Railroad seeks to transfer FELA case

By Steve Gonzalez | Sep 25, 2008

Norfolk Southern Railway will be in court on Oct. 3, arguing its motion to transfer a Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA) complaint based on the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

Represented by Kurt Reitz and Crystal Campbell of Thompson Coburn, Norfolk argues Madison County is not a convenient forum in Steven Rennels' FELA case.

Rennels sued Norfolk in April alleging his sleep disorder was caused by being forced to work "irregular shifts."

Rennels, a former engineer for Norfolk, claims he has been diagnosed with Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder (CRSD), which caused him to suffer fatigue, depression, tinnitus, pain and mental anguish.

He claims his injuries were caused in whole or in part from the negligent acts or omissions of Norfolk Southern.

Represented by Ryan Furniss of St. Louis, Rennels alleges Norfolk Southern violated FELA by failing to provide him with a safe place to work.

He also claims the railroad violated FELA by failing to provide adequate rest for its crews, failing to enact a sleep break policy, negligently called him to assignments, failing to warn him of the dangers of irregular sleep and failing to provide him adequate help.

CRSD is in a family of sleep disorders affecting the timing of sleep.

Rennels claims his condition has caused him to undergo medical treatment, tests and therapy, caused him to suffer pain and mental anguish and lose wages and fringe benefits.

Seeking at least $50,000 in damages, he also claims he has lost the ability to enjoy the normal pursuits of life.

Norfolk wants Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian to dismiss the case pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 187 arguing the trains Rennels operated were between Chicago, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Bellevue, Ohio.

They also argue that during his entire career with them, Rennels resided in Fort Wayne, Ind.

"There is no evidence in Plaintiff's personnel records that his work ever brought him into Madison County, Illinois," the motion states.

Norfolk also argues that Rennels' primary supervisors and instructors, all of whom may be potential witnesses, either reside in Indiana or Ohio, with the exception of two, one who lives in Maryland Heights, Missouri and another that lives in Atlanta.

The railroad further argues that Rennels received work related exams throughout his career at U.S. Healthworks in Fort Wayne, Ind.

"Because this litigation has no connection to Madison County, and has been brought in an inconvenient forum, it should be dismissed on forum non conveniens grounds pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 187," the motion states.

If Matoesian denies the motion, Norfolk is also set to argue its motion to dismiss the case arguing the complaint should be dismissed because it sets forth claims that are preempted by the Federal Hours of Service Act.

Norfolk argues that since the issue of work hours for railroad engineers is covered by federal law, the complaint should be dismissed because the complaint's subject matter is preempted by federal law.

Norfolk Southern also argues that Rennels' claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress should also be dismissed because he has not alleged he was within the "zone of danger of a physical impact."

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