Railroad Injunction Suit Fails Against F.E.L.A. Claimants
Posted on Jul 19, 2007Four FELA Plaintiffs filed suit in Richmond, Virginia Circuit Court against CSX. Over objection of Plaintiff, venue was transferred to a rural county in Virginia, Southampton County. After the venue transfer orders were entered, all four Plaintiffs took nonsuit entered by the Southampton County Circuit Court. A Virginia nonsuit is similar to a dismissal without prejudice, but gives certain special “savings” rights of refiling the Virginia suit either in the circuit court where the nonsuit was entered, or in a federal court.
Rather than refiling in the state or federal courts of Virginia, three of the FELA Plaintiffs chose to re-file their actions in Jacksonville, Florida state court. One of the four Plaintiffs filed suit in North Carolina state court, as the particular Plaintiff was a resident of North Carolina.
CSX Transportation Inc. filed for injunctive relief in Southampton County, circuit court Virginia, asking the court to enjoin all four Plaintiffs from proceeding with their FELA actions except in Southampton County circuit court, Virginia. CSX asserted that the Plaintiffs were blatantly forum shopping and should be enjoined, and sought attorneys fees. CSX argued that once the Plaintiffs initially filed their actions in Virginia, and nonsuited the actions in Virginia, that the Plaintiffs were limited to proceeding in that Virginia state court under the Virginia nonsuit statute’s venue limitation clause, Virginia Code sec 8.01-380.
The railroad workers, in response:
1. Entered a special appearance objecting to jurisdiction because the four nonsuit orders were final orders from the previous action, and since the actions were nonsuited they that could not be acted upon by the court as they became final orders months earlier;
2. That a line of U.S. Supreme court cases has held that injunctive relief may not be entered by a state court, enjoining a sister state or federal court from proceeding with a FELA action;
3. That CSX had adequate remedies at law and therefore injunctive relief was not appropriate. The adequate remedy at law was challenging the jurisdiction or venue basis of the re-filed FELA actions in the other states.
The workers counsel argued that a trilogy of U.S. Supreme court cases beginning with Baltimore and Ohio R.R. Co. v. Kepner, 314 U.S. 44 (1941), Miles v. Ill. Central R. Co., 315 U.S. 698 (1942), and Pope v. Atlantic Coast R.R. Co., 345 U.S. 379 (1953) which made clear that a state court does not have the power to enjoin a FELA Plaintiff from proceeding with a FELA action in a sister state. Further, the workers noted that CSX, in defending the re-filed actions in other sister states, were challenging venue and jurisdiction and this was the appropriate legal remedy for CSX. Last, the workers counsel made note that Virginia had interrupted its own state nonsuit statute, Virginia Code Section 8.01-380, as being a venue limitation statute that controlled intra-state venue selection after nonsuit and not venue between the state of Virginia and a sister state or a foreign nation’s jurisdiction. Clark v. Clark, 11 Va. App.286 ( 1990 )
One interesting research note that arose from this injunction was that the FELA, at 45 U.S. Code Sec 56, permits concurrent state and federal court jurisdiction, however, in the late 1940's, the Congress enacted the Federal forum non conveniens statute 28 U.S. Code Sec 1404 (a) partially in response to “vexatious” forum shopping by FELA Plaintiffs. However, at the time of the passage of the Federal forum non conveniens provision in the U.S. Code, Congress took up, but rejected, an amendment that would also provide that the forum non conveniens statute applies to state court actions. In ruling in the last of the trilogy of these venue/injunction cases, the U.S. Supreme court in Pope noted that workers were harassing employers in distant forums without restriction, and went on to note that adding state court forum non conveniens “prevailed in the House” but that the amendment “died in the Senate Judiciary Committee” and “section 6 of the Federal Employers’ Liability Act was left just as this court has construed it” (referring to the Miles case above), Pope, 345 U.S. 379. The upshot of the U.S. Supreme court trilogy of cases is that state venue statutes may not discriminate against FELA Plaintiffs who are nonresidents of a forum state. In detailed analysis, the U.S. Supreme court discussed the fact that states could enact non-discriminatory intra-state venue laws, so long as they did not adversely discriminate against nonresidents or nonresidents FELA Plaintiffs. With the recent proliferation of venue restriction statutes around the nation, FELA practitioners must carefully review the U.S. Supreme court decisions to determine whether any particular state venue statute may encroach on rights granted by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, as interpreted by the trilogy of Supreme Court cases culminating with the Pope decision.