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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Train Derailment Case Booted Out of Federal

CAMDEN, N.J. (CN) - A county court should preside over claims related to a freight train that dumped 25,000 gallons of vinyl chloride into a New Jersey creek when the bridge underneath collapsed, a federal judge ruled.

When the East Jefferson Street railroad bridge buckled and collapsed on the morning of Nov. 30, 2012, a freight train derailed and plunged into Mantua Creek, in Paulsboro, N.J.

One of the four partially submerged cars released into the air and water 25,000 gallons of vinyl chloride, which local residents notes is a "potent human carcinogen."

The borough soon declared a state of emergency as nearly 600 individuals were evacuated from the area for about a week, while those living outside the danger zone were told to remain indoors until the spill was cleaned up.

In the raft of civil litigation that followed, residents and local businesses claimed that Consolidated Rail, Norfolk Southern Railway and CSX Transportation had operated the train or maintained the bridge in a negligent and reckless fashion.

The plaintiffs said the bridge was designed to swing open in the absence of rail traffic so as to allow water flow along the creek, and swing and lock back into place for trains to cross.

On Nov. 30, however, the train went across the bridge although a red signal allegedly warned that the rails were not properly positioned. It then fell into the water below.

The residents further alleged that the defendants had been notified of bridge operation problems shortly before the derailment but failed to correct them.

Some allegedly incurred expenses and lost income while following orders to evacuate or remain in their homes, and others said the spill left them with mental or physical harm.

David Belbin led one action filed in Gloucester County Superior Court last year. Though all of the original named plaintiffs were citizens of New Jersey, a new plaintiff, James Bogusky, hailed from Pennsylvania.

Conrail meanwhile is a citizen of Pennsylvania, Norfolk Southern is a citizen of Virginia, and CSX is a citizen of Virginia and Florida.

CSX removed the case to federal court, leading Belbin and the other plaintiffs to move for remand.

U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler sent the case back to Gloucester County on Jan. 13 for lack of jurisdiction.

Though CSX acknowledged that Bogusky's Pennsylvania citizenship precludes complete diversity of citizenship, because Conrail is also a citizen of Pennsylvania, it claimed that removal was proper because the court could always drop Bogusky from the lawsuit.

"CSX indicated that Bogusky was added for the purpose of preventing removal to federal court, is not an indispensable party, and should thus be dismissed to allow for diversity jurisdiction," Kugler wrote. "They argue that Bogusky's participation in this suit 'does not advance efficiency, but instead would prevent this court from exercising jurisdiction over the claims of the other 23 plaintiffs.' They also argue that Bogusky should be severed from this case under the doctrine of fraudulent misjoinder, also called procedural misjoinder. Both arguments for jurisdiction fail."

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