RRD Obtains Favorable Ruling from Second Circuit in Case of First Impression

March 23, 2018

On March 23, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit sided with RRD client, Metro-North Commuter Railroad, in what is believed to be the first case litigated under a new whistleblower protection provision of the Federal Rail Safety Act (“FRSA”).  The Second Circuit’s ruling was the culmination of more than nine years of litigation.  RRD represented Metro-North through all the twists and turns in this case.

The lawsuit revolves around an incident in July 2008, when Metro-North employee, Anthony Santiago, sat down in a broken chair, and fell to the ground when the chair gave way.  He was diagnosed with a lumbar strain, and his injury was considered “occupational,” because it occurred while he was on duty.  Pursuant to a long-standing agreement between Metro-North and the unions representing its workforces, Metro-North initially paid for all of Santiago’s medical treatment over the next three months.  When a physician’s assistant in Metro-North’s Occupational Health Services (“OHS”), operated by an independent contractor, concluded that any further treatment must be related to a pre-existing degenerative condition, not the fall from the chair, Santiago’s treating chiropractor was instructed to submit any future bills to Santiago’s private health insurance.  In line with its earlier determination, OHS declined the chiropractor’s subsequent request that Metro-North pay for a new treatment, manipulation under anesthesia (“MUA”).  Santiago’s private health insurer also declined to pay for the MUA.  Santiago nevertheless underwent the MUA, which he funded via credit card.  He claimed that securing this funding delayed the treatment approximately six months.

On December 29, 2008, Santiago filed a complaint with OSHA, claiming that Metro-North violated a new amendment to the FRSA, titled “Prompt Medical Attention,” which prohibits railroads from denying, delaying or interfering with the “medical or first aid treatment of an employee who is injured during the course of employment,” and further requires railroads to “promptly arrange to have the injured employee transported to the nearest hospital.”  OSHA concluded that Metro-North had interfered with Santiago’s treatment when it denied the request to directly pay for the MUA, and awarded compensatory and punitive damages, as well as other relief.  Metro-North objected to OSHA’s decision and the case proceeded to wind through the administrative channels.

RRD partner Chuck Deluca and (now partner) Beck Fineman represented Metro-North in a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.  The ALJ overturned OSHA’s decision and dismissed Santiago’s complaint, agreeing with Metro-North that the “Prompt Medical Attention” amendment pertained to medical attention immediately following a workplace incident, not to treatment requested four months later.  Santiago appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Administrative Review Board (“ARB”), which reversed the ALJ and remanded for a new decision based on the ARB’s interpretation of the statute, under which the ALJ reached the opposite conclusion on remand, this time ruling in favor of Santiago.  Metro-North appealed to the ARB, which affirmed the ALJ’s second decision.

Metro-North next appealed to the Second Circuit.  The Department of Labor became the named appellee, and Santiago intervened to participate in the appeal, as well.  In vacating the ARB’s decision in favor of Santiago, the Second Circuit endorsed Metro-North’s central arguments regarding the proper interpretation of the new statutory provisions.  The full decision is available here.