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Huff v. Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 22, 2019

RUFUS HUFF, Plaintiff



         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Rufus Huff (“Huff”) filed this lawsuit against his former employer, Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company (“MBCR”) alleging violations of the Federal Employer's Liability Act (“FELA”), 45 U.S.C. §§ 51 et seq. D. 1. MBCR has moved for summary judgment. D. 17. For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES the motion.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Court grants summary judgment where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the undisputed facts demonstrate that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A fact is material if it carries with it the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law.” Santiago-Ramos v. Centennial P.R. Wireless Corp., 217 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2000) (quoting Sánchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996)). The movant “bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Carmona v. Toledo, 215 F.3d 124, 132 (1st Cir. 2000); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on the allegations or denials in his pleadings, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986), but “must, with respect to each issue on which [he] would bear the burden of proof at trial, demonstrate that a trier of fact could reasonably resolve that issue in [his] favor.” Borges ex rel. S.M.B.W. v. Serrano-Isern, 605 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2010). “As a general rule, that requires the production of evidence that is ‘significant[ly] probative.'” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249) (alteration in original). When assessing a motion for summary judgment, the Court will not consider “conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation.” Galloza v. Foy, 389 F.3d 26, 28 (1st Cir. 2004) (quoting Medina-Munoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990)). The Court “view[s] the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing reasonable inferences in his favor.” Noonan v. Staples, Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2009).

         III. Factual Background

         The following facts are drawn primarily from MBCR's memorandum of law in support of its motion for summary judgment, D. 18, [1] MBCR's statement of undisputed material facts, D. 20, Huff's memorandum of law in opposition of MBCR's motion for summary judgment, [2] D. 21, and other supporting documents and are undisputed unless otherwise noted. Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 “[m]aterial facts of record set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party will be deemed for purposes of the motion to be admitted by opposition parties unless controverted by the statement required to be served by opposing parties.” Local Rule 56.1.

         Huff is a seventy-year-old man who began working for MBCR in April 2007. D. 20, ¶ 1; D. 21 at 1. Huff spent just over seven years working at MBCR, ending his employment with the company in June 2014. D. 20, ¶ 5; D. 21 at 2. While employed at MBCR, Huff held various positions within the Track/Engineering Department, including working as a trackman, watchman and crossing tender. D. 20, ¶¶ 7-9; D. 21 at 2-3. Prior to his employment with MBCR, Huff spent approximately twenty-eight years working as a laborer at Boston Edison, retiring from his position in 1998. D. 20, ¶ 3. While an employee of MBCR, Huff was provided with safety rules to follow and received extensive safety training. D. 18 at 5. MBCR provided Huff with personal protective equipment to wear while he worked, which included a hard hat, safety glasses, steel-toe boots, and gloves. Id.; D. 21-1 at 13. MBCR also had a Safety Committee comprised of union and management personnel to address any safety issues that arose. D. 18 at 5.

         Huff first consulted his primary care physician, Dr. Robert Muldoon, in late 2014 regarding discomfort he was experiencing in his right hand. D. 18 at 2; D. 21 at 14. Dr. Muldoon referred Huff to an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Marvin Rosen, whom Huff met with on December 4, 2014. D. 18 at 2-3; D. 21 at 7. Following testing, Dr. Rosen diagnosed Huff with right carpal tunnel syndrome on January 21, 2015. D. 20, ¶ 10; D. 21 at 14. Huff underwent a right carpal tunnel release surgical procedure performed by Dr. Rosen on May 29, 2015. D. 20, ¶ 12, D. 21 at 14. Following the recurrence of his symptoms, Huff underwent a second right carpal tunnel release surgery on February 1, 2018, performed by a different orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Raghuveer Muppavarapu. D. 20, ¶ 12; D. 21 at 17.

         IV. Procedural History

         Huff instituted this action on March 30, 2018, alleging negligence against MBCR. D. 1. MBCR has now moved for summary judgment. D. 17. The Court held a hearing on the motion and took the matter under advisement. D. 25.

         V. Discussion

         A. Statute of Limitations

         MBCR argues that Huff failed to file this action within the applicable statute of limitations period because the statute of limitations began to run on either January 21, 2015 or February 4, 2015, the dates on which Huff was informed by his doctors that he had right carpal tunnel syndrome. D. 18 at 7-10. Huff argues that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until sometime on or after May 29, 2015, when Huff had his first carpal tunnel ...

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