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Worcester v. Springfield Terminal Railway Co.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 29, 2016

JASON WORCESTER, Plaintiff, Appellee,


          Ryan P. Dumais, with whom Glen L. Porter and Eaton Peabody were on brief, for appellant.

          Marc T. Wietzke, with whom Flynn & Wietzke, P.C. was on brief, for appellee.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Barron, Circuit Judges.

          BARRON, Circuit Judge.

         Defendant, Springfield Terminal Railway Company ("Springfield"), appeals from a jury verdict awarding punitive damages to the plaintiff, Jason Worcester, under the whistleblower provisions of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (the "FRSA"). 49 U.S.C. § 20109. Springfield argues that the District Court gave the jury an incorrect instruction as to the standard for awarding punitive damages. We affirm.


         On October 6, 2011, Springfield reported a leak of hydraulic fluid to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. At that time, the plaintiff, Worcester, was an employee of Springfield. He became involved in a dispute with his supervisor about the safety implications of cleaning up the spill and was eventually fired. He then brought suit against Springfield under the FRSA's whistleblower protection provision, 49 U.S.C. § 20109. Following the trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff $150, 000 in compensatory damages and an additional $250, 000 in punitive damages. This appeal followed.


         We begin with Worcester's challenge to our appellate jurisdiction, which depends on Worcester's contention that Springfield failed to timely file its notice of appeal. Generally, a notice of appeal must be filed "within 30 days after entry of the judgment or order appealed from." Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(A). Here, the notice was filed much later. Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(4)(A) provides, however, that "[i]f a party timely files" a motion for a new trial, "the time to file an appeal runs for all parties from the entry of the order disposing of the last such remaining motion." And the parties agree that Springfield timely filed a motion for a new trial. The question, therefore, is whether that motion tolled the clock for filing the notice of appeal.

         Worcester contends that the clock was not tolled because there was no "order disposing of" that new trial motion. But we do not agree. The judgment in this case was entered on June 27, 2014. On July 24, 2014, Springfield filed a timely Rule 59 motion for a new trial. The plaintiff filed a response, and, on August 18, 2014, the District Court held a telephone conference with both parties regarding the motion for a new trial. On that call, in light of the plaintiff's response, Springfield withdrew its motion for a new trial, at which point the following colloquy occurred:

THE COURT: All right. So I'm going to just take that as a verbal motion to withdraw that motion, and we will just declare it withdrawn, from our perspective, unless you wanted to file something, Mr. Porter. MR. PORTER: No, that's fine, Your Honor. THE COURT: All right. So then -- so that's off the table, then, we don't have to worry about that anymore. And is that the only pending motion in the case, then? All right. MR. WIETZKE: Yes, Your Honor. MR. PORTER: Yes, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Okay. So that's decided as of today, and clocks are running.

Then, that same day, an electronic entry was entered on the docket noting: "ORAL WITHDRAWAL of: . . . MOTION for New Trial by SPRINGFIELD TERMINAL RAILWAY COMPANY."

         The District Court's verbal ruling on the motion to withdraw left no pending motions remaining before the District Court, and -- as the District Court stated -- began the clock running on the time to appeal. Thus, there was an "order disposing of" the motion, and so the clock for filing the notice of appeal was tolled. See De León v. Marcos, 659 F.3d 1276, 1281 (10th Cir. 2011) ("[T]he district court's order acknowledging the withdrawal of De Leon's Rule 59 motion is sufficient for purposes of Rule 4(a)(4)(A)."); United States v. Rodríguez, 892 F.2d 233, 236 (2d Cir. 1989) ("[T]he filing of the motion for reconsideration stayed the running of the time for appeal under [Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure] 4(b), even though the motion was withdrawn."); BraeTransp., Inc. v. Coopers & Lybrand, 790 F.2d 1439, 1442 (9th Cir. 1986) ("[A]n order was issued disposing of the Rule 59 motion. The district judge referred to the motion and declared that it had been withdrawn."); see also Black's Law Dictionary 1270 (10th ed. 2014) ...

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