Suit over crash between Metra and Amtrak trains removed to federal court

By Andrew Thomason | Oct 10, 2013

Amtrak has removed a case over a train crash at Chicago’s Union Station from Cook County Circuit Court to federal court.

The plaintiff in the case, Jinu Anila Varghese, was a passenger on the Metra Burlington Northern Train on the morning of June 3, 2011 when, as it was pulling into Union Station, it collided with the Amtrak Saluki Line Train, which was headed south for Carbondale.

Varghese was one of about a dozen people injured as a result of the collision, according to news reports from that day.

She claims her injuries from the collision caused her pain, suffering and the loss of money she would have otherwise made, in addition to being forced to pay large sums of money to doctors and therapists.

In June, Varghese filed suit against National Railroad Passenger Corp., doing business as Amtrak, Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp., doing business as Metra, and the Regional Transportation Authority.

Metra was notified and agreed to the suit’s removal to federal court, the notice states.

Varghese is suing both Amtrak and Metra for negligence. She claims they operated a train at an unlawful speed without proper, working brakes and failed to yield right of way to another train, keep a train under sufficient control and exercise due care to avoid colliding with another train.

Her suit seeks more than $30,000, as well as the costs of bringing the lawsuit from both Amtrak and Metra. The total monetary reward she is seeking exceeds the $50,000 minimum requirement to remove a civil case to federal court, according to the removal notice.

The bulk of the notice’s jurisdiction argument focuses on Amtrak’s unique financial situation. Amtrak was created out of, and incorporated under, the 1970 federal Rail Passenger Service Act. The public-private passenger rail service started operating thanks to federal funding in 1971.

Federal law states that district courts do not have jurisdiction over civil cases against corporations simply on the ground that the corporation was created by an act of Congress.

However, Amtrak states in its removal notice that “district courts shall have original jurisdiction of civil actions against corporations where the United States owns more than one-half of the capital stock.”

The United States owns more than half of the capital stock of Amtrak, according to the notice. Amtrak’s annual report for 2013 shows that federal funding for the rail service was $1.4 billion for fiscal year 2013.

The defendants cite two cases from the 1800s in their notice to support their jurisdictional claim – Osborne v. Bank of the United States and the Pacific Railroad Removal Cases.

The Bank of the United States case determined that since the bank was created by Congress, any suit where the bank was a party was a suit that arose out of federal laws.

The Pacific Railroad Removal Cases, an 1885 U.S. Supreme Court Case, involved federal chartered corporations that were privately owned, and held that cases involving such corporations could be removed from state to federal court.

Susan K. Laing of Anderson, Rasor & Partners LLP in Chicago submitted the removal notice on behalf of Amtrak.

Corey E. Meyer  of the Law Office of Meyer and Blumenshine in Chicago represents the plaintiff.

Electronic court records show that U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang has set an Oct. 29 status hearing in the case. The Tuesday docket entry also shows that the parties were ordered to file a joint initial status report at least three days before the hearing.

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