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Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Ritter

January 7, 2009

CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GERARD A. RITTER AND SUSAN R. NOREK EX REL. GERARD H. RITTER, DECEASED, DEFENDANTS.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN M. GRIBBIN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No. 23

Document No. 14

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GRANTING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS FOR RECONSIDERATION

I. INTRODUCTION

The plaintiff, Consolidated Rail Corporation ("Conrail"), seeks declaratory relief proscribing successor liability for personal injury claims stemming from conduct prior to its formation. The defendants, who currently have personal injury claims pending in Pennsylvania state court, are former employees of Erie Lackawanna -- a railroad company whose assets were transferred to Conrail pursuant to the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973 ("Rail Act"), 45 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq., as amended by the Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981 ("NRSA"), 45 U.S.C. §§ 1101 et seq. On March 27, 2008, the court granted the defendants' motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, prompting Conrail to file motions for reconsideration. The defendants, relying almost exclusively on Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Reading Co., 654 F. Supp. 1318 (Sp. Ct. R.R.R.A. 1987) argue that the court properly dismissed the suit. Although the court in Reading determined that it did not have jurisdiction under the Rail Act to grant the relief Conrail sought, the reasoning in Reading does not apply here. Therefore, this case has not reached its terminus and must proceed full steam ahead.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Congress established Conrail under the Rail Act of 1973 to revitalize the rail industry by creating "an economically viable system capable of providing adequate and efficient rail service." 45 U.S.C. § 701(b). In so doing, Congress, in conjunction with the Special Court constituted under the Rail Act, transferred the assets from Erie Lackawanna and several other Northeast railroad companies to Conrail "free and clear of any liens or encumbrances." Ritter Compl. ¶¶ 7-9 (quoting 45 U.S.C. § 743(b)(2)); Gribbin Compl. ¶¶ 8-10 (same).

The defendants allege that before the transfer and reorganization their former employer, Erie Lackawanna, negligently exposed them to asbestos in violation of the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51 et seq. Ritter Mot. to Dismiss ("Ritter Mot."), Ex. A; Gribbin Mot. to Dismiss ("Gribbin Mot."), Ex. A. They, or their personal representatives, initiated suits in Pennsylvania state court against Conrail, as Erie Lackawanna's purported successor-in-interest, to recover for injuries or death that they contend resulted from their exposure to asbestos. Ritter Compl. ¶¶ 4-5; Gribbin Compl. ¶¶ 4-5.

On July 27, 2007, while the defendants' FELA suits were proceeding in Pennsylvania state court, Conrail filed complaints in this court requesting declaratory relief to determine the scope of successor liability for personal injury claims under the Rail Act. Ritter Compl. ¶¶ 19-22; Gribbin Compl. ¶¶ 21-24. The defendants subsequently filed motions to dismiss, asserting that their personal injury claims do not fall within the protections of the Rail Act. On March 27, 2008, the court issued a memorandum opinion granting the defendants' motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Mem. Op. (Mar. 27, 2008). Conrail filed motions to reconsider that decision, and the court addresses its arguments as well as the defendants' responses below.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Rule 59(e) Motion

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) provides that a motion to alter or amend a judgment must be filed within 10 days of the entry of the judgment at issue. FED. R. CIV. P. 59(e); see also Mashpee Wamponoag Tribal Council, Inc. v. Norton, 336 F.3d 1094, 1098 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (stating that a Rule 59(e) motion "must be filed within 10 days of the challenged order, not including weekends, certain specified national holidays (including Christmas Day and New Year's Day), or any other day appointed as a holiday by the President"). While the court has considerable discretion in ruling on a Rule 59(e) motion, the reconsideration and amendment of a previous order is an unusual measure. Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (per curiam); McDowell v. Calderon, 197 F.3d 1253, 1255 (9th Cir. 1999). Rule 59(e) motions "need not be granted unless the district court finds that there is an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear legal error or prevent manifest injustice." Ciralsky v. Cent. Intelligence Agency, 355 F.3d 661, 671 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (quoting Firestone, 76 F.3d at 1208). Moreover, "[a] Rule 59(e) motion to reconsider is not simply an opportunity to reargue facts and theories upon ...


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