Metro-North Braces for Trial in State Court After SCOTUS Declines to Hear Case

Connecticut Law Tribune
Robert Storace
January 13, 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday denied a request from Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co. that it accept jurisdiction over Connecticut litigation over a man’s fall in front of an oncoming train.

The decision from the country’s high court means the trial will likely proceed in Bridgeport Superior Court in March or April.

The case hinged on state law and federal regulations, and which trumps the other.

After the high court ruling, it will remain in Connecticut.

The litigation pitted plaintiff Jamey Murphy, widow of commuter Kevin Murphy, against Metro-North.

Metro-North argued a federal regulation on train speed, the Railroad Safety Act of 1970, allows trains to travel upward of 80 miles per hour. It claimed its train, which was traveling at 70 miles per hour, was in full compliance with that law. It also argued that federal law trumped the plaintiff’s arguments about Connecticut’s law on track selection, which the plaintiff raised.

Metro-North had based its argument in its petition for certiorari solely on the federal RSA. It maintained the act preempted any negligence on the part of Metro-North in the 2013 death.

Plaintiff sued Metro-North claiming her husband wouldn’t have been killed if the train, which was not making a stop at the Darien station, where her spouse died, hadn’t been speeding on the track closest to the platform. The decedent slipped on a patch of ice on the platform and fell on the tracks in front of an oncoming train.

Plaintiff argued that under Connecticut law, the train should have been traveling on the track furthest away from the platform and commuters, since it had no scheduled stops at that station.

“Metro-North’s normal practice is to operate the through train on the interior track,” plaintiff attorney Joel Faxon of New Haven-based Faxon Law Group, said Monday. “They deviated from their own practice.”

Metro-North’s legal team includes Ryan Ryan Deluca Connecticut attorneys Charles Deluca, Robert Hickey and Beck Fineman, and litigators Charles Cole, Alice Loughran and Mark Savignac, of Washington, D.C.-based Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

Deluca referred comment to Beck, who didn’t respond by press time. Hickey, Loughran and Savignac declined to comment, and Cole didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Metro-North spokeswoman Meredith Daniels also did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, plaintiff counsel is pressing ahead with the case in state court.

“It’s a simple passenger- and commuter-safety issue,” Faxon said. “There are consequences for what Metro-North did, and they’ll have to pay.”

The attorney believes the stakes are high for both parties.

“This is clearly a multimillion-dollar case,” he said.

Assisting Faxon are Cowdery & Murphy attorneys James Healy and John D’Ambrosio.

related professionals