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Wilson v. Consolidated Rail Corporation

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 4, 2013

IN RE PAULSBORO DERAILMENT CASES DONALD WILSON, et al., Plaintiffs.
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants. OWEN HAYNES, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, Plaintiffs,
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants. JOHN STEPHENSON AND TRACY LEE, IN THEIR OWN RIGHT AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHERS, SIMILARLY SITUATED, Plaintiffs
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants. DONALD WILSON, D/B/A DON'S BARBERSHOP Plaintiff,
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

OPINION (Doc. No. 79)

ROBERT B. KUGLER, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on the motion of Consolidated Rail Corporation, Norfolk Southern Railway Company, and CSX Transportation ("Defendants") to dismiss counts I, II, III, and VI of the six-count Second Consolidated Class Action Amended Complaint ("Complaint") in this matter, [1] pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' Motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part.

I. BACKGROUND

On the morning of November 30, 2012, a freight train derailed and plunged into the Mantua Creek in Paulsboro, Gloucester County, New Jersey when the Paulsboro Bridge, a railroad bridge spanning the creek, buckled and collapsed. Compl. at ¶ 13, 27-29. Four tank cars became partially submerged in the creek. Id. at ¶ 28. At least one of the derailed railcars that had been carrying 25, 000 gallons of vinyl chloride released its cargo into the air and water. Id. at ¶ 30. As a result, the Borough of Paulsboro declared a state of emergency and shortly thereafter, persons who live close to the accident site were directed to evacuate or shelter in place. Id. at ¶ 39-40. Ultimately, approximately 600 residents were evacuated from the area over the several days following the derailment due to safety concerns related to the vinyl chloride spill. Id. at ¶ 41. The evacuation lasted for approximately one week. Outside of the evacuation zone, Paulsboro residents were told to remain indoors until a clean-up was completed. Id. at ¶ 42.

Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that Defendants acted negligently and recklessly in their operation of the freight train and maintenance of the bridge. The railroad bridge was designed to swing open when no rail traffic was present in order to allow water travel along the Mantua Creek. Id. at ¶ 15. In order for rail traffic to safely cross after the bridge is opened, the bridge swings back into place and the rails on the bridge lock into place with the rails on either side of the bridge. Id. at ¶ 25. When the rails are not properly positioned for rail travel, a red signal appears to approaching trains. Id . Plaintiffs allege that the train proceeded across the bridge against a red signal and that shortly before the derailment, Defendants had been notified of problems relating to the operation of the bridge, but failed to correct the problems. Id. at 16, 17, 26. Plaintiffs in this case are members of a purported class of individuals and businesses in Gloucester County who incurred expenses and lost income as a result of the evacuation and instructions to remain indoors.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Choice of Law

Because the Court hears this case pursuant to its diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, it must apply state substantive law and federal procedural law. Chaimberlain v. Giampapa , 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000). The choice-of-law rules of the forum state control in this case. Warriner v. Stanton , 475 F.3d 497, 499-500 (3d Cir. 2007). Under New Jersey choice-of-law principles, there is a presumption that the law of the place of injury governs, unless another state has a more significant relationship to the parties and the issues. P.V. ex rel. T.V. v. Camp Jaycee , 197 N.J. 132, 142-43 (2008). Here, the parties point to no state other than New Jersey whose law would potentially apply to this matter; accordingly, we assume, as the parties have, that New Jersey bears the most significant relationship to the issues now before the Court.

B. Motion to Dismiss

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a court to dismiss an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When evaluating a motion to dismiss, "courts accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)). In other words, a complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

To make this determination, a court conducts a three-part analysis. Santiago v. Warminster Twp. , 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010). First, the court must "tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim." Id . (quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 675). Second, the court should identify allegations that, "because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 131 (quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 680). Finally, "where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief." Id . (quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 680). This plausibility determination is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679. A complaint cannot survive where a court can only infer that a claim is merely possible rather than plausible. Id.

III. ...


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