United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
T. TREADWELL, JUDGE.
Philip O'Neal and Defendant Norfolk Southern Railroad
Company have both moved for partial summary judgment. Docs.
15; 17. The motions are DENIED. In addition,
O'Neal has moved to strike the opinions of Norfolk
Southern's expert witness. Doc. 13. That motion is
GRANTED in part and DENIED in
January 30, 2016, O'Neal, while employed by Norfolk
Southern, attempted to sit in a chair that then fell apart in
the computer room of Norfolk Southern's Valdosta, Georgia
train depot. Docs. 13-4 at 44:4-5; 17-4 ¶¶ 6-7. It
is undisputed that the chair was defective and came apart
when O'Neal sat on it, although the parties present
conflicting characterizations of that event. Doc. 17-4
¶¶ 6-7. O'Neal alleges he fell to the ground
and that a co-worker, Michael Smith, saw O'Neal's
hand fly up in the air as Smith walked into the computer
room. Doc. 17-4 ¶¶ 9-19. Norfolk Southern disputes
this version of events, claiming that O'Neal did not fall
in the way he claims and, accordingly, that Smith witnessed
no such thing. Id.
the chair fell apart, Smith called Trainmaster Rodrea Booze
to report the incident, and, during that phone call, both
Smith and O'Neal spoke to Booze. Docs. 17-4 ¶¶
18-20; 24-1 ¶¶ 11, 13-15. Booze then travelled to
Valdosta from Macon, Georgia. Doc. 17-4 ¶ 21. In
Valdosta, O'Neal asked Booze to take him to seek medical
treatment, which he eventually did. Docs. 17-4 ¶ 24;
24-1 ¶¶ 45-47. Learning that the defective chair
had not been inspected since 2009, despite a Norfolk Southern
policy that chairs be inspected annually, Booze investigated
the other chairs in the depot and found others that were
defective. Docs. 15-5 at 18:16-23, 20:4-11, 22:9-12.; 23-1
investigating the incident, Booze discovered that, just
before he allegedly fell, O'Neal made a phone call to
Norfolk Southern's “Operations & Service
Support” (OSS) and that call was recorded. Docs. 17 at
3 n.4; 17-4 ¶¶ 29-30. In the recording, the
following exchange can be faintly heard between O'Neal
O'Neal: Boy, I almost had me -
Smith: You alright?
O'Neal: Yeah. I caught myself but I almost - I almost had
me one boy.
Smith: Golly (or God-ly).
Doc. 15-18 at 20. Booze thought this to be inconsistent with
O'Neal's claim that he fell. Doc. 15-5 at 81:13-25.
Soon after, on February 8, 2016, O'Neal was charged with
“making false and/or conflicting statements to a
supervisor.” Doc. 15-3. On March 2, 2016, Norfolk
Southern conducted an official investigation, or hearing, in
which O'Neal was represented by union officials. See
generally Doc. 15-8. The hearing officer, Richard Brown,
determined that O'Neal was lying. Id. Norfolk
Southern then terminated O'Neal's employment on March
16, 2016; O'Neil appealed that decision to the Public Law
Board, but that appeal was denied. Docs. 15-3; 17-4.
then filed this complaint, alleging claims under the Federal
Railway Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. § 20109, and the
Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C.
§§ 51-60, and now moves for summary judgment all on
issues related to those claims except damages. Doc. 15.
Additionally, O'Neal moves to strike expert testimony
proffered by Norfolk Southern. Doc. 13. Norfolk Southern has
also moved for summary judgment regarding O'Neal's
FRSA claim. Doc. 17. On May 11, 2018, the Court held a
hearing regarding all these motions. Docs. 30; 33.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS
Summary Judgment Standard
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), a court “‘can only grant
summary judgment if everything in the record demonstrates
that no genuine issue of material fact exists'” and
that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Strickland v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., 692 F.3d 1151,
1154 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Tippens v. Celotex
Corp., 805 F.2d 940, 952 (11th Cir. 1986)); Gray v.
Manklow (In re Optical Techs., Inc.), 246 F.3d 1332,
1334 (11th Cir. 2001). When the movant bears the burden of
proof at trial, the movant holds the initial burden to
establish there is no genuine dispute concerning whether the
elements of the claim or defense have been met. See
United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941 F.2d
1428, 1438 (11th Cir. 1991). In response, the non-movant may
defeat summary judgment by producing “significant,
probative evidence demonstrating the existence of a triable
issue of fact.'” Id. (quoting Chanel,
Inc. v. Italian Activewear of Fla., Inc., 931 F.2d 1472,
1477 (11th Cir. 1991)) (alteration in original). In contrast,
“[w]hen the nonmoving party has the burden of
proof at trial, the moving party is not required to
‘support its motion with affidavits or other similar
material negating the opponent's
claim.'” Four Parcels of Real Prop., 941
F.2d at 1437 (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Cartrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The movant “simply may show . .
. that there is an absence of evidence to support the
[non-movant]'s case.” Id. at 1438
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
“Assuming the [movant] has met its burden, the
non-movant must then show a genuine dispute regarding any
issue for which it will bear the burden of proof at
trial.” Info. Sys. & Networks Corp., 281
F.3d at 1224-25 (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at
factual dispute is genuine so as to defeat summary judgment
“only if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
the nonmoving party.” Info. Sys. & Networks
Corp. v. City of Atlanta, 281 F.3d 1220, 1224 (11th Cir.
2002) (quotation marks omitted). When determining if there is
a genuine dispute, “[t]he evidence of the non-movant is
to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be
drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). And “credibility
determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing
of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions,
not those of a judge.” Id. When both parties
have moved for summary judgment, the standard of review does
not change. See Am. Bankers Ins. Grp. v. United
States, 408 F.3d 1328, 1331 (11th Cir. 2005).
“Cross-motions for summary judgment will not, in
themselves, warrant the court in granting summary judgment
unless one of the parties is entitled to judgment as a matter
of law on facts that are not genuinely disputed.”
United States v. Oakley, 744 F.2d 1553, 1555 (11th
Cir. 1984) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
The Court will consider each motion on its own merits,
resolving all reasonable inferences against the party whose
motion is under consideration. See Am. Bankers Ins.
Grp., 408 F.3d at 1331.