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Penardo v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

February 5, 2018

CAROLINA PENARDO, in her capacity as Administrator of the Estate of Andrea Lynn Penardo; CAROLINA PENARDO, individually; MICHAEL PENARDO; and ELIZABETH PENARDO, Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION; and JOHN DOES 1 through 10, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          WILLIAM E. SMITH, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure filed by Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation (“Amtrak”). (ECF No. 5.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         On October 16, 2016, sixteen-year-old Andrea Lynn Penardo, [1] and her sister, seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Penardo, travelled to East Greenwich, Rhode Island to take pictures of the East Greenwich waterfront. (Compl. ¶¶ 39-40, ECF No. 1-1.) Andrea and Elizabeth were raised in West Warwick and, while they had visited East Greenwich before, they were unfamiliar with the area between Main Street and the waterfront. (Id. ¶¶ 36, 39.) To access the waterfront from Main Street, Andrea and Elizabeth walked along King Street, where they encountered the King Street bridge. (Id. ¶¶ 40-41.) The King Street bridge is an old stone bridge, built in 1837, with narrow traffic tunnels and graffiti on the side. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 41.) Elizabeth took a photograph of the King Street bridge from the King Street median. (Id. ¶ 41.) Andrea and Elizabeth, their curiosity piqued, decided to see what was on top of the bridge. (Id. ¶¶ 41-42.)

         Andrea and Elizabeth walked up a well-worn path that began at the King Street sidewalk and ran up the hill to the top of the bridge. (Id. ¶ 42.) There was litter along the way and a cut tree nearby. (Id.) There was a fence with an unlocked gate at the top of the path, but the area otherwise lacked any signs or warnings. (Id. ¶¶ 42-43.) On the opposite side of the fence were railroad tracks and more litter, but there was no fence on the other side of the railroad tracks. (Id. ¶ 43.) Andrea and Elizabeth had never lived near railroad tracks, nor had they ever ridden on high-speed trains. (Id. ¶ 36.) In light of their unfamiliarity with trains and the age of the King Street bridge, Andrea and Elizabeth believed the railroad tracks passing over the King Street bridge were abandoned. (Id. ¶¶ 36, 39, 44.) Thinking that the bridge would offer a good vantage point to take photographs of the waterfront, they passed through the unlocked gate and sat down on the King Street bridge with their legs dangling off the side. (Id. ¶ 45.)

         Amtrak owns, operates, and maintains the railroad tracks that pass over the King Street bridge. (Id. ¶ 11.) Located in a densely populated area of East Greenwich, the King Street bridge is a narrow bridge, barely wide enough for the two sets of railroad tracks that pass over it, and lacks catwalks or handrails on either side. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 13, 16.) The railroad tracks that approach and leave the King Street bridge are curved. (Id. ¶ 11.) Amtrak's southbound trains approach the King Street bridge from around a corner, at high speed, with little audibility, and without giving a warning. (Id. ¶ 32.)

         As of October 2016, Amtrak had placed fencing along almost all of its railroad tracks in East Greenwich, with gates secured by a lock and chain. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) Moreover, warning signs were placed in close proximity to these gates. (Id. ¶ 29.) The unlocked gate that Andrea and Elizabeth used to access the railroad tracks on the King Street bridge only had one warning sign nearby, which faced away from those entering through the gate. (Id. ¶ 35.) This sign was written in railroad industry language that the public would not easily understand. (Id.) The signs warned railroad workers to contact train dispatchers to halt train traffic along the King Street bridge before they entered onto the bridge. (Id.)

         Andrea and Elizabeth were not the first pedestrians to access the tracks in the area around the King Street bridge; Amtrak's train engineers and maintenance workers had observed and met with people close to and on the tracks before. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) Additionally, suicide attempts, some fatal, had occurred on railroad tracks in East Greenwich in the twenty years prior to October 2016. (Id. ¶ 19.)

         After sitting on the King Street bridge for approximately a minute, Elizabeth noticed a train round the corner approaching the King Street bridge at approximately ninety-five miles per hour. (Id. ¶¶ 46-47.) Elizabeth and Andrea began to run from the oncoming train, with Andrea running behind Elizabeth. (Id. ¶ 46.) Elizabeth managed to clear the tracks at the end of the King Street bridge, but Andrea was struck and killed by the train. (Id. ¶ 47.)

         Following this tragic event, Andrea's parents, Carolina and Michael Penardo, and Elizabeth filed a Complaint alleging the following against Amtrak: intentional and willful conduct causing wrongful death (Count I); intentional infliction of emotional distress upon Andrea and Elizabeth (Counts II and III); negligent conduct causing wrongful death (Count IV); negligent infliction of emotional distress upon Andrea and Elizabeth (Counts V and VI); and loss of society and companionship by Carolina and Michael Penardo (Counts VII and VIII). (See generally id. at 10-18.)

         II. Legal Standard

         A court treats a motion for judgment on the pleadings much like a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Pérez-Acevedo v. Rivero-Cubano, 520 F.3d 26, 29 (1st Cir. 2008) (citing Curran v. Cousins, 509 F.3d 36, 43-44 (1st Cir. 2007)). “[T]o survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion (and, by extension, a Rule 12(c) motion) a complaint must contain factual allegations that ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true . . . .'” Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Because such a motion calls for an assessment of the merits of the case at an embryonic stage, the court must view the facts contained in the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmovant and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom to the nonmovant's behoof.” R.G. Fin. Corp. v. Vergara-Nunez, 446 F.3d 178, 182 (1st Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). “There is no resolution of contested facts in connection with a Rule 12(c) motion: a court may enter judgment on the pleadings only if the properly considered facts conclusively establish the movant's point.” Id. (citing Rivera-Gomez v. de Castro, 843 F.2d 631, 635 (1st Cir. 1988)). Judgment on the pleadings is only appropriate when “it appears beyond a doubt that the nonmoving party can prove no set of facts in support of [his] claim which would entitle [him] to relief.” Rezende v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 869 F.3d 40, 42 (1st Cir. 2017) (quoting Feliciano v. Rhode Island, 160 F.3d 780, 788 (1st Cir. 1998)).

         III. Discussion

         In Rhode Island, “landowners[] owe a duty to ‘maintain the[ir] property in a reasonably safe condition for the benefit of those persons who might come upon the land.'” Bennett v. Napolitano, 746 A.2d 138, 141 (R.I. 2000) (alterations in original) (quoting Brindamour v. City of Warwick, 697 A.2d 1075, 1077 (R.I. 1997)). “This duty does not extend to trespassers, however.” Id. (citing Brindamour, 697 A.2d at 1077). In the railroad context, “[i]t is the generally accepted rule that a railroad company owes no duty to a trespasser on its premises except to abstain from willful and wanton injury to him after he is discovered in a position of peril.” Erenkrantz v. Palmer, 35 A.2d 224, 225 (R.I. 1944) (citing Boday v. New York, N.H. & H.R. Co., 165 A. 448, 448 (R.I. 1933)). However, “a ...


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