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District Court Granted Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim where Plaintiff Failed to Satisfy the “Plausibility” Standard
Glenn v. CSX Trans., Inc.
In Glenn v. CSX Trans., Inc., the United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff, a Maryland resident, sued Defendant, a Virginia Corporation, alleging that the Defendant engaged in negligent, willful and wanton, and abnormally dangerous conduct. The court, however, granted Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss upon concluding that Plaintiff failed to meet the plausibility standard.
On February 22, 2012, Plaintiff tried to cross Defendant’s railroad tracks at the six hundred (600) block of West Patapsco Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland. Defendant had an easement to use the property which was often also frequented by pedestrians. In fact, the foot traffic at the property was so often that it caused a footway path to emerge in the dirt and grass leading from the residential area to the tracks.
The Plaintiff had completed cutting lawns on the Patapsco side of the tracks and carried his weed whacker with him. When he approached the tracks, he observed a train, but could see neither the front, nor the rear cart. Instead of walking to the front or rear of the train, Plaintiff attempted to cross the train. He placed his weed whacker on the coupler of a railroad car and started to climb over the car. Although the car had been stationary when the Plaintiff approached, when he attempted to cross, the train, without any warning, began to move causing the Plaintiff to fall off the tracks.
As a result, the train’s wheel ran over the Plaintiff’s right foot, severing his toes, and later resulting in the amputation of his leg. Plaintiff sued Defendant in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, although the case was later removed to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.
Defendant argued that Plaintiff’s Complaint should be dismissed for failing to plead sufficient facts to allow a court to draw a reasonable inference that the Defendant was liable for the harm alleged.
The court began its analysis by reiterating the standard a claim must meet to survive a Motion to Dismiss. The court repeated the findings of two Supreme Court cases, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
First, the court noted that the while it must accept as true all facts alleged in a complaint, it need not accord the same deference to legal conclusions to be drawn from those facts. Secondly, the court underscored that it must dismiss a complaint if it fails to meet the “plausibility” standard or in other words, if it does not allege a “plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The court fleshed out this standard to mean that the court must “draw on its judicial experience and common sense to determine whether the pleader has stated a plausible claim for relief.” Id. at 664.
After establishing the standard against which the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss would be measured, the court evaluated each of the counts of Plaintiff’s complaint, ultimately dismissing each. The court concluded that the Plaintiff’s claim of negligence failed for failing to prove the Defendant owed a duty. The court engaged in a premises liability analysis, wherein it discerned that the Plaintiff was a mere trespasser as he did not have the Defendant’s consent to enter the property and was owed the lowest duty of care. Specifically, Defendant only owed the Plaintiff a duty to refrain from willful or wanton misconduct, of which there was no evidence.
Although the Plaintiff contended that he was an invitee under the doctrine of implied invitation, the court disagreed. Here, the Court turned to Crown Cork & Seal Co. v. Kane, 131 A.2d 470 (Md. 1957), in an effort to explain the theory at issue. The Crown court teased out two factors to which courts must turn in assessing whether the theory applies: (1) the Plaintiff’s use was acquiesced to by the Defendant and (2) that the Plaintiff’s use was in accordance with the intention or design of the Defendant’s property, here, the tracks. The court found that the Plaintiff failed to allege facts sufficient to support such a finding. The Plaintiff crossed the tracks as a shortcut to reach his home, and did not have approval or an invitation from the Defendant to do so. Further, the court noted that the Maryland Court of Appeals rejected the argument that a footpath in close proximity to a railroad track is enough to transform a trespasser into an invitee. See Jackson v. Pennsylvania R.R. Co., 3 A.2d 719 (Md. 1939). The court, thus, dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim of negligence.
Next, the court analyzed whether to dismiss Plaintiff’s claim of willful and wanton conduct. The Plaintiff argued that the Defendant acted in such a manner by failing to have warning signs, a foot bridge, a warning person, cameras, and by allowing long lines of cars to stop. The court, however, disagreed and dismissed the claim after finding that the Plaintiff failed to allege any facts to demonstrate that the Defendant engaged in conduct that was deliberate and likely to lead to injury.
Finally, the court evaluated whether to dismiss the Plaintiff’s claim of abnormally dangerous activity. Here, the Plaintiff argued that the Defendant should be strictly liable because the starting and stopping of railroad cars is an “abnormally dangerous activity.” In response, the Defendant argued that the Plaintiff’s claim should fail for failure to address and satisfy the requisite elements to establish an “abnormally dangerous activity” as set forth by the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 519. The court noted that Maryland courts have adopted the Restatement’s interpretation of “abnormally dangerous activity.” Gallagher v. H.V. Pierhomes, LLC, 957 A.2d 628 (Md. 2008).
The court devoted particular attention to the “appropriateness of the activity” factor as it had been ordained to be the “most crucial factor” by the Court of Appeals of Maryland in Kirby v. Hylton, 443 A.2d 640 (1982). The court noted that the Plaintiff fell short of alleging any facts that there was anything inappropriate about the operation of a railroad close to a residential neighborhood. Although the Plaintiff contended that pedestrians often crossed over the tracks, the court found that did not make the operation of the tracks inappropriate.
Not only did the court find that the Plaintiffs failed to satisfy the most critical factor of the Restatement test, the court also dismissed the claim on policy grounds. The court observed that Maryland courts limited application of the abnormally dangerous activity doctrine and the strict liability that follows to avoid placing a heavy burden on those using the land. See Rosenblatt v. Exxon Co., U.S.A., 642 A.2d 180, 187 (Md. 1994).
The court, therefore, granted Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss as to all three counts of Plaintiff’s complaint.
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