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Injured worker’s negligence claim vacated on sovereign immunity

Posted On: Jan. 30, 2019 2:17 PM CST

Injured worker’s negligence claim vacated on sovereign immunity

An injured railroad employee could not recover damages in his negligence case, the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia held Tuesday, because his employer was entitled to sovereign immunity.

According to documents in Robinson v. New Jersey Transit Rail Operations Inc., the employee worked for New Jersey Transit when he was severely injured on Nov. 7, 2011. He filed a complaint for negligence under the Federal Employers Liability Act, which protects and compensates railroad workers injured on the job, and was awarded damages of $824,152.95 by a jury trial.

New Jersey Transit filed a motion to vacate the judgment in U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, on the basis that it was entitled to sovereign immunity as an arm of the state of New Jersey, and therefore immune from the suit. The district court denied the motion, and New Jersey Transit appealed.

New Jersey Transit argued that under the 11th Amendment, as an “arm” of the state, the employee’s private suit was barred through the power of sovereign immunity. The court noted that although New Jersey Transit did not assert sovereign immunity in this case until after the jury trial, it held that the 11th Amendment defense “sufficiently partakes of the nature of a jurisdictional bar so that it need not be raised in trial court.”

A three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit held unanimously that it was bound by the precedent that prohibits individuals from filing suit against New Jersey Transit, an arm of a sovereign immunity, to recover damages for his injuries, and therefore vacated the lower court’s judgment with instructions to dismiss the case.

New Jersey Transit declined to comment on the case.