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Abeyta v. BNSF Railway Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

January 8, 2018

KEITH ABEYTA, an individual, Plaintiff,
BNSF RAILWAY COMPANY, a Delaware corporation, Defendant.


          THOMAS O. RICE Chief United States District Judge.

         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendant BNSF Railway Company's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 5). This matter was submitted for consideration without oral argument. The Court has reviewed the record and files herein, and is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 6) is DENIED.


         The instant action concerns a claim under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. § 51, by Plaintiff Keith Abeyta against Defendant BNSF Railway Company. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 3. According to the Complaint, Abeyta worked for BNSF as a “roadmaster” in and around the state of Washington and received injuries in March 2011, November 2011, and “over the course of his employment.” ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 37, 46, 67.

         On December 30, 2013, Abeyta filed suit for the alleged injuries in the Montana Thirteenth Judicial District Court (the “underlying action”). ECF No. 1 at ¶ 7. On September 3, 2014, BNSF moved to dismiss the underlying action for lack of personal jurisdiction because the alleged injuries arose in Washington and BNSF was not at home in Montana, relying on the Supreme Court case of Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746 (2014). ECF No. 1 at ¶ 10. The district court denied BNSF's motion, reasoning the rigid approach to general jurisdiction under Daimler does not apply to FELA actions. ECF No. 1 at ¶ 11.

         On March 1, 2015, BNSF moved to stay the underlying action pending the Montana Supreme Court's resolution of Tyrrell v. BNSF Railway Co. and Nelson v. BNSF Railway Co., which involved the same issue of general jurisdiction under FELA (where BNSF was the defendant, also). ECF No. 7 at ¶ 13. The court denied the request for a stay. ECF No. 7 at ¶ 14. The parties proceeded with preparing for trial. ECF No. 7 at ¶ 15.

         On May 31, 2016, the Montana Supreme Court decided the consolidated cases of Tyrrell and Nelson (hereafter referred to as “Tyrrell”), finding the courts in Montana had personal jurisdiction over BNSF because BNSF was “doing business” in Montana. ECF No. 7 at ¶ 16. BNSF - in Tyrrell - filed a writ for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court challenging the Montana Supreme Court's decision; the United States Supreme Court granted the writ. ECF No. 7 at ¶¶ 17-18. BNSF again requested a stay in the underlying action while the Supreme Court reviewed Tyrrell; the court granted the requested stay. ECF No. 7 at ¶ 19.

         The Supreme Court ultimately reversed the Montana Supreme Court in Tyrrell, finding the Montana courts did not have general jurisdiction over BNSF- extending the approach in Daimler to FELA actions. ECF No. 7 at ¶ 20; BNSF Railway Co. v. Tyrrell, 137 S.Ct. 1549 (2017). The district court in the underlying action subsequently lifted the stay and granted BNSF's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, dismissing the case without prejudice on September 11, 2017. ECF No. 7 at ¶¶ 21-22. Abeyta then filed the instant action on October 6, 2017.

         BNSF has now filed a Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), arguing that Abeyta's claim is time barred by the applicable three-year statute of limitations and that equitable tolling is not appropriate. ECF No. 5 at 2.


         A federal court may dismiss a complaint for failure to comply with the statute of limitations where “the running of the statute is apparent on the face of the complaint.” Huynh v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 465 F.3d 992, 997 (9th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). “[A] complaint cannot be dismissed unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts that would establish the timeliness of the claim.” Supermail Cargo, Inc. v. United States, 68 F.3d 1204, 1207 (9th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). When deciding, the Court may consider the plaintiff's allegations and any “materials incorporated into the complaint by reference.” Metzler Inv. GMBH v. Corinthian Colleges, Inc., 540 F.3d 1049, 1061 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007)). A plaintiff's “allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff[, ]” but “conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss . . . .” In re Stac Elecs. Sec. Litig., 89 F.3d at 1403 (citation and brackets omitted).


         BNSF's motion to dismiss hinges on whether equitable tolling applies, as the parties agree the instant action was filed more than three years after the suit arose. Abeyta argues the statute of limitations was tolled during the state court proceeding, relying on the case of Burnett v. New York R.R. Co., 380 U.S. 424 (1965). ECF Nos. 1 at ¶ 7; 7 at 2. BNSF argues equitable tolling is not appropriate under Burnett because, contrary to the facts in Burnett, “Plaintiff's claim was not dismissed for improper venue and Plaintiff did not file his claim in a competent jurisdiction.” ECF No. 5 at 2.

         Per 45 U.S.C. § 56, “No action [under FELA] shall be maintained . . . unless commenced within three years from the day the cause of action accrued.” Despite this, the Supreme Court “has expressly held [] the FELA limitation period is not totally inflexible, but, under appropriate circumstances, [] may be extended beyond three years” pursuant to the so-called doctrine of equitable tolling. Burn ...

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