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Soo Line Railroad Co. v. Werner Enters.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 31, 2014

Soo Line Railroad Company, a Minnesota corporation doing business as Canadian Pacific, Plaintiff,
Werner Enterprises, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Timothy R. Thornton, Esq., Jonathan P. Schmidt, Esq., Matthew R. Brodin, Esq. and Briggs & Morgan, PA, Minneapolis, MN, counsel for plaintiff.

David C. Linder, Esq., Anthony J. Novak, Esq., Mark A. Solheim, Esq. and Larson King, LLP, Paul, MN, counsel for defendant.


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David S. Doty, United States District Judge.

This matter is before the court upon the motion for summary judgment by defendant Werner Enterprises (Werner) and the motions to exclude expert testimony by Werner and by plaintiff Soo Line Railroad Company, doing business as Canadian Pacific (Canadian Pacific). Based on a review of the file, record and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court grants in part the motion for summary judgment and denies the motions to exclude expert testimony.


This property-damage dispute arises out of the March 31, 2012, collision between a truck owned by Werner and a train operated by Canadian Pacific. Early that morning, nonparty Dale Buzzell drove a Werner truck north on U.S. Highway 59, near Plummer, Minnesota. Am. Answer ¶ 11. Canadian Pacific railroad tracks cross Highway 59 near Plummer. Nagel Aff. Ex. A, at 0000559. The crossing is marked with stop lines, crossing signals, cross bucks and other signals. Id. Ex. B, at 0000001-0000026.

Approximately 1000 feet prior to the crossing, Highway 59 curves slightly. Novak Aff. Ex. D, ECF No. 94, at 12. The road straightens 535 feet prior to the crossing. Id. at 17. Buzzell approached the crossing as a Canadian Pacific train traveled southeast on the tracks. Nagel Aff. Ex. A, at 0000559. All crossing signals were operational as Buzzell approached. Zerr Aff. ¶ 7. Buzzell's truck collided with the ninth car of the train, a tanker carrying aromatic concentrate. Berzinski Aff. ¶ 6. The collision started a fire that engulfed Buzzell's truck, and Buzzell died at the scene. Nagel Aff. Ex. A, at 0000559-0000560. The collision also punctured the tanker, derailed several cars and caused aromatic concentrate to leak onto the tracks and surrounding ground. Id. at 0000559. Thereafter, Canadian Pacific funded and directed the reclamation efforts. See Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 17-23.

On May 3, 2012, Canadian Pacific filed suit, alleging that Werner is liable for the cleanup costs based on negligence theories. Thereafter, on August 16, 2012, Canadian Pacific amended its complaint to include allegations of nuisance and trespass. On January 28, 2013, the court denied the pre-discovery motion for summary judgment by Canadian Pacific.

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Werner now moves for summary judgment, arguing that undisputed evidence demonstrates that Buzzell was medically incapacitated at the time of the collision. In addition, both Canadian Pacific and Werner move to exclude expert witnesses.


I. Preemption

As a threshold matter, Canadian Pacific argues that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 (FMCSA) precludes the admission of any rebuttal evidence that Buzzell was medically incapacitated when the truck collided with the train. Specifically, Canadian Pacific argues that the FMCSA regulations governing commercial drivers' medical histories, physical fitness and drug use preempt Werner's state-law arguments rooted in the common law doctrine of sudden incapacitation.

" Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, federal legislation may preempt state law." Symens v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 152 F.3d 1050, 1053 (8th Cir. 1998); see also Rivera v. Philip Morris, Inc., 395 F.3d 1142, 1146 (9th Cir. 2005) (" Congress may preempt state common law as well as state statutory law." (citations omitted)). Preemption may be express or implied. Symens, 152 F.3d at 1053. " An intent to preempt may ... be implied, for example, when federal and state laws directly conflict, when state law stands as an obstacle to accomplishing the purposes of federal law, or when federal law is so pervasive that it reflects an intent to occupy a regulatory field." Id. (citation omitted). In fields - such as traffic regulation - which the states have traditionally occupied, courts presume " that the historic police powers of the States were not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress." In re Aurora Dairy Corp. Organic Milk Mktg. & Sales Practices Litig., 621 F.3d 781, 792 (8th Cir. 2010) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

A. Field Preemption

Canadian Pacific does not dispute that there is no express preemption provision in the FMCSA. Rather, Canadian Pacific argues that the FMCSA is so pervasive that it regulates the entire field of commercial motor vehicle safety. In support, Canadian Pacific argues that Congress intended " to occupy the field of driver regulation to the extent of existing [FMCSA] regulations." Visnovec v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 754 F.Supp. 142, 146 (D. Minn. 1990). The common law theory of driver incapacitation, however, is not a part of the field of driver regulation. Indeed, the FMCSA explicitly contemplates the existence of " compatible State regulations, standards, and orders" relating to motor vehicle safety and transportation, demonstrating that it was not intended to entirely displace state law. 49 U.S.C. § 31102(a). As a result, " Congress did not intend to occupy completely the field of safety regulations for the operation on interstate highways of commercial vehicles but ... contemplated the continued application and enforcement of State rules or regulations." Specialized Carriers & Rigging Ass'n v. Virginia, 795 F.2d 1152, 1156 (4th Cir. 1986).

B. Conflict Preemption

Canadian Pacific next argues that the common law sudden incapacitation evidence is barred by conflict preemption. Specifically, Canadian Pacific argues that potentially absolving Buzzell and Werner of liability due to Buzzell's alleged medical incapacitation would conflict with the purpose of the FMCSA: to protect the public from accidents caused by commercial drivers' medical emergencies. For conflict preemption to apply, however, there must

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be " far greater specificity" in the articulated conflict than a generalized notion of public safety. Keller v. City of Fremont, 719 F.3d 931, 944 (8th Cir. 2013). Indeed, it is entirely consistent to encourage compliance with the preventative regulations concerning commercial driving qualifications and nonetheless observe state common law doctrines in the event of an undetectable medical emergency. Given the presumption against ...

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