presumed to recognize and avoid risk. See Trudell v. Grand Trunk R. Co., 126 Mich. 73, 80-81 (1901) (noting that the train's engineer would be justified in believing a seven-year-old boy would step off the tracks in time to avoid injury); accord Berlin v. Chicago & N.W. Ry. Co., 261 Mich. 479, 482-83 (1933) (concerning a nine-year-old child). Thus, the operator of a train is under no obligation to slow ...


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