Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Colon v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 13, 2017

MILTON OMAR COLON and ARLENE DAVIS, Plaintiffs,
v.
METRO-NORTH COMMUTER RAILROAD COMPANY, and METROPOLITAN TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, Defendants,
v.
UNITED ILLUMINATING COMPANY, Third-Party Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR ENTRY OF PARTIAL JUDGMENT

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         Defendants Metro-North Commuter Railroad Company (Metro-North) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) have filed a motion with the consent of third-party defendant United Illuminating Company (UI) for the Court to enter a partial final judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b). For the reasons set forth below, I will grant the motion.

         Background

         Plaintiff Omar Colon suffered a severe electrocution injury after he climbed a catenary pole along the railroad tracks near New Haven, Connecticut. He and his spouse sued Metro-North and the MTA, who in turn filed a third-party complaint against UI for indemnification. Plaintiffs' claim proceeded to the jury on a “constant trespasser” theory of liability by which a possessor of property may be liable to a trespassing plaintiff who is injured on the property if the plaintiff has been injured by a hidden danger on the property and if the possessor of the property was aware of prior constant trespass near the hidden danger and failed to reasonably warn of the hidden danger. See Maffucci v. Royal Park Ltd. P'Ship, 243 Conn. 552, 559-60 (1998) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 335).

         On August 22, 2017, the jury returned a verdict for defendants Metro-North and the MTA. The jury concluded that plaintiffs had failed to prove three of the five necessary elements for their claim of “constant trespasser” liability against defendants. First, it concluded that plaintiffs had failed to prove that Colon's injury resulted from a hidden danger. Second, it concluded that plaintiffs had failed to prove that Metro-North knew of constant intrusion by trespassers in dangerous proximity to the power lines on its property. Third, it concluded that plaintiffs had failed to prove that Colon was injured because of Metro-North's failure to reasonably warn about danger on the catenary pole. See Doc. #494 (jury verdict form); Doc. #496 (jury instructions).

         The jury, however, was not asked to render a verdict for the third-party claim by Metro-North and MTA against UI. Instead, as the parties requested, the jury solely answered a special interrogatory, concluding that UI's wires did not directly or indirectly cause the injuries to Colon. Doc. #494 at 3. The jury was advised that ultimate resolution of the third-party claim would depend upon the resolution of legal issues by the Court concerning the interpretation of the contract between UI and the State of Connecticut.[1] With the consent of UI, Metro-North and MTA have now moved pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b) for entry of partial final judgment on plaintiffs' claims against Metro-North and the MTA. Doc. #504. Plaintiffs oppose the motion. Doc. #507.

         Discussion

         Rule 54(b) provides: “When an action presents more than one claim for relief-whether as a claim, counterclaim, crossclaim, or third-party claim-or when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay.” Proper entry of partial final judgment under this rule requires that three conditions be met: (1) that there be multiple claims or multiple parties; (2) that at least one claim, or the rights and liabilities of at least one party, have been finally decided within the meaning of the final-judgment rule; and (3) that the Court expressly determine there to be no just reason for delay and direct the Clerk of Court to enter judgment. See Information Resources, Inc. v. Dun and Bradstreet Corp., 294 F.3d 447, 451 (2d Cir. 2002).

         In light of the policy against piecemeal appeals, the Second Circuit has instructed that a district court should only sparingly exercise its discretion to enter a partial final judgment pursuant to Rule 54(b). See Novick v. AXA Network, LLC, 642 F.3d 304, 310 (2d Cir. 2011). Thus, for example, a district court should not ordinarily grant a Rule 54(b) certification “if the same or closely related issues remain to be litigated, ” because “it does not normally advance the interests of sound judicial administration or efficiency to have piecemeal appeals that require two (or more) three-judge panels to familiarize themselves with a given case in successive appeals from successive decisions on interrelated issues.” Id. at 311 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

         Here, I conclude that all three conditions of Rule 54(b) are met. First, there are both multiple claims and multiple parties. Second, all of plaintiffs' claims have been finally decided, and there are no counterclaims against plaintiffs. Third, there is no just reason for delay. The only claim remaining in this case is a third-party claim for contractual indemnification as between the defendants and the third-party defendant. These parties represent that the Court's adjudication of their dispute will strictly involve the Court's interpretation of the contract between them and be “wholly independent” of plaintiffs' tort claims. Doc. #504 at 2. Indeed, neither the defendants nor the third-party defendant will seek to challenge the jury's determination that UI's wires did not cause Colon's injury. Instead, the defendants have advised that their contractual dispute will center on whether the contract requires UI to pay indemnification for the defense against plaintiffs' claims despite the fact that the jury has found that UI's wires did not cause Colon's injury. Doc. #490 at 71-74.

         I also conclude that the equities favor entry of a separate judgment. See Novick, 642 F.3d at 314. Plaintiffs' claims have been pending for many years, and I do not see why the adjudication of any of plaintiffs' challenges to the validity of the jury's verdict or this Court's rulings should await my resolution of the separate contract dispute between the defendants and third-party defendant. It may take me several more months to receive briefing and resolve the contract issue, and I do not see that my resolution of the contract issue will have anything to do with plaintiffs' challenge to the jury's verdict against them.

         I am not persuaded by any of plaintiffs' counterarguments. Although plaintiffs argue that granting the motion will result in piecemeal appeals, I have already considered that concern as discussed above. Based on the representation of the defendants that the remaining dispute is “wholly independent” of plaintiffs' claim, I do not believe that any later appeal from my resolution of the contract dispute would require duplicative consideration of facts or legal issues by the Second Circuit.

         Plaintiffs suggest that the resolution of the third-party claim may facilitate post-judgment “negotiations” among the parties. Even if so, this does not militate against entering final judgment on plaintiffs' claims now, because the parties are free to negotiate amongst themselves at any time. The Court referred the parties to Magistrate Judge Margolis for multiple settlement conferences prior to trial, and there is no reason ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.