United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM CLARIFYING THE COURT'S ORDER ON
DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
LYNN WINMILL U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
March 2018, the Court entered an order denying Defendant BNSF
Railway Company's motion for summary judgment.
See Dkt. 126. In that order, the Court reserved
ruling on whether Idaho Code § 62-306 applies to this
case, anticipating a fuller factual record. Additionally, the
Court indicated there was a possibility it would instruct the
jury on premises liability law, but it also stated that other
duties may apply, including the heightened duty of
“special care and watchfulness.”
the benefit of additional briefing from the parties, and to
help the parties sharpen their focus in preparing for trial,
the Court will now clarify these issues, which relate to the
duty element of plaintiff's negligence claim. As will be
explained further below: (1) Idaho Code § 62-306 applies
to this case; (2) the duty of special care and watchfulness
also applies; and (3) there is no need to instruct the jury
regarding duties arising under premises liability law.
case involves a bicycle wreck at a railroad crossing on
Schweitzer Mountain Road, just outside Sandpoint, Idaho.
Plaintiff Robert Sherwood alleges that as he was riding over
the crossing, his front tire lodged in a narrow gap between
two cement panels, which caused him to be thrown over his
handlebars and onto the pavement. Defendant contends Sherwood
over-braked, which caused him to be thrown over his
handlebars. Either way, Sherwood's injuries are
extensive. He is suing BNSF for negligence.
is scheduled to begin on March 4, 2019. The parties have
submitted competing jury instructions regarding the duty
element of Sherwood's negligence claim. The four elements
of negligence are: (1) duty; (2) breach; (3) causation; and
(4) damages. The existence of a duty is generally a question
of law, although it may be a question of fact if there are
factual disputes. See Forbush v. Sagecrest Multi Family
Prop. Owners' Ass'n, Inc., 396 P.3d 1199, 1205
(Idaho 2017); see Gagnon v. W. Bldg. Maint., Inc.,
306 P.3d 197, 200 (Idaho 2013).
asks the Court to instruct the jury that BNSF owed him two
duties: (1) a statutory duty to maintain the railroad
crossing in a smooth and firm condition; and (2) a special
duty of special care and watchfulness. BNSF, on the other
hand, contends that as a landowner, its only duty was to warn
Sherwood of known hazards.
The Duty Arising Under Idaho Code § 62-306.
the statutory duty, Idaho Code § 62-306 requires
railroad companies to maintain crossings “at all times
in a smooth and firm condition.” Idaho Code §
62-306.On summary judgment, BNSF argued that the
railroad crossing at issue is not covered by the statute
because it only applies to “state or county highways,
” and Schweitzer Mountain Road is not a “state or
county highway.” In denying BNSF's motion, Judge
Lodge discussed this issue extensively, stating
that the statute was “ambiguous as applied in this
case, ” Dkt. 126, at 7, and that there was a factual
dispute as to whether the statute applied to the crossing at
issue. Id. Judge Lodge ultimately refrained from
deciding the issue, explaining that “the Court does not
have sufficient record or argument to interpret the statute
as applied to the Crossing at issue and simply finds that
Defendants have failed to meet their burden of persuasion on
summary judgment.” Id. at 12.
pretrial conference on February 19, 2019, the Court raised
this issue, asking the parties whether they intended to
present evidence at trial that would bear on the resolution
of this issue. Neither party indicated an intention to submit
further evidence regarding § 62-306, and defense counsel
expressly stated that BNSF believed application of §
62-306 is a legal question to be decided by the Court.
Accordingly, the Court will decide the issue on the current
having reviewed the parties' summary-judgment briefing
and trial submissions, the Court concludes that Schweitzer
Mountain Road is encompassed within the meaning of the
statutory term “state or county highway.”
See Idaho Code § 62-306. Judge Lodge discussed
this particular issue extensively in his March 2018 order,
where he carefully explained why plaintiff's reading of
the statute was reasonable. See Dkt. 126, at 7-11.
The Court agrees with that logic and will not restate it
here, other than to clarify that: (1) the Court finds
plaintiff's reading of the statute superior to
defendant's; and (2) the Court concludes that the statute
applies in this case.
trial briefing, BNSF raised a new argument as to why the
statute should not apply. See BNSF Reply in Support of
Trial Br., Dkt. 203, at 8-9. BNSF now argues that the
statute fails to clearly define the required standard of