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Butts v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 26, 2018

Wayne Lee Butts Plaintiff,
v.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THE HONORABLE GINA L. SIMMS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pending before this Court, by the parties' consent, is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Response in Opposition thereto. (ECF Nos. 30, 31)[1]. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         The following facts, appearing in both Plaintiff's deposition and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, are undisputed. On November 19, 2015, Plaintiff Wayne Lee Butts (“Plaintiff”) boarded the F13 bus at the stop at 85th and Annapolis Road in New Carrolton. (Butts Dep. at 11, 15; ECF No. 31 at 1; ECF No. 30-2 at 3). After paying his fare, Plaintiff grabbed onto a bar before making his way to his preferred seat. (Butts Dep. at 19; ECF No. 30-2 at 5). Plaintiff had both feet planted on the floor and was holding the bar when the bus began to move. (Butts Dep. at 19, 21; ECF No. 30-2 at 4). According to Plaintiff, the bus operator “took off and you know jerked the bus to the left.” (Butts Dep. at 18; ECF No. 30-2 at 5).

         Plaintiff alleges that he landed on his head and back, sustaining injuries. (Butts Dep. at 18, 21). Defendant does not address the alleged injuries to Plaintiff. Thus, consistent with the law regarding summary judgment motions, the facts related to Plaintiff's injuries are construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party.

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on March 29, 2017, alleging that he suffered injuries as a result of Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”)'s, negligence. (ECF No. 1). Defendant filed its Answer on March 29, 2017. (ECF No. 5). This case was assigned to me for All Further Proceedings on November 17, 2017. On March 1, 2018, Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 19). On April 17, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 27). Defendant again filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on August 22, 2018. (ECF No. 30). Plaintiff filed his Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on August 22, 2018. (ECF No. 31), attaching a supplemental memorandum of points and authorities. Accordingly, the Motion pending before this Court is ripe for disposition.

         II. Standard of Review

         Motions for summary judgment shall be granted only if there are no genuine issues of material fact, such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Properties, 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987) (internal citation omitted). The burden can be satisfied through the submission of discovery materials. Barwick v. Celotex Corp., 736 F.2d 946, 958 (4th Cir. 1984). To defeat motions for summary judgment, on the other hand, the nonmoving party cannot simply cast “metaphysical doubt” on the material facts, but rather must provide specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)).

         The Court must construe the facts and documentary materials submitted by the parties, including the credibility and weight of particular evidence, in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motions. Masson v. N.Y. Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S. 495, 520 (1991) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255)). A mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient to create an issue of material fact. See Barwick, 736 F.2d at 958-59. Summary judgment is inappropriate if any material factual issue “may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

         III. Analysis

         To establish a cause of action for negligence in Maryland, a plaintiff must prove four elements: (1) defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) the plaintiff suffered actual loss or injury; and (4) the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant's breach of the duty. See Todd v. Mass. Transit Admin., 373 Md. 149, 155 (2003) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Negligence is a relative term and must be decided on the facts of each particular case; ordinarily, it is a question of fact to be determined by the jury. See Fowler v. Smith, 240 Md. 240, 246 (1965).

         Under Maryland law, a common carrier is not an insurer of the safety of its passengers, but is bound to employ the highest degree of care for their safety, consistent with the nature of the undertaking. Mass Transit Admin. v. Miller, 271 Md. 256, 259 (1974). A common carrier owes its passengers a duty to deliver them to their destination as expeditiously as possible, consistent with safety. Id.

         The Court of Appeals of Maryland has held that after a passenger is fairly aboard, an operator may resume his ordinary duties as to operating the vehicle without further concern with the movements of passengers within the car. Przyborowski v. Balt. Transit Co., 191 Md. 63, 67 (1948). Conversely, it is the duty of passengers, once on board, to protect themselves against the normal motions of the vehicle. Id. In Mass Transit Admin. v. Miller, the same court held that a passenger, once on board a public carrier, is under a duty to use reasonable care to protect himself against the normal motions of the vehicles incident to public transportation, and a plaintiff who attempts to establish negligence on the part of the operator of a carrier cannot prove negligence solely by the use of strong adjectives or expletives characterizing a stop or a start. 271 Md. 256, 260 (1974). Plaintiff is required to offer additional proof that creates a question as to whether the plaintiff has established that the movement of the bus was unusual or extraordinary. Id. (noting that the plaintiff has the burden to produce such additional evidence).

         In the instant case, Defendant contends that no genuine issues of material fact exist and, therefore, it is entitled to Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 30-2 at 1). Defendant makes two arguments: 1) that Plaintiff has not offered any evidence that the start of the bus was so abnormal or extraordinary to have constituted negligence; and 2) that Plaintiff assumed the risk that the bus would move forward and make other movements before he had time to sit down. (ECF No. 30-2 at 3-6). Plaintiff counters that there is a genuine issue of material fact and, therefore, Defendant is not entitled to summary judgment. (ECF No. 31 at 1). Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the “jerking” of the bus from left to right does not describe an ordinary and usual movement of a bus, and thus, plaintiff alleges, the WMATA bus driver was operating the bus in a negligent manner. Id. Plaintiff relies on Washington Metropolitan Area ...


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