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Lapointe v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

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

November 6, 2017

MARK A. LAPOINTE and BECKY LAPOINTE, Counter-Plaintiffs,
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., Counter-Defendant.

          Mona K. Majzoub United States Magistrate Judge


          Paul D. Borman United States District Judge

         Counter-Plaintiff Mark LaPointe was driving a tractor-trailer truck when he arrived at a two-track perpendicular railroad crossing owned and operated by Counter-Defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. (“CSX”). At least one of the crossing gates was down and a train idled on the nearer track, partially blocking the view of the track next to it. After a few minutes during which the vehicles ahead of LaPointe drove around the gates and across the tracks one by one, LaPointe followed suit. As he crossed the tracks he was hit by an oncoming train that had been obscured from view by the stationary train, and suffered grievous injuries as a result. The accident also caused property damage to CSX. This lawsuit was initiated by CSX suing LaPointe and others to recover for its damages. LaPointe countersued with a negligence claim (along with his wife Becky, who asserts a derivative loss of consortium claim). All other claims except for those asserted by Mark and Becky LaPointe (collectively “Counter-Plaintiffs”) have dropped out of the action.

         CSX now moves to dismiss the action for failure to state a claim. Owing to a significant ambiguity in Counter-Plaintiffs' allegations regarding the activation of the crossing gates, however, the Court will deny CSX's Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Counter-Plaintiffs' Factual Allegations

         On November 24, 2013, Counter-Plaintiff Mark A. LaPointe (“LaPointe”) was driving a tractor-trailer truck eastbound on County Road 151 in Monroe County, Michigan, when he arrived at a multi-track railroad crossing owned and operated by CSX. The railroad tracks were roughly perpendicular to the road. At the crossing, a train was idling on the southbound track (the track closer to LaPointe), and part of the train protruded into the crossing. The protruding part of the train thus obstructed the road's path through the crossing, and the rest of the train blocked any view to the south of the adjacent track. (ECF No. 54, Am. Counter-Compl. ¶ 4.)

         At least one gate of the crossing was down; the parties disagree as to the second gate. There were no flaggers or other railroad personnel at the crossing, and Counter-Plaintiffs allege on information and belief that the train on the southbound track had been idling in the same position for hours. There was no moving train traffic on either track while LaPointe waited at the crossing for over five minutes, during which time several vehicles in front of him traveled successfully through the crossing. (Am. Counter-Compl. ¶ 4.) When LaPointe himself entered the crossing and maneuvered past the idling train, he was unexpectedly struck by a northbound train. (Am. Counter-Compl. ¶ 7.) Counter-Plaintiffs contend that the northbound train either failed to sound its horn as it went through the crossing, or sounded a horn that was drowned out by the sound of the idling southbound train. (Am. Counter-Compl. ¶¶ 9-10.) LaPointe was severely injured as a result of the collision, and his injuries included a traumatic brain injury, injuries to his hip and shoulder that each required surgery, a serious and prolonged infection, and other physical and psychological pain including post-traumatic stress. (Am. Counter-Compl. ¶ 15.) His wife Becky also seeks damages for loss of consortium.

         Counter-Plaintiffs allege that CSX has consistently left its trains idling near and protruding into this crossing with the gates down, and that LaPointe himself “had passed through this crossing on countless occasions previously and knew that the operation of the crossing [gates and signals] was unreliable.” (Am. Counter-Compl. ¶¶ 6, 9.) Counter-Plaintiffs further allege that CSX violated its own safety rules by leaving the southbound train protruding into the crossing such that it obstructed motorists' view of the adjacent track, and by failing to deploy a flagman at the crossing to warn motorists and direct traffic. (Am. Counter-Compl. ¶ 5.)

         B. Procedural History

         This lawsuit was originally filed on May 1, 2015 by CSX against various parties including LaPointe, the owners of the truck he was driving, and an insurance company that had insured the other defendants. (ECF No. 1.) Jurisdiction was predicated on the complete diversity of the parties. (See Id. ¶ 13.) On December 30, 2015, this Court entered an Opinion and Order dismissing some of the claims and defendants, and granting CSX leave to file an amended complaint, which CSX did on January 15, 2017. (ECF Nos. 27, 28.) Two weeks later, Mark and Becky LaPointe (Counter-Plaintiffs here) filed a Counter-Complaint in which they first asserted the claims against CSX that are now the target of CSX's Motion to Dismiss: one count of negligence and one derivative count of loss of consortium. (ECF No. 30.)

         On January 13, 2017, CSX dropped all remaining claims except for one claim against LaPointe (ECF No. 40), leaving only that claim and Counter-Plaintiffs' counter-claims against CSX still in the action. One month later, Counter-Plaintiffs moved for leave to amend their counter-complaint based on information they had obtained since they first filed it. (ECF No. 42.) The proposed changes to their allegations specifically concerned the crossing gates. Counter-Plaintiffs' original counter-complaint alleged that “the crossing gates and warning signals located at the crossing were not activated” at the time of the accident. (ECF No. 30 ¶ 5.) But, Counter-Plaintiffs stated in their motion for leave to amend, further investigation tended to show that the east gate-the gate on the other side of the crossing from where LaPointe approached it-was lowered. (ECF No. 42 at 2-3, Pg ID 372-73.)

         Counter-Plaintiffs' motion for leave to amend was referred to Magistrate Judge Mona K. Majzoub on February 14, 2017. (ECF No. 44.) Shortly thereafter, CSX dropped its last claim against LaPointe (ECF Nos. 50-51), at which point only Counter-Plaintiffs' claims against CSX were left.

         CSX opposed Counter-Plaintiffs' motion for leave to amend on the basis of futility (ECF No. 47), but the Magistrate Judge determined that Counter-Plaintiffs' proposed counter-complaint did not fail to state a claim on its face, and granted their motion for leave to amend (ECF No. 53). Counter-Plaintiffs filed their Amended Counter-Complaint on July 25, 2017 (ECF No. 54. Am. Counter-Compl), and CSX filed the instant Motion to Dismiss eight days later (ECF No. 55, Def.'s Mot.). ...

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