United States District Court, D. Kansas
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORP.; BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, Plaintiffs,
CIMARRON CROSSING FEEDERS, LLC, Defendant. and EVERETT OWEN, et al., Intervenor-Plaintiffs,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
THOMAS MARTEN, JUDGE
Railroad Passenger Corporation (better known as Amtrak) and
BNSF Railway brought this suit after an Amtrak passenger
train derailed at a highway crossing in Cimarron, Kansas, on
March 14, 2016. The complaint alleged that shortly before the
accident, employees of defendant Cimarron Crossing Feeders
had been loading a grain truck at that company's nearby
cattle-feeding facility, when they left the truck unattended,
out of gear, and with no brake applied, resulting in the
truck rolling downhill and striking and damaging the railroad
bed and track where the train subsequently derailed.
Plaintiffs asserted a claim for negligence/gross negligence
against Cimarron Crossing. Dkt. 1.
of passengers from the train subsequently intervened as
plaintiffs. Their fifth amended complaint (Dkt. 89) asserts
claims not only against Cimarron Crossing, but also against
Amtrak and BNSF. Among other things, they assert a claim
against Amtrak for attorney's fees pursuant to K.S.A.
§ 66-176, based in part on Amtrak's alleged status
as a “common carrier.” Dkt. 89 at 11,
¶¶ 67, 68. Amtrak and BNSF now move for partial
judgment on the pleadings as to this claim, arguing
attorney's fees are not available because in 2005 the
Kansas legislature eliminated railroads from the group of
common carriers subject to § 66-176. Dkt. 106 at 5.
Scope of K.S.A. § 66-176.
Resolution of the current motion turns upon construction of
two Kansas statutes: K.S.A. §§ 66-176 and 66-105.
The first of these provides in part as follows:
66-176. Damages for violations; attorney
fees. Any public utility or common carrier which
violates any of the provisions of law for the regulation of
public utilities or common carriers shall forfeit … to
the person … aggrieved thereby, the actual damages
sustained by the party aggrieved, together with the costs of
suit and reasonable attorney fees….
other provision provides as follows:
66-105. Common carriers defined. As used in
this act, “common carriers” shall include all
freight-line companies, equipment companies, pipe-line
companies, and all persons and associations of person,
whether incorporated or not, operating such agencies for
public use in the conveyance of persons or property within
Rules of construction.
Kansas Supreme Court recently set forth the following rules
for construction of Kansas statutes:
The most fundamental rule of statutory construction is that
the intent of the legislature governs if that intent can be
ascertained. Bergstrom v. Spears Manufacturing Co.,
289 Kan. 605, 607, 214 P.3d 676 (2009). We first attempt to
ascertain legislative intent by reading the plain language of
the statutes and giving common words their ordinary meanings.
Padron v. Lopez, 289 Kan. 1089, 1097, 220 P.3d 345
(2009). When a statute is plain and unambiguous, we do not
speculate as to the legislative intent behind it and will not
read into the statute something not readily found in it. But
when the statute's language or text is unclear or
ambiguous, we “employ canons of construction,
legislative history, or other background considerations to
divine the legislature's intent and construe the statute
accordingly.” Stewart Title of the Midwest v. Reece
& Nichols Realtors, 294 Kan. 553, 564-65, 276 P.3d
However, even if the language of the statute is clear, we
must still consider various provisions of an act in pari
materia with a view of reconciling and bringing those
provisions into workable harmony if possible.
Southwestern Bell Tel. Co. v. Beachner Constr. Co.,
289 Kan. 1262, 1270, 221 P.3d 588 (2009). Additionally, we
must construe statutes to avoid unreasonable or absurd
results, and we presume the legislature does not intend to
enact useless or meaningless legislation. 289 Kan. at 1269,
221 P.3d 588; State v. Le, 260 Kan. 845, 850, 926
P.2d 638 (1996).
N. Nat. Gas Co. v. ONEOK Field Servs. Co., 296 Kan.
906, 918, 296 P.3d 1106, 1115 (2013). The Kansas Supreme
Court has also recognized that “[t]echnical words and
phrases, and other words and phrases that have acquired a
peculiar and appropriate meaning in law, shall be construed
according to their peculiar and appropriate meanings.”
Int'l. Ass'n of Firefighters, Local No. 64 v.
City of Kansas City, 264 Kan. 17, 27, 954 P.2d 1079,
1086 (1998). See also State v. Taylor, 27 Kan.App.2d
539, 541, 6 P.3d 441, 443 (2000) (“In the absence of a