JAMEY MURPHY ET AL.
TOWN OF DARIEN ET AL.
November 5, 2018
to recover damages for, inter alia, the alleged wrongful
death of the named plaintiff's husband, and for other
relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial
district of Fairfield, where the court, Kamp, J., granted the
motion for summary judgment filed by the defendant
Metro-North Commuter Railroad Company and rendered judgment
thereon, from which the plaintiffs appealed. Reversed;
J. Healy, with whom were Joel T. Faxon and, on the brief,
John P. D'Ambrosio, for the appellants (plaintiffs).
O. Hickey, with whom, on the brief, were Beck S. Fineman and
Kerianne E. Kane, for the appellee
Robinson, C. J., and Palmer, D'Auria, Mullins and Kahn,
sole issue in this appeal is whether the Federal Railroad
Safety Act of 1970 (railroad act), 49 U.S.C. § 20101 et
seq., preempts the negligence claims brought by the
plaintiff, Jamey Murphy, individually and as executrix of the
estate of her late husband, Kevin Murphy (decedent), against
the defendant Metro-North Commuter Railroad
Company. We conclude that the railroad act does not
preempt the plaintiff's negligence claims and,
accordingly, reverse the judgment of the trial court rendered
in favor of the defendant on that ground.
following facts and procedural history are relevant to this
appeal. On March 4, 2013, at approximately 6:30 a.m., the
decedent, was walking on the platform adjacent to the
westbound tracks at the Noroton Heights train station in
Darien. The decedent was awaiting his commuter train to New
York City. On that morning, there was a patch of ice on the
platform, which measured approximately nine feet long and
approximately one foot wide. As the decedent was walking on
the platform, he encountered the ice patch, slipped and fell
onto the westbound track closest to the platform.
time, one of the defendant's trains was coming around a
curve and approaching the Noroton Heights station on the
track closest to the westbound platform. This train was
scheduled to travel through the Noroton Heights station
without stopping and to do the same through four other
commuter stations before completing its express route to
Stamford. This type of train is referred to as a
train approached the Noroton Heights station, the engineer
sounded the train's horn. He then saw an object on the
track. When the engineer realized it was a person, he sounded
the horn again and applied the emergency brake. Nevertheless,
the train struck the decedent. As a result of the collision,
the decedent suffered severe trauma and was pronounced dead
at the scene.
plaintiff subsequently brought this action against the
defendant. See footnote 1 of this opinion. Specifically, the
operative complaint alleges that the decedent's injuries
and death were proximately caused by the negligence of the
defendant when ‘‘it violated practices and
customs with respect to track selection by moving a through
train traveling in excess of seventy miles per hour on the
track immediately adjacent to the platform when reasonable
care and general practice of [the defendant] required that
train to be on an interior track away from the
platform.'' The plaintiff also alleges that the
defendant's negligence caused her to suffer loss of
spousal consortium. After discovery, the defendant filed a
motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff filed an
support of that motion, the defendant asserted that the
plaintiff's negligence claims were preempted by federal
law. Specifically, the defendant asserted, in pertinent part,
that the plaintiff's claims were barred by the railroad
act. The trial court agreed with the defendant, concluding
that, ‘‘[t]o the extent that the plaintiff's
claim is viewed as relating to rail safety, it is preempted
by the [railroad act].'' Accordingly, the trial court
granted the motion for summary judgment and rendered judgment
thereon in favor of the defendant. This appeal
appeal, the plaintiff asserts that the trial court
incorrectly concluded that her claims were preempted by the
railroad act. Specifically, the plaintiff asserts that the
railroad act only preempts claims where a federal regulation
covers the subject matter, and no such regulation exists for
track selection. In response, the defendant asserts that the
trial court properly granted its motion for summary judgment
because the plaintiff's claims are preempted by the
railroad act. Specifically, the defendant asserts that the
subject matter of the plaintiff's claim is covered by
federal regulation- namely, regulations addressing speed and
track classification. We agree with the plaintiff.
standard of review of a trial court's decision granting
summary judgment is well established. Practice Book §
17-49 provides that summary judgment shall be rendered
forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof
submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. . . . Our review of the trial
court's decision to grant the defendant's motion for
summary judgment is plenary. . . . On appeal, we must
determine whether the legal conclusions reached by the trial
court are legally and logically correct and whether they find
support in the facts set out in the memorandum of decision of
the trial court.'' (Citation omitted; internal
quotation marks omitted.) Lucenti v.
Laviero, 327 Conn. 764, 772-73, 176 A.3d 1 (2018).
‘‘[T]he use of a motion for summary judgment to
challenge the legal sufficiency of a complaint is appropriate
when the complaint fails to set forth a cause of action and
the defendant can establish that the defect could not be
cured by repleading.'' (Internal quotation marks
omitted.) Ferri v. Powell-Ferri, 317 Conn.
223, 236, 116 A.3d 297 (2015).
present case, the trial court granted the defendant's
motion for summary judgment on the ground that the
plaintiff's complaint was insufficient because the
negligence claims raised therein were preempted by the
railroad act. Accordingly, resolution of this appeal requires
us to examine the trial court's conclusion that the
plaintiff's negligence claims are preempted by the
doing so, we note that the question of whether the
plaintiff's negligence claims are preempted by the
railroad act is one of law, and, therefore, our review is
plenary. ‘‘Whether state causes of action are
preempted by federal statutes and regulations is a question
of law over which our review is plenary.'' Byrne
v. Avery Center for Obstetrics & Gynecology,
P.C., 314 Conn. 433, 447, 102 A.3d 32 (2014); see also
Hackett v. J.L.G. Properties, LLC, 285
Conn. 498, 502-504, 940 A.2d 769 (2008) (whether trial
court's conclusion that municipal zoning regulations were
preempted by federal law was a question of law over which
court exercised plenary review). ‘‘[T]here is a
strong presumption against federal preemption of state and
local legislation. . . . This presumption is especially
strong in areas traditionally occupied by the states . . .
.'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks
omitted.) Dowling v. Slotnik, 244 Conn.
781, 794, 712 A.2d 396, cert. denied sub nom. Slotnik
v. Considine, 525 U.S. 1017, 119 S.Ct. 542, 142
L.Ed.2d 451 (1998).
ways in which federal law may [preempt] state law are well
established and in the first instance turn on congressional
intent. . . . Congress' intent to supplant state
authority in a particular field may be express[ed] in the
terms of the statute. . . . Absent explicit [preemptive]
language, Congress' intent to supersede state law in a
given area may nonetheless be implicit if a scheme of federal
regulation is so pervasive as to make reasonable the
inference that Congress left no room for the [s]tates to
supplement it, if the [a]ct of Congress . . . touch[es] a
field in which the federal interest is so dominant that the
federal system will be assumed to preclude enforcement of
state laws on the same subject, or if the goals sought to be
obtained and the obligations imposed reveal a purpose to
preclude state authority. . . .
question of preemption is one of federal law, arising under
the supremacy clause of the United States constitution. . . .
Determining whether Congress has exercised its power to
preempt state law is a question of legislative intent. . . .
[A]bsent an explicit statement that Congress intends to
preempt state law, courts should infer such intent where
Congress has legislated comprehensively to occupy an entire
field of regulation, leaving no room for the [s]tates to
supplement federal law . . . or where the state law at issue
conflicts with federal law, either because it is impossible
to comply with both . . . or because the state law stands as
an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of
congressional objectives . . . .'' (Citation omitted;
internal quotation marks omitted.) Hackett v.
J.L.G. Properties, LLC, supra, 285 Conn. 503-504.
the United States Supreme Court has explained that
‘‘[w]here a state statute conflicts with, or
frustrates, federal law, the former must give way. U.S.
Const., [a]rt. VI, cl. 2; Maryland v.
Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725');">451 U.S. 725, [746, 101 S.Ct. 2114, 68
L.Ed.2d 576] (1981). In the interest of avoiding unintended
encroachment on the authority of the [s]tates, however, a
court interpreting a federal statute pertaining to a subject
traditionally governed by state law will be reluctant to find
[preemption]. Thus, [preemption] will not lie unless it is
‘the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.'
Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S.
218, [230, 67 S.Ct. 1146, 91 L.Ed. 1447] (1947). Evidence of
[preemptive] purpose is sought in the text and structure of
the statute at issue. Shaw v. Delta Air Lines,
Inc., 463 U.S. 85');">463 U.S. 85, [95, 103 S.Ct. 2890, 77 L.Ed.2d 490]
(1983). If the statute contains an express [preemption]
clause, the task of statutory construction must in the first
instance focus on the plain wording of the clause, which
necessarily contains the best evidence of Congress'
[preemptive] intent.'' CSX Transportation, Inc.
v. Easterwood, 507 U.S. 658, 663-64, 113 S.Ct.
1732, 123 L.Ed.2d 387 (1993); see also id., 673-75
(concluding that negligence claim relating to failure to
maintain adequate warning devices at rail crossing was not
preempted by railroad act, but negligence claim alleging
excessive speed was preempted by railroad act).
review of the railroad act provides context for our analysis.
The railroad act ‘‘was enacted in 1970 to promote
safety in all areas of railroad operations and to reduce
[railroad related] accidents, and to reduce deaths and
injuries to persons . . . . [Under the railroad act], the
Secretary [of Transportation] is given broad powers to
prescribe, as necessary, appropriate rules, regulations,
orders, and standards for all areas of railroad safety . . .
.'' (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks
omitted.) Id., 661-63; see also 49 U.S.C. §
20101 (2012) (statement of legislative purpose); 49 U.S.C.
§ 20103 (a) (2012) (delegating regulatory authority to
Secretary of Transportation).
railroad act contains an express preemption clause, codified
at 49 U.S.C. § 20106, entitled
‘‘Preemption.'' That statute provides in
relevant part: ‘‘(a) National Uniformity of
Regulation.-(1) Laws, regulations, and orders related to
railroad safety and laws, regulations, and orders related to
railroad security shall be nationally uniform to the extent
A State may adopt or continue in force a law, regulation, or
order related to railroad safety or security until the
Secretary of Transportation (with respect to railroad safety
matters), or the Secretary of Homeland Security (with respect
to railroad security matters), prescribes a regulation or
issues an order covering the subject matter of the State
requirement. A State may adopt or continue in force an