Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint (Judge Holly Fujie)

Case Number: BC561711??? Hearing Date: April 26, 2016??? Dept: 98




CASE NO: BC561711


Dept. 98
1:30 p.m.
April 26, 2016

On October 23, 2014, Plaintiff Battista Coppola (?Plaintiff?) filed this action against Defendants Progress Rail Services Corporation and BNSF Railway Company (?BNSF?) alleging causes of action for negligence and premises liability. This action arises out of alleged damages sustained when Plaintiff fell off of a catwalk while working at the Port of Long Beach on January 3, 2013. Plaintiff now moves for leave to file a First Amended Complaint (?FAC?).

The Court may, in its discretion and after notice to the adverse party, allow, upon any terms as may be just, an amendment to any pleading. Cal. Code of Civ. Proc. ? 473(a)(1). Judicial policy favors resolution of all disputed matters between the parties in the same lawsuit and discretion will usually be exercised liberally to permit amendment of the pleadings. See Nestle v. Santa Monica (1972) 6 Cal.3d 920, 929. ?Although courts are bound to apply a policy of great liberality in permitting amendments to the complaint at any stage of the proceedings, up to and including trial, this policy should be applied only ?[w]here no prejudice is shown to the adverse party ??? Magpali v. Farmers Group, Inc. (1996) 48 Cal.App.4th 471, 487. If the proposed amendment fails to state a cause of action, leave to amend should be denied. Foxborough v. Van Atta (1994) 26 Cal.App.4th 217, 230.

Plaintiff seeks to allege a cause of action against BNSF pursuant to the Federal Safety Appliances Act, 49 U.S.C. ? 20301, et seq. (?SAA?), which provides that a railroad carrier may use a vehicle on its railroad lines only if said vehicle is equipped with secure ladders and running boards when required by the Secretary of Transportation, and, if ladders are required, secure handholds or grab irons on its roof at the top of each ladder. Plaintiff alleges that the catwalk/running board he was walking on was in a defective condition. Plaintiff argues that BNSF will suffer no prejudice because it is already a named Defendant in this action and the proposed amendment merely augments already pled allegations regarding the hazardous condition which caused Plaintiff?s fall.

BNSF does not claim prejudice but asserts that a violation of the SAA does not give rise to a separate cause of action and only creates a rebuttable presumption of negligence, not strict liability. BNSF argues that amendment would therefore amount to nothing more than a duplicate charge of negligence and should be denied.

Plaintiff relies on Shields v. Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. (1956) 350 U.S. 318, in which the United States Supreme Court rejected the argument that a duty is not owed to nonemployees of a railroad under the SAA and concluded that one who had been on a running board for the purpose of unloading a car was a member of one class protected by the statute. Id., at 325. The Shields Court concluded that, as to the petitioner, the violation of the statute must result in absolute liability. Id. Plaintiff also relies on a federal Third Circuit case, which cites to Shields to hold that the SAA provides protection to nonemployees as well as railroad employees. Barney v. Staten Island Rapid Transit Railway Company (1963) 316 F.2d 38, 40.

BNSF relies on Crane v. Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railroad Co. (1969) 395 U.S. 164. In Crane, the United States Supreme Court held that the SAA did not create a federal cause of action for either employees or nonemployees seeking damages for injuries resulting from a railroad?s violation of the Act. Id., at 166. Rather, ?the nonemployee must look for his remedy to a commonlaw action in tort, which is to say that he must sue in a state court, in the absence of diversity, to implement a state cause of action.? Id. The California Court of Appeal relied on Crane to hold that, because a violation of a statute does not impose strict liability on the violator but merely creates a rebuttable presumption of negligence under California law, a cause of action for a violation of the SAA does no more than duplicate a charge of negligence. Beard v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Co. (1970) 4 Cal.App.3d 129, 142.

The Court finds that Plaintiff?s proposed amendment fails to state a cause of action, under Crane and Beard. Therefore, Plaintiff?s Motion for leave to file a First Amended Complaint is DENIED.

Dated this 26th day of April, 2016

Hon. Holly J. Fujie
Judge of the Superior Court