Judge transfers FELA claim from eastern Pa. to Western District

By Jon Campisi | Mar 8, 2013

A federal judge in Philadelphia has agreed to transfer a suit alleging violations of the

A federal judge in Philadelphia has agreed to transfer a suit alleging violations of the

Federal Employers’ Liability Act from one end of the commonwealth to the other.

U.S. District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, sided with Norfolk Southern Railway Co. in a case initiated by Joseph York, an employee who claims he injured his elbow while working for the defendant’s rail yard in Conway, Pa.

This past August, York filed suit against Norfolk Southern raising claims under FELA, but the defendant soon moved to transfer the matter either to the Western District of Pennsylvania or to the Northern District of Ohio.

The plaintiff resides in Youngstown, Ohio.

On March 6, Pratter ruled that the case would be best handled by the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The record shows that York sustained elbow injuries at the Conway, Pa., rail yard, but waited a few weeks to seek treatment at a hospital in Austintown, Ohio.

All of York’s follow-up medical appointments also took place in the greater Youngstown area.

In moving to transfer the suit out of Philadelphia, Norfolk’s attorneys wrote that all of the witnesses likely to be called in the case live and work either in western Pennsylvania or Ohio, and that the site of the occurrence of the events allegedly leading up to the injury is located within the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Actions can be brought under FELA either in the district in which the defendant resides, where the cause of action arose, or where the defendant conducts business as the time the suit is filed, the judge’s ruling shows.

In this case, Pratter wrote, no one has disputed that the suit could have been brought in either the Western District of Pennsylvania or the Northern District of Ohio.

Here, it is the private interests that weigh strongly in favor of transfer, the judge noted.

Pratter wrote that the two district courts advocated by Norfolk cannot be said to inconvenient York since the plaintiff lives in that area.

Moreover, the judge wrote, the incident that gave rise to the claim occurred in western Pennsylvania.

While Norfolk argued that it would be more convenient for witnesses if the case took place in either western Pennsylvania or northern Ohio, York countered that the convenience of witnesses is only relevant to the extent that the witnesses may actually be unavailable for trial.

Pratter, however, wrote that to the extent that fact witnesses are employees of Norfolk, “while they may be available for trial in any forum, the extreme inconvenience and expense to Norfolk of bringing them to trial in Philadelphia relates to the relative convenience of the parties to the suit, not just to the witnesses.”

The ruling also states that potential medical witnesses from the Youngstown, Ohio, area would potentially be unavailable for trial in Philadelphia, since they would be beyond the subpoena power of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Pratter went on to write that even though Norfolk has operations in eastern Pennsylvania, “local interests in the Western District of Pennsylvania, where the accident actually occurred, are certain to be even stronger.”

“Overall, then, the private and public interest factors weigh in favor of transfer,” the ruling states. “Indeed, aside from Mr. York’s choice to bring his suit in this District, there is next to nothing tying the case to this forum.”

York’s lawsuit, which was filed on Aug. 24, states that he was injured removing what he understood to be old retarders at the rail yard.

This required York to apply pressure using something called a lining bar, the suit states. At one point, the rail line initially moved, and then snapped back into place, when the chain attached to the device York was using came undone causing the lining bar to violently jerk, and, in turn, causing York’s elbow injury.

York kept working, but the pain worsened, and the plaintiff eventually had to go to the emergency room, despite allegations that a supervisor told York to “keep his mouth shut” about what had transpired.

York was initially diagnosed with elbow tendonitis, but was later informed he had a torn ligament that would require surgery.

His supervisor eventually told York that he would have to “eat this injury” because it was never reported, and if the two employees reported it at this point, they would both be fired, the complaint states.

York eventually had surgery and is now disabled from employment as a track laborer with Norfolk, the suit states.

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