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Hall v. Soo Line Railroad Co.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 19, 2017

Jonathan Hall, Plaintiff,
Soo Line Railroad Company, d/b/a Canadian Pacific Railway, Defendant.


          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. For the following reasons, the Motion is denied without prejudice.


         Plaintiff Jonathan Hall worked as a conductor at Defendant Canadian Pacific Railway (“CP”)[1] for slightly more than one year. (Compl. (Docket No. 1) ¶¶ 12-13.) On October 3, 2015, Hall injured his back while working. (Id. ¶ 16.) The parties vehemently dispute the injury-both how it occurred and how serious it was. It is undisputed, however, that Hall did not report the injury to his supervisor on that day.

         Hall went to the emergency room the following day, October 4, 2015. (Id. ¶ 18.) He was prescribed pain medication and the physician told him not to take certain of the medicines while working. (Donesky Decl. (Docket No. 11) Tab A (Hall Dep.) at 164-66; see also Fuller Aff. (Docket No. 14) Ex. 10 at 8 (“[The doctor] told me to only use those [pills] on my days off.”).) Hall did not report the injury to CP that day, either, and in fact he continued working. (Compl. ¶ 23.)

         On October 15, Hall went to the emergency room again. (Id. ¶ 25.) The doctor prescribed additional medication and told Hall not to work temporarily. The next day, Hall visited a general practitioner, who gave Hall workers' compensation paperwork. Hall contends that he tried to call his supervisor on October 15 but did not reach him; according to Hall, he slipped the workers compensation paperwork under his supervisor's door on October 16 after his doctor's visit. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.) Hall's supervisor, Chris Danula, did not receive the papers until October 18. (Id. ¶ 30.) Danula called Hall that day; the call was recorded and a transcription is in the record. (Fuller Aff. Ex. 10.) During the call, Hall described the injury and his medical treatment; his description of the injury conflicts with the Complaint's depiction of the injury as very minor.

         CP's rules require its employees to report any injury sustained on the job “immediately.” (Compl. ¶ 37 (quoting CP's Gen. Code of Operating Rules (“GCOR”) 1.2.5).) Because CP did not think that Hall reported his injury immediately after he suffered it, CP scheduled a disciplinary hearing as the parties' Collective Bargaining Agreement required. (Fuller Aff. Ex. 13.) The hearing was held on November 3, 2015; Hall appeared, was represented by his union representative, testified, examined witnesses, and presented evidence. (Fuller Aff. Ex. 17; Donesky Decl. Tab Q.)[2] After the hearing, the hearing officer determined that Hall had violated GCOR 1.2.5. (Donesky Decl. Tab BB.) Another reviewer then examined the hearing officer's conclusions and the record. That reviewer determined that Hall had violated GCOR 1.2.5 and that, in light of Hall's previous disciplinary history and his short employment with CP, the appropriate punishment was dismissal. (Id.) After several other reviewers concurred in the recommendation, CP terminated Hall's employment on November 17, 2015. (Fuller Aff. Ex. 15.)

         Hall appealed his termination to CP, and that appeal was denied. Hall also filed for arbitration under the Railway Labor Act, which remains pending.

         After the disciplinary hearing but before the decision issued, Hall also filed a complaint under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”), 49 U.S.C. § 20109, with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”). (Donesky Decl. Tab JJ.) OSHA investigated, and on August 8, 2016, it dismissed Hall's complaint because it found that the complaint was unsupported by reasonable cause. (Id. Tab KK.) Hall objected to the dismissal and sought a de novo hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), as provided in the regulations. (Id. Tab LL.) The parties then engaged in extensive discovery, including expert discovery and multiple depositions. (See Fuller Aff. Exs. 18-20 (depositions for ALJ proceeding).)

         In May 2017, Hall moved the ALJ for a partial summary decision.[3] At about the same time, CP asked the ALJ to exclude two of Hall's expert witnesses who had been disclosed after the discovery deadline passed. (Donesky Decl. Tab QQ.) On Thursday, June 15, 2017, the ALJ granted CP's motion to exclude the expert witnesses. (Id. Tab RR.) On Friday, June 16, 2017, the ALJ denied Hall's motion for partial summary determination. (Id. Tab SS.) The hearing in front of the ALJ was scheduled for Monday, June 26. But on Monday, June 19, Hall instead filed this federal lawsuit, claiming that CP violated the FRSA by retaliating against him for reporting his work-related injury.

         CP now moves to dismiss. CP first asks that the Court find that Hall has waived his right to file a federal lawsuit by litigating the propriety of his termination before the ALJ. CP also contends that Hall has failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted, or in the alternative that CP is entitled to summary judgment. CP argues that pre-discovery summary judgment is appropriate because the record before the ALJ was ostensibly fully developed.


         A. Waiver

         The FRSA provides that a railroad employee challenging an employment action must pursue administrative remedies through the Department of Labor, which includes OSHA. 49 U.S.C. § 20109(d). Although this remedy is initially exclusive, the ...

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