Man beaten on E. St. Louis train platform's stairs can sue transit agency; No tort immunity: Appeals panel

By Scott Holland | Dec 11, 2018

Metrolink station East St. Louis   Youtube screenshot

A downstate appeals court determined a St. Louis-area transit agency can’t shield itself from a lawsuit brought by a man who was beaten on an East St. Louis train platform’s staircase on his way to board a train.

Francis Stanley said two unknown assailants beat him as he ascended a concrete stairway leading to the Jackie Joyner Kersee Metrolink station in East St. Louis the night of Sept. 27, 2013, leaving him hospitalized with head and upper body injuries. Almost a year later, Stanley filed a breach of duty complaint against the Bi-State Development Agency of the Illinois-Missouri Metropolitan Agency, or Metro, in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

Metro responded with filings acknowledging its status as a quasi-governmental entity, but denying a duty of care or liability for the injuries. Metro also invoked the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act, saying the agency is shielded from such lawsuits. In May 2015, Metro moved for summary judgment while disputing the assault occurred, or that it occurred on its property, and again invoking tort immunity.

St. Clair County Judge Vincent Lopinot denied that motion in July 2015, after which Stanley amended his complaint to add Securitas Security Services USA as a defendant, also alleging breach of duty. In January 2016, Metro asked the court to reconsider the summary judgment denial. At a February 2016 hearing, Lopinot determined Metro didn’t owe Stanley any duty of protection at the time of the attack, because he wasn’t yet on the train platform. That meant Stanley wasn’t a passenger, and Metro wasn’t acting as a “common carrier” with reference to Stanley at the time of the attack. The judge entered summary judgment in favor of Metro.

Securitas filed for summary judgment that October, saying Stanley couldn't be a beneficiary of the contract between it and Metro because he wasn’t a passenger at the time of the attack.

In November, Stanley asked the court to reconsider summary judgment in favor of Metro, and Metro opposed by reiterating its position the assault didn’t happen close enough to a spot where Stanley could legally be considered to be boarding a train.

In December 2016, Stanley moved to dismiss his complaint against Securitas after reaching a settlement. The following January, Lopinot granted that request but denied the motion to reconsider summary judgment in favor of Metro. Stanley appealed, saying as a common carrier, Metro can’t invoke government immunity.

The Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court issued its order on that appeal Dec. 7.  Justice Judy Cates wrote the opinion; Justices Richard Holdenhersh and Melissa Chapman concurred. The order was issued under Supreme Court Rule 23, which restricts its use as precedent, except under very limited circumstances permitted by the Supreme Court rule.

Cates explained the distinction in where the parties said the attack occurred — Stanley asserted it was 40 yards from the train platform, but Metro said it was 100 yards. She also cited evidence “Metro intended to provide security to protect both its passengers and invitees,” including an affidavit from Securitas project manager Bob Worley asserting “platform security guards were posted to protect Metro’s customers, passengers and staff.”

The panel further said Metro should’ve known or anticipated the danger of assault “from the facts and circumstances known to it,” and determined Metro was a common carrier at the time of the attack. Therefore Metro was not entitled to governmental tort immunity from potential liability. It therefore vacated Lopinot’s judgment and sent the case back for further proceedings.

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Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court Missouri Bi-State Development Agency of the Missouri-Illinois Metropolitan District St. Clair County Circuit Court

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