- William Mitchell College of Law, Law, graduated 2009
- Minnesota, 2009
- Supreme Court of the United States
- Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
- Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
- Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals
- Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
- District of Minnesota
- Eastern District of Wisconsin
- Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys - Member
- Anoka County Bar Association - Member
- Episcopal Church in Minnesota - Vice Chancellor
- Minnesota State Bar Association - Appellate Practice Section - Member
Recognized in The Best Lawyers in America for work in:
- Railroad Law
- Minnesota - Court of Appeals
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Lawyer Case History
Benda v. BNSF Ry. Co., No. 4:14-CV-469-SRB (W.D.Mo. Aug. 18, 2015)
District court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on questions of liability, finding that the railroad had breached its duty to provide a reasonably safe place to work by allowing two trains to head toward each other on the same track and that such negligence was a cause, at least in part, of Plaintiff’s injuries. The district court also granted Plaintiff summary judgment on the question of contributory negligence, finding that the railroad’s violation of 49 C.F.R. § 240.305(a)(1) (requiring locomotives to come to a complete stop at a red signal) was a violation of a statute enacted for the safety of railroad employees and therefore subjected the railroad to strict liability under the FELA (45 U.S.C. § 53).
Rookaird v. BNSF Ry. Co., No. 2:14-CV-176-RSL (W.D.Wash.)
A BNSF conductor was terminated after testing the brakes on a 42-car consist, including 40 placarded HazMat cars containing propane and butane residue, after the railroad claimed that the conductor had not worked efficiently. Chris secured summary judgment in favor of the conductor on the fact that the brake test was a contributing factor in the termination and was part of the trial team that convinced a nine-person jury that performing the test over the questioning of his supervisors constituted a good faith act done to refuse to violate Federal law, rule, or regulation related to railroad safety and was therefore protected activity under the Federal Rail Safety Act. The jury returned a verdict totaling more than $1.6 Million, including $200,000 in punitive damages, representing the largest jury verdict to date under the revised FRSA whistleblower protections. The District Court denied the railroad’s post-trial motions in large respect. The full judgment amount, now in excess of $1.75 million, is currently on appeal before the Ninth Circuit.
Colleran v. Soo Line Railroad Company, d/b/a Canadian Pacific Railway (Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Wisconsin; 14-CV-1269, Feb. 5, 2015)
District court denied railroad’s motion for summary judgment after original summons and complaint misnamed defendant railroad. The court rejected the railroad’s argument that the misnomer in the initial summons and complaint constituted a fundamental defect—holding that the railroad’s reliance on Johnson v. Cintas Corp. No. 2 was misplaced—and that the complaint could therefore be amended at any stage of the litigation.
Petersen v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., No. 13-090 (U.S. Dep’t of Labor ARB, Nov. 20, 2014)
ARB affirmance of FRSA whistleblower award. The ALJ had determined that “the central reason for disciplining [the employee] for the parking lot incident was that he failed to prevent his feet from being run over, i.e., he sustained an injury that he reported, thereby causing an investigation to be conducted.” The case resulted in a determination that the railroad’s rules were “written in such a manner that anyone who is injured and reports it will have violated at least a part of one or more of them,” which has the illegal “chilling effect on the reporting of injuries.” It also marked the first time that the ALJ awarded punitive damages in nearly 20 years on the bench, noting that the railroad’s conduct had been so egregious and “so openly blatant” in ignoring the FRSA’s whistleblower protections of railroad employees. Following the ARB’s decision, the railroad filed a Petition for Review with the Eighth Circuit, after which the parties settled the matter for a confidential amount.
Phillips v. Chicago Cent. & Pac. R.R. Co., 853 N.W.2d 636 (Iowa 2014)
Iowa Supreme Court opinion discussing question of whether payments for lost wages in a Federal Employers’ Liability Act verdict is subject to taxation under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act. While the court found that such awards were subject to such taxation, it did so only after recognizing Plaintiff’s argument that the Railroad Retirement Tax Act and Railroad Retirement Act employed different definitions of “compensation,” a distinction that had been ignored by previous courts to have addressed the issue. The reasoning behind Plaintiff’s argument on the taxation question was subsequently vindicated by the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in a different proceeding. See Loos v. BNSF Ry. Co., __ F.3d __, 2017 WL 3297436 (8th Cir. 2017).
Wallis v. BNSF Railway Co., No. 13-CV-40-TSZ, 2014 WL 1648472 (W.D. Wash. April 23, 2014), 680 Fed. Appx. 515 (9th Cir. 2017)
Following successful trial on Plaintiff’s Federal Rail Safety Act (“FRSA”), 49 U.S.C. § 20109, in which the jury awarded Plaintiff $20,000 for the railroad’s illegal conduct, the district court granted Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs, awarding Plaintiff’s firm attorney fees in the amount of $231,306.66, expenses in the amount of $16,601.25, and expert-witness fees in the amount of $30,459.82. In February 2017, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the order in all respects.
Grimes v. BNSF Railway Co., 746 F.3d 184 (5th Circuit, 2014)
Fifth Circuit vacated district court’s dismissal of whistleblower case under the Federal Rail Safety Act (“FRSA”), 49 U.S.C. § 20109, finding that district court’s application of collateral-estoppel doctrine was erroneous because the procedures of the Public Law Board were inadequate to allow for the doctrine to apply in FRSA cases.
Kennedy v. Soo Line Railroad Co., d/b/a Canadian Pacific (Hennepin County District Court, Minnesota; 27-CV-12-3265, Oct. 24, 2013)
District court denied railroad’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, a new trial, or conditional remittitur after finding that a radio communication that is incomplete under GCOR 2.6 violates 29 C.F.R. § 220.45, thereby negating any contributory negligence on the part of a railroad employee in a personal-injury action under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 51-60. The order was later affirmed on an appeal, handled by a different law office. See 2015 WL 404381 (Minn. App., Feb. 2, 2015).
Bjornson v. Soo Line R.R. Co., et al., No. 0:14-CV-4596-JRT-SER (D.Minn. June 15, 2015)
Magistrate Judge Steven Rau recommended striking two affirmative defenses pleaded by the railroad. The first defense, based on the language of 49 U.S.C. 20109(f), suggested that a railroad employee who challenges discipline through his or her union under a Collective Bargaining Agreement is precluded from filing a lawsuit that the railroad’s actions violate Federal statute. The Court concluded that the defense was “legally insufficient” as being foreclosed by the plain language of the statute. The second defense, based on a Department of Transportation regulation that directs plaintiffs to provide the Department of Labor 15-days’ notice in advance of filing a Federal claim, suggested that failure to do so deprived the Court of jurisdiction. The Court rejected the railroad’s argument, finding that Article III Courts owe “no deference to the Department of Labor’s interpretation” of the statute.