Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Judge Nealon of Lackawanna County Addresses Several Issues Under Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA)

Judge Terrence R. Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas recently addressed a number of different issues in several opinions in the context of consolidated actions brought under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA).  Below are summaries of the recent decisions:


Enforceability of Releases

In his recent January 25, 2013 decision in the case of Dennis v. Delaware and Hudson Railway Company, Inc., No. 2005-CV-1826 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Jan. 25, 2013 Nealon, J.), Judge Terrence R. Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas addressed a railroad Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment seeking to dismiss four lawsuits by its former employees under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”).   The railroad Defendants asserted that release agreements that were excluded by the employees at issue barred their actions seeking to recover damages for black lung disease allegedly caused by coal dust exposure.
 
In his decision, Judge Nealon noted that, under the more stringent more federal standard governing the enforceability of releases under the FELA, the language of the settlement  release is strong, but not conclusive, evidence of the parties’ intent and the critical inquiry is what employment-related risks were known to the railroad employees at the time they signed their earlier releases.  
 
Ultimately, the court in this matter held that, in light of the more demanding standard applicable to FELA releases, it was a jury question as to whether the Claimants were aware of their black lung disease and its relation to occupational coal dust exposure at the time they executed their releases.   As such, the railroad Defendant’s Motions for Summary Judgment were denied.  
 
In his Opinion, Judge Nealon provides a thorough overview of the validity of FELA releases making this Opinion one to have if you are faced with such issues.  
 
Anyone desiring a copy of this decision may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.  Please reference this case as Dennis v. Delaware and Hudson Railway (Enforceability of Releases).  



FELA's Statute of Limitations

In yet another decision issued by Judge Terrence R. Nealon in the case of Fraynert v. Delaware and Hudson Railway Company, Inc., No. 2005-Civil-2822 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Jan. 31, 2013 Nealon, J)(consolidated with Dennis case), Judge Terrence R. Nealon addressed another issue arising under six (6) consolidated claims brought pursuant to the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. §51-60.   In this particular Opinion, the court addressed FELA’s three year statute of limitations. 

The cases all involve alleged pulmonary injuries that were allegedly negligently caused by occupational exposure to coal dust.  

This particular issue came before the Court by way of Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Railroad Defendants in all six (6) cases.  In their Motion, the Defendants asserted that the occupational exposure claims were barred by FELA’s three year statute of limitations. 

Ultimately, Judge Nealon granted the Railroad’s Motion for Summary Judgment as to one Plaintiff based upon the federal version of the “discovery rule.”  The court found that jury questions on the issues presented remained in the other five (5) cases and the Motions for Summary Judgment were denied in those cases.

Anyone desiring a copy of this case may shoot me an email at dancummins@comcast.net.   Given the number of Opinions I have in this case, to assist me in locating and send to you this particular decision, please reference Fraynert v. Delaware and Hudson Railway (statute of limitations under discovery rule). 



New Matter//Affirmative Defenses
 
In yet another Opinion arising out of the railroad/FELA cases pending before the court, Judge Terrence R. Nealon addressed the need to assert affirmative defenses in order that such defenses may not be waived in the case of Dennis v. Delaware and Hudson Railway Company, Inc., No. 2005-Civil-1826 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Feb. 8, 2013 Nealon, J.).  

In this particular opinion, Judge Nealon addressed another Motion for Summary Judgment by the railroad Defendant in this action under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. §51-60.

In this case, the Defendant argued that an Asset Purchase Agreement (APA) under which it acquired substantially all of the assets of the former Delaware and Hudson Railway Company, barred the Plaintiff’s suits seeking to recover non-economic damages for alleged pulmonary injuries negligently caused by occupational exposure to dust.   The railroad Defendants contended that, under the terms of the APA, it did not assume liability for the FELA claims at issue involving occupational exposures during the periods of the Plaintiffs’ employment with the former Delaware and Hudson Railway Company.  

However, Judge Nealon ruled that the Defendant’s summary judgment argument based upon the Asset Purchase Agreement raised extrinsic facts which, if true, would defeat Plaintiffs’ FELA claims even if the allegations contained in their Complaints were accepted as true.   Accordingly, this argument was found to constitute affirmative defense that was waived unless timely raised in a new matter pursuant to Pa. R.C.P.  1030(a).   Since the pleadings filed by the Defendants in these cases never asserted the affirmative defense based upon the Asset Purchase Agreement, the Defendant waived that defense and was, therefore, not entitled to summary judgment based upon the Asset Purchase Agreement.

Judge Nealon’s Opinion provides a thorough overview of the law pertaining to affirmative defenses and the waiver of those defenses that are required to be pled under Pa. R.C.P.  1030.   The Opinion also cautions that Rule 1030(a) list but does not limit what may be pled as a New Matter and, as such, there are other affirmative defenses not listed as Rule 1030 that could be deemed to be a waivable defense.  
 
For example, the Court cites cases noting that the following affirmative defenses can be deemed to be waivable in particular cases:  Abandonment, Rescission, and a defense which is premised upon a contractual limitation or provision.  

As such, this Opinion emphasizes the importance of raising all possible defenses in the New Matter even if they are not listed as affirmative defenses in Pa. R.C.P.  1030(a).   The import of this rule is not limited to FELA cases.

Anyone desiring a copy of this Opinion may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net  Given the number of Opinions issued by the Court in this particular case, when requesting a copy of this case, please reference Dennis v. Delaware and Hudson Railway Company, Inc. (affirmative defenses).

No comments:

Post a Comment