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In re Yellow Line Cases

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 14, 2017

IN RE THE YELLOW LINE CASES This order relates to: ALL CASES

          AMENDED MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          TANYA S. CHUTKAN United States District Judge.

         This case consolidates the claims of approximately 100 plaintiffs who allege injuries stemming from an incident on January 12, 2015 when they were trapped in a smoke-filled Metro train for approximately forty-five minutes. Plaintiffs filed separate cases against defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”), and later amended their complaints to include claims against the District of Columbia. WMATA has also filed a cross-claim against the District, which now moves under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss Count II of Plaintiffs' Master Complaint and WMATA's cross-claim. (ECF No. 237, District Mem.).[2] Upon consideration of the parties' filings, the District's motion shall be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 12, 2015, at approximately 3:15 p.m., WMATA train 302 encountered dense smoke and came to an emergency halt in a tunnel several hundred feet past the L'Enfant Plaza Station on the Yellow Line track in the direction of Huntington, Virginia. (ECF No. 225, Master Compl. ¶¶ 313-14). The train became disabled in the tunnel, without power and illuminated only by emergency lighting. (Id. ¶ 316). Passengers were instructed to stay on the train with the doors closed, as the train would be returning to L'Enfant Plaza station. (Id. ¶ 317). At approximately 3:18 p.m., a construction worker called the D.C. Office of Unified Communications (“OUC”) and reported that smoke was emanating from a Metro ventilation shaft roughly a half-mile away from the train's location, and at approximately 3:22 p.m., a WMATA Supervisor of Metro Rail Unit 22 called OUC to report heavy smoke in the L'Enfant Plaza station. (Id. ¶¶ 320-21).

         At 3:28 p.m., pursuant to D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (“FEMS”) protocol, OUC dispatched a “Metro Station Box Alarm, ” which included five Engine Companies, two Ladder Trucks, two Battalion Fire Chiefs, one Battalion Fire Chief to WMATA Operations Command Center, one Heavy Rescue Squad, one Basic Life Support Unit, one Advanced Life Support Unit, and one EMS Supervisor. (Id. ¶ 323). The first FEMS responders arrived at L'Enfant Plaza station at approximately 3:31 p.m., sixteen minutes after the train first became disabled. (Id. ¶ 324). Shortly thereafter, at 3:33 p.m., OUC received several calls from passengers on the train. (Id. ¶ 329). Approximately forty-five minutes after the train first became disabled, at 4:00 p.m., FEMS began evacuating the over 200 passengers from the train. (Id. ¶ 331).

         Following this incident, approximately 100 Plaintiffs filed separate civil cases against WMATA, and these cases were consolidated in July 2015. Since February 2015, this case has been stayed pending the release of a Final Accident Report from the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”).[3] However, in late 2016, the court partially lifted the stay to permit the Plaintiffs to file a single Master Complaint, which they did on December 9, 2016. (See ECF No. 225). Plaintiffs brought negligence claims against WMATA and the District and allege that they suffered severe injuries due to smoke inhalation and fear of impending death. One passenger, Carol Glover, ultimately died allegedly from smoke inhalation.

         Specifically, Plaintiffs allege in Count I that WMATA owed them a duty of reasonable care as a common carrier and breached that duty by:

(a) Failing to properly inspect and maintain the third rail running through the relevant section of tunnel;
(b) Failing to properly inspect and maintain the ventilation system for the relevant section of tunnel;
(c) Failing to properly train its agents, servants, and/or employees in the proper activation and use of the ventilation system in the event of a fire or smoke emergency;
(d) Failing to calibrate its radio equipment to be compatible with that of FEMS despite having clear notice of its non-compliance;
(e) Failing to equip its trains, specifically Train 302, with safety equipment adequate for emergencies of this nature;
(f) Failing to adequately investigate the third-rail circuit breaker that tripped at 3:06 p.m. on January 12;
(g) Failing to move Train 302 to a safe location (e.g., back to the L'Enfant Plaza station) after it first encountered smoke in the tunnel;
(h) Failing to in a timely manner shut off electricity to the third rail in the relevant section of tunnel;
(i) Failing to in a timely manner inform FEMS that electricity had been shut off to the third rail in the relevant section of tunnel;
(j) Failing to in a timely manner evacuate Train 302 if and when it was determined that the train could or would not be moved and its cars were filling with smoke; and/or
(k) Otherwise negligently, carelessly, and wrongfully failing to take reasonable precautions to protect its passengers ...

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