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Echols v. CSX Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

June 13, 2017



          Robert E. Payne Senior United States District Judge

         Roy Franklin Echols, Jr., a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, has filed this action pursuant to the Federal Employers' Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51 et seq.[1] The matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant CSX Transportation, Inc. ("CSX") (ECF No. 25); Echols's Motion to Leave and Amend ("Motion to Amend, " ECF No. 36); and CSX's Second Motion to Stay Proceedings (ECF No. 38) . For the reasons stated below, because the action is barred by the statute of limitations, the Court will grant the Motion to Dismiss, deny the Motion to Amend, and deny as moot the Second Motion to Stay Proceedings.


         "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (1990)). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Martin, 980 F.2d at 952. This principle applies only to factual allegations, however, and "a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require[] only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (second alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Plaintiffs cannot satisfy this standard with complaints containing only "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. (citations omitted). Instead, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " id. (citation omitted), stating a claim that is "plausible on its face, " id. at 570, rather than merely "conceivable." Id. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 556) . In order for a claim or complaint to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, the plaintiff must "allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of [his or] her claim." Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Dickson v. Microsoft Corp., 309 F.3d 193, 213 (4th Cir. 2002); Iodice v. United States, 289 F.3d 270, 281 (4th Cir. 2002)). Lastly, while the Court liberally construes pro se complaints, Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1978), it will not act as the inmate's advocate and develop, sua sponte, statutory and constitutional claims that the inmate failed to clearly raise on the face of his complaint. See Brock v. Carroll, 107 F.3d 241, 243 (4th Cir. 1997) (Luttig, J., concurring); Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).


         Echols was employed by CSX's Engineering Department as a trackman from April of 1981 until September of 1997, when he was arrested on felony charges. (Compl. ¶ 5, ECF No. I.)[2] During his employment, Echols "was constantly exposed to airborne coal and rock dust while performing his daily assigned tasks . . . ." (Id. ¶ 6.) Echols states:

On or about September of 2012, Plaintiff began to experience serious respiratory complications that got progressively worse as the days went on. Prior to this time Plaintiff was in good health. These difficulties worried him intensely. Plaintiff discovered that black lung, silicosis and pulmonary disease can cause these respiratory conditions, since his only possible exposure to coal and rock dust was during the period of his employment with the railroad. On October 7th, 2012, Plaintiff contacted the CSX headquarters located at 500 Water Street Jacksonville, Florida 32202 in an effort to obtain the name and address of the Union that represented him during the period of his employment with the railroad.
After diligently researching the symptoms and causes of black lung, silicosis or other pulmonary lung disease, Plaintiff came to the belief that he contracted this occupational disease and that the accumulated effects of the deleterious substances, coal and rock dust, began to manifest itself in his respiratory complications. CSX records clearly show that the railroad had conducted silicosis testing on its employees including Plaintiff in the mid-1990 [s] without notifying Plaintiff of the purpose for the testing or any positive results. On October 28, 2012 and January 15, 2013, Plaintiff contacted his Union representative by U.S. mail in an effort to obtain the results of silicosis testing conducted by CSX, to no avail. On July 1st, 2013, Plaintiff directly contacted CSX headquarters by U.S. mail to obtain the results of silicosis lung testing during the period of his employment.

(Id. ¶¶ 7-8 (paragraph numbers omitted).) On July 25, 2013, the medical department at Nottoway Correctional Center ordered that Echols undergo diagnostic lung testing. (Id. ¶ 9.) Subsequently, Echols "was diagnosed with a Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Lung Disorder caused by railroad dust conditions." (Id.)

         Echols's Complaint raises the following claims for relief:

Claim One: "Violation of Federal Safety Appliance Act 45 U.S.C.S. 1-16 and Occupational Safety and Health Act subsection 1910.134 regulations." (Id. at 7.)[3]
Claim Two: "Negligen[t] exposure to harmful and hazardous coal and rock dust." (Id. at 9.)
Claim Three: "Emotional distress and mental anguish." (Id. at 14.)

         Echols seeks $800, 000.00 in compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. at 16.)

         III. ANALYSIS

         CSX moves to dismiss Echols's Complaint as barred by the applicable statute of limitations. (Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss 1, 7-9, ECF No. 26.) CSX also opposes Echols's Motion to Amend, asserting that the Proposed Amended Complaint is futile because it would still be barred by the statute of limitations. (Br. Opp. Mot. Amend 1, ECF No. 3 7.) As discussed below, the Court agrees that Echols's Complaint is untimely. The Court also agrees that Echols's Motion to Amend is futile, as well as

         A. Statute of Limitations Governing FELA Actions

          "No action shall be maintained under [FELA] unless commenced within three years from the day the cause of action accrued." 45 U.S.C. § 56. "[T]his statute of limitations is not an affirmative defense; instead, compliance with 45 U.S.C. § 56 is a condition precedent to recovery under the Act. Failure to bring suit within the statutory period 'destroys the employer's liability' and bars the claimant's recovery." Johnson v. Norfolk & W. Ry. Co., No. 92-1719, 1993 WL 17061, at *1 (4th Cir. Jan. 28, 1993) (quoting Emmons v. S. Pac. Transp. Co., 701 F.2d 1112, 1117 (5th Cir. 1983)). "The burden is therefore on the claimant to allege and to prove that his cause of action was commenced within the three-year period." Id. (quoting Emmons, 701 F.2d at 1118); see Cash v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., No. 6:13-CV-00056, ...

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