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National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Cimarron Crossing Feeders, LLC

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 29, 2017

CIMARRON CROSSING FEEDERS, LLC, Defendant. and EVERETT OWEN, et al., Intervenor-Plaintiffs,



         National 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.[1]

         A group 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.

         I. Scope of K.S.A. § 66-176.

         A. Statutory provisions.

          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….

         The 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 this state.

         B. Rules of construction.

         The 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 188 (2012).
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 ...

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