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In re Paulsboro Derailment Cases

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 9, 2013

IN RE PAULSBORO DERAILMENT CASES MARLO JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, et al. Defendants. DOUGLAS A. DANIELS, Plaintiff,
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, et al. Defendants. RAYMOND KENNEDY, Plaintiff,
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, et al. Defendants. LEN CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, et al. Defendants. BRYAN EVERINGHAM, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, et al. Defendants. Civil Nos. 13-4569 (RBK/KMW), 13-4709 (RBK/KMW), 13-4322 (RBK/KMW), 13-3935 (RBK/KMW), 13-3350 (RBK/KMW)

OPINION (Doc Nos. 89, 108, 137, 145, 149). (Doc No. 9). (Doc No. 6). (Doc No. 8). (Doc No. 8). (Doc No. 9).

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 the complaints of Marlo Johnson, Douglas A. Daniels, Raymond Kennedy, Len Clark, and Bryan Everingham ("Plaintiffs")[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 in part is GRANTED in part, DENIED in part.

I. BACKGROUND

On the morning of November 30, 2012, a freight train derailed and plunged into the Mantua Creek in Paulsboro, New Jersey when the Paulsboro Bridge, [2] a railroad bridge spanning the creek, buckled and collapsed. Compl. at ¶ 9-23, Johnson v. Consol. Rail Corp., Civ. No. 13-4569. Six cars derailed and four became partially submerged in the creek. One of the derailed railcars released its cargo of vinyl chloride into the air and water. Id. at ¶ 19. As a result, the Borough of Paulsboro declared a state of emergency and a number of emergency response personnel were called to the scene.

Plaintiffs in these cases are members of law enforcement departments and other state and local government bodies who responded to the scene of the spill as part of their official duties. They allege that Defendants acted negligently and recklessly in their operation of the freight train and maintenance of the bridge. The bridge, which is designed as a "swing bridge, " can be positioned to allow either water or rail traffic. Id. at ¶ 17. In order to permit rail traffic, the bridge must align and lock with the adjacent rails, which results in a green signal for approaching trains. Id. at ¶ 18. When the bridge is not aligned and locked, a red signal appears. 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 deficient conditions relating to the operation of the bridge, but failed to correct the problems. Plaintiffs allege that they were each physically harmed as a result of the derailment and spill. Id. at ¶ 23, 27.

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. DISCUSSION

A. Negligence ...


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