BNSF Railway Company, a Delaware Corporation authorized to do business in Nebraska Plaintiff- Appellant
Seats, Incorporated, a Wisconsin Corporation Defendant-Appellee
Submitted: May 17, 2018
from United States District Court for the District of
Nebraska - Lincoln
WOLLMAN, BENTON, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.
BENTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
engineer was injured when the backrest of his locomotive seat
broke. He sued the BNSF Railway Company, claiming the seat
did not comply with the federal standards in the Locomotive
Inspection Act (LIA). The LIA requires locomotives, their
parts, and appurtenances be "in proper condition and
safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal
injury." 49 U.S.C. §
20701(1). The LIA has the "purpose and
effect of facilitating employee recover[y]" by
conferring on railroads a "duty to provide safe
equipment." Urie v. Thompson, 337 U.S. 163,
188-89 (1949) (internal quotation marks omitted). An injured
employee does not have a private right of action under the
LIA. Id. An injured employee does have a private
right of action under the Federal Employers' Liability
Act (FELA). 45 U.S.C. § 51. BNSF
settled a FELA claim with the engineer.
then sued Seats, Inc., to recover the costs of settlement.
Seats designed, manufactured, and marketed the seat that
broke. Seats moved to dismiss, arguing that the LIA preempts
BNSF's claims. BNSF countered that preemption does not
apply to claims based on federal standards of care. The
district court, citing a lack of clear authority, granted the
motion to dismiss. See BNSF Ry. Co. v. Seats, Inc.,
235 F.Supp.3d 1089 (D. Neb. 2017). See also Hughs v.
Union Pacific R.R. Co., No. 5:15-06079-CV-RK, 2017 WL
1609646 (W.D. Mo. Apr. 28, 2017) (slip op.). BNSF appeals.
court reviews the grant of a motion to dismiss de novo.
In re Pre-Filled Propane Tank Antitrust Litig., 860
F.3d 1059, 1063 (8th Cir. 2017) (en banc). The complainant
"must show the plaintiff is entitled to relief, by
alleging sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."
Id., quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations
issue here is whether the LIA preempts BNSF's
products-liability claims based on federally-imposed
standards of care. The LIA preempts state legislation because
Congress intended it "to occupy the field" of
"the design, the construction, and the material of every
part of the locomotive and tender and of all
appurtenances." Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line R.R.
Co., 272 U.S. 605, 611, 613 (1926). See Malone v.
White Motor Corp., 435 U.S. 497, 504 (1978) ("The
purpose of Congress is the ultimate touchstone" of
preemption analysis). The holding of Napier
"admits of no exception for state common-law duties and
standards of care." Kurns v. Railroad Friction
Prods. Corp., 565 U.S. 625, 637 (2012).
believes that the Napier and Kurns opinions
resolve this case. Seats emphasizes the words "admits of
no exception . . .." Id. Seats ignores the rest
of the sentence: "no exception for state common-law
duties and standards of care." Id. As
Kurns puts it, "state common-law duties and
standards of care directed to the subject of locomotive
equipment are pre-empted by the LIA." Id. See also
First Sec. Bank v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 152 F.3d 877,
880 (8th Cir. 1998) (emphasizing that the LIA preempts state
common-law remedies). Neither Napier nor
Kurns addresses the present issue-whether the LIA
preempts products-liability claims based on federal standards
courts have held that the field preempted by the LIA does not
include state common-law actions based on LIA violations.
See Delaware & Hudson Ry. Co. v. Knoedler Mfrs.,
Inc., 781 F.3d 656, 667 (3d Cir. 2015); BNSF Ry. Co.
v. Seats, Inc., 349 P.3d 1096, 1100 (Ariz.Ct.App. 2015);
Engvall v. Soo Line R.R. Co., 632 N.W.2d 560, 571
(Minn. 2001). Cf. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co. v.
Ayers, 538 U.S. 135, 162 n.21, 165 n.23 (2003) (citing
Engvall to support: "FELA defendants may bring
indemnification and contribution actions against third
parties under otherwise applicable state or federal law"
and: "Once an employer has been adjudged negligent with
respect to a given injury, it accords with the FELA's
overarching purpose to require the employer to bear the
burden of identifying other responsible parties and
demonstrating that some of the costs of the injury should be
spread to them").
Third Circuit based its holding partly on Supreme Court
decisions about other statutes that allow common-law claims
to remedy federal violations. See Knoedler, 781 F.3d
at 662-63. The Knoedler case focused on the
Safety Appliance Acts (SAAs). See 49 U.S.C.
§ 20301-06. The SAAs and the
LIA are similar. Both regulate locomotive equipment. Both
Acts "operate to exclude state regulation whether
consistent, complementary, additional, or otherwise."
Gilvary v. Cuyahoga Valley Ry. Co., 292 U.S. 57,
60-61 (1934) (SAAs). Accord Kurns, 565 U.S. at 637,
citing Napier, 272 U.S. at 611-12 (LIA). "[T]he
same principles apply in an action under the [LIA] as in one
under the Safety Appliance Acts." Tipton v.
Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Ry. Co., 298 U.S. 141,
151 (1936). The "congressional purpose underlying the
[LIA] is basically the same as that underlying the
[SAAs]" that locomotives "be employed in . . .
active service . . . without unnecessary peril to life or
limb." Urie, 337 U.S. at 190 (ellipses in
original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Neither Act gives a private right of action to the injured
employee. Id. at 188-89. Both Acts are enforced by a
private right of action under FELA. Id.
SAAs allow state common-law claims by nonemployees for
federal violations. See Crane v. Cedar Rapids & Iowa
City Ry. Co., 395 U.S. 164, 166 (1969) (a
"nonemployee must look for his remedy to a common-law
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"). Cf. Breisch v. Cent. R.R. of
N.J., 312 U.S. 484, 486 (1941) (finding there is no
"longer a question as to the power of the state to
provide whatsoever remedy it may choose for breaches of the
[SAAs]. The federal statutes create the right; the remedy is
within the state's discretion"); Tipton,
298 U.S. at 147-48 (the SAAs "do not give a right of
action for their breach, but leave the genesis and regulation
of such action to the law of the states"). "Like
the LIA, the SAAs are silent as to whether state remedies are
preempted. Despite that silence, the Supreme Court decided .
. . that relief under state law was not preempted."
Knoedler, 781 F.3d at 664.
argues that state claims based on federal standards of care
threaten national uniformity. "But the enforcement under
state law of a federal standard of care does not undermine
national uniformity because it does not impose conflicting
regulations that a railroad must heed during interstate
travel." Id. at 666. Seats asserts the
LIA's standard is "amorphous." To the contrary,
it is as definite and certain as any rule submitted to a
jury. See Baltimore & Ohio R.R. Co. v. Groeger,
266 U.S. 521, ...