BNSF Railway Co. v. Buttrick – 12/29/2011

January 23, 2012

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That a Trial Court Exceeded Its Jurisdiction by Granting a Rule 26(c) Protective Order Denying Employer Access to CBA-Required Notices Concerning Injured Employee’s Medical Status.

In 2005, Roy Crain was injured while working for BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”).  Three years later, Mr. Crain filed suit against BNSF under the FELA, alleging that BNSF had failed to provide Mr. Crain with a reasonably safe workplace.  In September 2010, Mr. Crain’s doctors told him that he was no longer able to work on his assigned duties for BNSF. 

On April 1, 2011, BNSF wrote to Mr. Crain and asked him to submit notice regarding his medical status as required under the CBA between Mr. Crain’s union and BNSF.  In response, Mr. Crain’s counsel wrote to counsel for BNSF and requested that BNSF stop seeking medical information from him outside the scope of discovery.  On June 1, 2011, BNSF sent Mr. Crain a letter notifying him that BNSF had scheduled a hearing for June 28, 2011, to investigate Mr. Crain’s alleged misconduct in failing to comply with BNSF’s requests for medical information.  At the request of Mr. Crain’s union representative, BNSF postponed the investigatory hearing until August 2, 2011.

On July 28, 2011, Mr. Crain filed an emergency motion for a protective order in the FELA action, requesting an order prohibiting BNSF from requesting information from Mr. Crain outside the confines of Arizona’s discovery rules and enjoining BNSF from disciplining Mr. Crain for his failure to respond to its improper inquiries.  After oral argument, the trial court granted Mr. Crain’s motion.  BNSF filed a petition for special action.

The Arizona Court of Appeals vacated the trial court’s order, concluding that the trial court had exceeded its jurisdiction.  Although the Court rejected BNSF’s contention that the dispute was preempted by the Railway Labor Act, the Court concluded that the trial court lacked authority to inject itself into the independent disciplinary proceeding governed by the CBA.  The Court distinguished the California case the trial court relied upon, Pratt v. Union Pacific R.R. Co., 168 Cal. App. 4th 165 (2008), as factually distinct and legally unpersuasive.  According to the Court, the court in Pratt erroneously assumed that any means of gaining information relevant to a pending state court proceeding fell within the jurisdiction of that court. 

Judge Swann authored the opinion; Judges Downie and Kessler concurred.