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Mowers v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

October 25, 2016

SARAH KAE MOWERS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          Hon. Candy W. Dale, United States Magistrate Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         Currently pending before the Court is Defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Dkt. 5.) Defendant argues Plaintiff Sarah Mowers's complaint fails to state a claim because Union Pacific did not owe a duty to Mowers, which in turn negates her sole claim for negligence against Union Pacific.

         All parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge to adjudicate this matter. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Dkt. 10.) The motion has been fully briefed and the Court heard oral argument on July 28, 2016.[1] After review of the record and consideration of the parties' arguments and relevant legal authorities, and as more fully explained below, the Court will grant the motion.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         At approximately 10:30 p.m. on February 25, 2015, Mowers was traveling home from work on her longboard. Mowers came to a railroad crossing where Union Pacific railroad train #LCT47B-25 was at a standstill, blocking both the road and sidewalk. Mowers had never encountered a train at this crossing before. Mowers waited for twenty minutes or more, and cars on the road began to back up and turn around. Mowers walked along the tracks two or three cars down from the crossing to find a place to cross the tracks. She decided to duck underneath the coupling between two train cars. Although she almost completed the maneuver, her right foot did not clear the track before the train jolted forward without warning. The train rolled over the lateral aspect of Mowers's right foot, severing it. The train's movement was not preceded by any warning whistle, bell, or horn.

         Mowers called 911 on her cellphone. Paramedics and police officers arrived at the scene. Two police officers climbed over the coupling between the train cars to find Mowers, and then waved down the engineer to stop the train. Paramedics also climbed over the coupling to attend to Mowers. Mowers was then placed on a backboard, lifted over the train coupling, and loaded into the waiting ambulance. At the hospital, Mowers underwent surgery for lower leg amputation.

         Prior to the accident, the train was at a total standstill. The train was in the process of switching cars in the rail yard, and both the Engineer and railroad staff were unaware of Mowers's presence until police officers waved and alerted them. At no time before, during, or after the accident did the train clear the intersection or the location where Mowers was found.

         Mowers alleges she suffered serious and severe injuries, which included amputation of the lower part of her right leg, limiting her ability to ambulate. She claims damages for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and permanent injury.

         Mowers asserts Union Pacific was negligent. Although she concedes she was trespassing, Mowers claims Union Pacific had a duty to maintain the railroad crossing in a reasonable and safe manner, which included a duty under Idaho Code § 49-1425 not to block an intersection for more than fifteen minutes when vehicular traffic is waiting.[3]Mowers claims the violation of § 49-1425 constitutes intentional, reckless, or willful conduct, giving rise to a duty despite her status as a trespasser. Alternatively, Mowers argues Union Pacific had a duty to warn her of a dangerous condition, relying upon Section 335 of the Restatement (2nd) of Torts.

         Union Pacific argues that, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), Mowers's complaint is subject to dismissal because Mowers, an undiscovered trespasser, was not owed a duty by Union Pacific to prevent her from harm. Additionally, Union Pacific contends Mowers's reliance upon Idaho Code § 49-1425 to impose a duty is misplaced, because the statute is preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act. And finally, under the Restatement, Union Pacific argues no duty to warn arose because Mowers did not allege constant trespass, the danger was easily discoverable, and Union Pacific exercised reasonable care.

         DISCUSSION

         1. Motion to Dismiss Standards

         The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of the claim for relief by addressing whether the complaint states a claim. When the court is testing the sufficiency of the claims for relief, the complaint must be construed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff and its allegations taken as true. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232 (1974). The complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of the claim which would entitle plaintiff to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957). The issue is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail or is likely to prevail, but whether the plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim. Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 240.[4]

         2. Idaho State Law Negligence Claim

         The elements of a negligence action under Idaho law are: “(1) a duty, recognized by law, requiring a defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the resulting injuries; and (4) actual loss or damage.” McDevitt v. Sportsman's Warehouse, Inc., 255 P.3d 1166, 1169 (Idaho 2011).

         The duty owed by a landowner to a person injured on his land depends upon the status of the injured person. Peterson v. Romine, 960 P.2d 1266, 1269 (Idaho 1998). An individual on another's land may fall into one of three categories: an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser. Mowers admits she was a trespasser at the time of her injury, and therefore admits she entered upon Union Pacific's property without permission, invitation, or lawful authority. Peterson, 960 P.2d at 1269. Nonetheless, she argues Union Pacific had a duty not to intentionally or willfully injure her, based upon the standards enumerated under common law, upon the Restatement, or upon a negligence per se theory on the grounds Union Pacific violated Idaho Code § 49-1425. Each will be discussed in turn.

         A. General Duty ...


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