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Page v. Amtrak, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 3, 2016

VALERIE PAGE, as Personal Representative of Sean Page, Plaintiff
v.
AMTRAK, INC., Defendant

DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

D. Brock Hornby United States District Judge

This lawsuit arises out of the tragic death of pedestrian Sean Page when Amtrak’s Downeaster passenger train struck him as he crossed railroad tracks in Biddeford. The incident is captured on a video recording from the front of the locomotive. Although there is some uncertainty as to the exact state of the real estate title at the location where the fatality occurred, [1] I conclude after oral argument on January 19, 2016, and supplemental submissions that, under Maine statutes and the Maine Law Court’s clear and consistent precedents, there is no genuine issue of material fact that affects liability and that Amtrak is entitled to summary judgment on the wrongful death claim of the personal representative of Page’s estate. I therefore Grant Amtrak’s motion for summary judgment.

Summary Judgment Standard

“Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment . . . against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “In such a situation, there can be no genuine issue as to any material fact, since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 322-23. Once the moving party points to the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case, id. at 325, the nonmoving party must respond by making a showing “sufficient to carry [her] burden of proof at trial, ” id. at 327.

Facts

Amtrak operates its passenger trains under an agreement with Pan Am Railways.[2] Def.’s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 2 (ECF No. 34) (“Def.’s SMF”); Pl.’s Reply to Def.’s Statement of Material Facts ¶ 2 (ECF No. 50) (“Pl.’s RSMF”). Amtrak does not own or maintain the area where the accident occurred.[3] Def.’s SMF ¶ 3; Pl.’s RSMF ¶ 3. Ownership of both the tracks and the underlying property at the scene of the accident is in dispute;[4] the plaintiff continues to press its contention that neither Amtrak nor Pan Am Railways has provided sufficient documentation to prove that Pan Am has title to the fee or right of way at the location where the accident occurred.[5]

The video that captured the incident shows that Sean Page was crossing the tracks at an angle with his head down when the Downeaster train struck him. Def.’s SMF ¶¶ 10, 11; Pl.’s RSMF ¶¶ 10, 11. The location is not a designated crossing, [6] Def.’s SMF ¶ 39; Pl.’s RSMF ¶ 39, but there is a dirt and gravel path adjacent to the railroad property, packed down from pedestrian and bicycle traffic, [7] Pl.’s Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 20 (ECF No. 50) (“Pl.’s SAF”); Def.’s Reply to Pl.’s Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 20 (ECF No. 54) (“Def.’s RSAF”). People used this pathway as a shortcut.[8] Pl.’s SAF ¶ 23; Def.’s RSAF ¶ 23. Cutts Street is on one side of the tracks and West Cutts Street is on the other side. Def.’s SMF ¶ 36; Pl.’s RSMF ¶ 36. Page lived with his wife Valerie Page on West Cutts Street; his home was approximately fifty feet from the railroad tracks. Def.’s SMF ¶¶ 35, 37; Pl.’s RSMF ¶¶ 35, 37.

The Biddeford police officer who responded to the fatality testified that, although “[i]t would be a guess, ” the incident occurred “[m]aybe a hundred yards” from the Main Street railroad crossing in Biddeford.[9] Def.’s SMF ¶ 12; Pl.’s RSMF ¶ 12; Scott R. Labrecque Dep. at 20, June 23, 2015 (ECF No. 34-4). As the Downeaster train approached the Main Street crossing, the train engineer first saw Page in the distance beyond the Main Street crossing, walking from the engineer’s left hand side toward the tracks at an angle. Def.’s SMF ¶¶ 9, 10; Pl.’s RSMF ¶¶ 9, 10. As soon as the engineer saw Page, he engaged the train’s whistle and continued to engage it as Page maintained his route toward the tracks with his head down. Def.’s SMF ¶ 10; Pl.’s RSMF ¶ 10. When Page did not respond to the train’s whistle, the engineer made an emergency application of the train’s braking system. Def.’s SMF ¶ 10; Pl.’s RSMF ¶ 10. From the time that the engineer first observed Page to the time the engineer applied the emergency brake, Page walked with his head down, never acknowledged the train, and never changed his gait or the manner in which he walked toward the tracks. Def.’s SMF ¶ 11; Pl.’s RSMF ¶ 11.

Procedural History, Jurisdiction and Applicable Law

The personal representative of Page’s estate on behalf of his surviving children sued the City of Biddeford and Amtrak for wrongful death in Maine Superior Court. The City of Biddeford moved to dismiss the complaint against it arguing immunity under the Maine Tort Claims Act, 14 M.R.S.A. § 8103 (2003 & Supp. 2105), and after the court granted Biddeford’s motion to dismiss, Amtrak removed the case to this court, claiming subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to both diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332 (2012 & Supp. 2015), and federal-question jurisdiction (on account of Amtrak’s status, more than one-half of its capital stock being owned by the United States), id. §§ 1331, 1349. The parties agree that Maine law governs their dispute. See Ricci v. Alternative Energy Inc., 211 F.3d 157, 165 (1st Cir. 2000).[10]

Analysis

The wrongful death claim lies in negligence, and under Maine law “[a] cause of action for negligence has four elements: (1) a duty of care owed to the plaintiff; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) an injury; and (4) causation, that is, a finding that the breach of the duty of care was a cause of the injury.” Bell ex rel. Bell v. Dawson, 2013 ME 108, ¶ 17, 82 A.3d 827, 831-32 (quotation marks omitted). The burden of proof on all of these elements remains with the plaintiff, Irish v. Gimbel, 2000 ME 2, ¶ 8, 743 A.2d 736, 738, even at summary judgment, Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323.

Amtrak’s Duty

The critical issue is what duty, if any, Amtrak owed Page at the time of the fatal injury. “A duty is an obligation, to which the law will give recognition and effect, to conform to a particular manner of conduct toward another.” Budzko v. One City Ctr. Assocs. Ltd. P’ship, 2001 ME 37, ¶ 10, 767 A.2d 310, 313 (quotation marks omitted). “[T]he existence of a duty and the scope of that duty are questions of law.” Alexander v. Mitchell, 2007 ME 108, ¶ 14, 930 A.2d 1016, 1020. Maine law does not impose a “general obligation to protect others ...


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