Jamey MURPHY et al.
TOWN OF DARIEN et al.
November 5, 2018
from the Superior Court, Judicial District of Fairfield,
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
J. Healy, Hartford, with whom were Joel T. Faxon New Haven,
and, on the brief, John P. DAmbrosio, Hartford, for the
O. Hickey, with whom, on the brief, were Beck S. Fineman
Stamford, and Kerianne E. Kane, Bridgeport, for the appellee
(defendant Metro-North Commuter Railroad Company).
C.J., and Palmer, DAuria, Mullins and Kahn, Js.
Conn. 245] The 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 [332 Conn. 246]
railroad act does not preempt the plaintiffs negligence
claims and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the trial
court rendered in favor of the defendant on that
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.
that time, one of the defendants 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 trains 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
plaintiff subsequently brought this action against the
defendant. See footnote 1 of this opinion. Specifically, [332
Conn. 247] the operative complaint alleges that the
decedents 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
defendants negligence caused her to suffer loss of spousal
consortium. After discovery, the defendant filed a motion for
summary judgment, and the plaintiff filed an objection.
support of that motion, the defendant asserted that the
plaintiffs negligence claims were preempted by federal law.
Specifically, the defendant asserted, in pertinent part, that
the plaintiffs claims were barred by the railroad act. The
trial court agreed with the defendant, concluding that,
"[t]o the extent that the plaintiffs 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 followed.
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 plaintiffs [332 Conn. 248] claims are preempted
by the railroad act. Specifically, the defendant asserts that
the subject matter of the plaintiffs claim is covered by
federal regulation— namely, regulations addressing
speed and track classification. We agree with the plaintiff.
"The standard of review of a trial courts 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
courts decision to grant the defendants 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 defendants motion
for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiffs
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 courts conclusion that the plaintiffs negligence
claims are preempted by the railroad act.
doing so, we note that the question of whether the
plaintiffs negligence claims are preempted by the [332 Conn.
249] 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 courts 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).
"The 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
"The question of preemption is one of federal law,
arising under the supremacy clause of the United States
constitution.... Determining whether Congress has [332 Conn.
250] exercised its power to preempt state law is a question
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 ...