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Williamson v. Consolidated Rail Corp.

filed: February 28, 1991.

ROBERT L. WILLIAMSON; LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, INTERVENOR
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION V. NASHVILLE AND ASHLAND CITY RAILROAD COMPANY; STAR TRAILER SERVICES, INC.; AND MILLER TRAILERS, INC. ROBERT L. WILLIAMSON, APPELLANT



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania; D.C. Civil Action No. 88-01641.

Greenberg, Hutchinson and Nygaard, Circuit Judges. Nygaard, Circuit Judge, dissenting.

Author: Hutchinson

Opinion OF THE COURT

HUTCHINSON, Circuit Judge

I.

Robert Williamson (Williamson) appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granting appellee Consolidated Rail Corporation's (ConRail's) motion for judgment n.o.v. on a claim brought by Williamson for damages pursuant to the Federal Employers' Liability Act (the Act), 45 U.S.C.A. §§ 51-60 (West 1986). Williamson, who was on the payroll of a ConRail subsidiary, Pennsylvania Truck Lines (Penn Trucks), claimed he was nevertheless an "employee" of ConRail within the meaning of the Act, when he suffered serious personal injuries operating a forklift at one of ConRail's freight terminals, the Lucknow Railway Yard (the Terminal). In a bifurcated trial, the district court first asked the jury to decide whether Williamson was a ConRail employee for the purposes of the Act and then requested it to determine liability and fix damages. After the jury decided that Williamson was a ConRail employee, it awarded him $607,500.00*fn1 for the personal injuries he suffered at the Terminal. After return of the verdict, ConRail moved for judgment n.o.v. or, in the alternative, a new trial. In its motion, ConRail attacked the jury's finding that Williamson was employed by it when he was injured. The district court held that no reasonable jury could have found that Williamson was employed by ConRail when he was injured, granted ConRail's motion for judgment n.o.v. and dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Act. In accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(c)(1), the district court also granted ConRail a conditional new trial, holding that even if the evidence was sufficient to show that Williamson was a ConRail employee when injured, the jury's verdict on causation and damages was against the weight of the evidence. Williamson appealed.

We conclude that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's finding that Williamson was ConRail's employee at the time of his injury. We also conclude that the jury's finding that Williamson suffered damages totaling $607,500.00 as a result of the injuries he sustained October 23, 1986, did not result in a miscarriage of justice. Accordingly, we will reverse the district court's order entering judgment n.o.v. for ConRail, vacate its order conditionally granting a new trial and remand the case with instructions to reinstate the jury verdict in Williamson's favor.

II.

The facts are these. Williamson had been a Penn Trucks employee since 1978. He received his paycheck from Penn Trucks and took his orders from its employees. In 1983 he suffered injuries in an accident. After this injury, Williamson worked sporadically until September 1986, when he returned to work full time. On October 23, 1986, when he sustained the injuries that formed the basis of this suit, he was on the payroll of Penn Trucks. There was conflicting evidence on the extent to which he was still suffering from the effects of the 1983 accident when reinjured and the extent to which the 1983 injuries contributed to the disability he suffered after the October 23 accident.

Penn Trucks is a wholly owned subsidiary of ConRail, and has a contract with ConRail to handle the loading and unloading at the Terminal, including the transfer of lading from damaged to undamaged trailers. Williamson's normal duties for Penn Trucks involved operating various types of heavy equipment to move trailers and load and unload sealed trailers from train cars at the Terminal, an intermodal yard. An intermodal yard is a rail terminal where cargo is transferred from rail cars to trucks, usually in the same large containers. See generally Transportation Research Bd., Nat'l Research Council, Urban Public Transp. Glossary 30, 64-65 (B. Gray ed. 1989) (discussing intermodal facilities).

As operations were normally conducted at the Lucknow terminal, ConRail clerks working there simply supplied Williamson with a list of trailers to load onto train cars. His Penn Trucks supervisor would then give him a list of train cars to unload. The ConRail clerks did not give him any further directions, with the exception of an occasional suggestion concerning the order in which they would like the work done. On October 23, 1986, things were done somewhat differently. On that day, Williamson was called upon to transfer cargo from a damaged trailer to another, presumably undamaged. It was ConRail's responsibility to inspect the trailers for damage and to choose which trailer would receive cargo from a damaged trailer. In this case, ConRail had dispatched a damage inspector from outside the Lucknow yard to deal with the cargo Williamson was called upon to transfer.

To effect the transfer of cargo between the damaged and undamaged trailers, Williamson aligned the two trailers on opposite sides of a flatbed trailer (flatbed). When this was done, a forklift was lifted onto the flatbed and Williamson used it to pick up cargo from the damaged trailer and deposit it into the undamaged one. This required him to drive the forklift back and forth across the flatbed from one trailer to the other until all the cargo was transferred.

While Williamson was transferring the cargo, ConRail's damage inspector stood on the flatbed and checked the condition of the goods as Williamson removed them from the damaged trailer and loaded them into the undamaged one. At trial, Williamson testified that he considered himself under the control and direction of this inspector.

The record shows that no one from Penn Trucks acted as an intermediary between the ConRail inspector and Williamson nor did Penn Trucks have to approve orders given by the inspector regarding the cargo transfer. The damage inspector told Williamson when to stop the cargo transfer, when to resume it and how to place the cargo in the replacement trailer.

In shuttling the cargo from the damaged trailer to the undamaged trailer, Williamson had to operate his forklift inside each trailer. When the transfer of cargo was almost finished, the new trailer collapsed while Williamson was inside it. Both he and the forklift were thrown against a load of cargo and Williamson was injured. A subsequent investigation cleared Williamson of any fault for the accident.

III.

We have appellate jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 1291 (West Supp. 1990) over the district court's final order dismissing Williamson's claim under the Act for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The finality of that order is not affected by the district court's conditional grant of a new trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(c)(1). The propriety of the district court's order granting a conditional new trial is also subject to review in Williamson's appeal since it is combined with the granting of ConRail's motion for judgment n.o.v. See Silverii v. Kramer, 314 F.2d 407, 413 (3d Cir. 1963). See generally 9 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2540 at 618 (1971) (discussing appellate review of orders granting and denying motions for judgment n.o.v. and motions for a new trial).

Our review of the district court's order granting ConRail's motion for judgment n.o.v. is plenary. See EEOC v. Delaware Dep't of Health & Social Servs., 865 F.2d 1408, 1413 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Aloe Coal Co. v. Clark Equip. Co., 816 F.2d 110, 113 (3d Cir), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 853, 108 S. Ct. 156, 98 L. Ed. 2d 111 (1987)). The question of whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction under the Act as a matter of jurisdiction is a legal question subject to plenary review, see Connors v. Bethlehem Mines Corp., 862 F.2d 461, 463 (3d Cir. 1988), but determination of the legal issue depends on resolution of the underlying factual question concerning Williamson's status as an employee of ConRail at the time of the accident.

More specifically, we examine the record to determine whether the evidence presented was sufficient to permit the jury to find that Williamson was ConRail's employee when he was injured. See Baker v. Texas & Pac. Ry. Co., 359 U.S. 227, 228, 3 L. Ed. 2d 756, 79 S. Ct. 664 (1959) (per curiam) (whether a person is a railroad employee for purposes of the Act is a factual matter that must be left to the jury whenever reasonable minds can come to different conclusions on the issue of who was the employer). When reviewing the jury's finding that Williamson was employed by ConRail, we give him, as verdict winner, the benefit of all logical inferences that could be drawn from the evidence presented, resolve all conflicts in the evidence in his favor and, in general, view the record in the light most favorable to him. See Simone v. Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino, 844 F.2d 1031, 1034 (3d Cir. 1988).

We review the district court's order granting ConRail a conditional new trial for abuse of discretion. See Roebuck v. Drexel Univ., 852 F.2d 715, 735 (3d Cir. 1988). That discretion is, however, limited by the Seventh Amendment's guarantee of a jury trial. The constitutional guarantee has particular force when a new trial is granted because the district court, as here, has determined that the jury's verdict was against the weight of the evidence. Id. at 735 n.35 (citing Lind v. Schenley Indus., Inc. 278 F.2d 79, 90 (3d Cir.) (in banc), cert. denied, 364 U.S. 835, 81 S. Ct. 58, 5 L. Ed. 2d 60 (1960)). In such a situation, we examine the record to see if the district court could have ...


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