Chris is an associate with the firm, joining YJB in March 2013 after spending three-and-a-half years clerking at the Minnesota Court of Appeals for Judges Michelle Larkin, Edward Toussaint, and Lawrence Stauber. While Chris is involved in every stage of the cases YJB handles, he focuses his practice on major-motion and appellate practice. Outside of the office, Chris enjoys following the Minnesota Wild and Gopher hockey teams and spending time with his wife and daughters.
- Anoka County Bar Association
- Minnesota State Bar Association: Appellate Practice Section
- Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys
- Rookaird v. BNSF Ry. Co., No.2:14-CV-176-RSL (W.D.Wash.): A BNSF conductor was terminated after testing the brakes on a 42-car consist, including 40 placarded HazMat cars containing propane and butane residue, after the railroad claimed that the conductor had not worked efficiently. Chris secured summary judgment in favor of the conductor on the fact that the brake test was a contributing factor in the termination and was part of the trial team that convinced a nine-person jury that performing the test over the questioning of his supervisors constituted a good faith act done to refuse to violate Federal law, rule, or regulation related to railroad safety and was therefore protected activity under the Federal Rail Safety Act. The jury returned a verdict totaling more than $1.6 Million, including $200,000 in punitive damages, representing the largest jury verdict to date under the revised FRSA whistleblower protections. The District Court denied the railroad’s post-trial motions in large respect. The full judgment amount, now in excess of $1.75 million, is currently on appeal before the Ninth Circuit.
- Benda v. BNSF Ry. Co., No. 4:14-CV-469-SRB (W.D.Mo. Aug. 18, 2015): District court granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on questions of liability, finding that the railroad had breached its duty to provide a reasonably safe place to work by allowing two trains to head toward each other on the same track and that such negligence was a cause, at least in part, of Plaintiff’s injuries. The district court also granted Plaintiff summary judgment on the question of contributory negligence, finding that the railroad’s violation of 49 C.F.R. § 240.305(a)(1) (requiring locomotives to come to a complete stop at a red signal) was a violation of a statute enacted for the safety of railroad employees and therefore subjected the railroad to strict liability under the FELA (45 U.S.C. § 53).
- Bjornson v. Soo Line R.R. Co., et al., No. 0:14-CV-4596-JRT-SER (D.Minn. June 15, 2015): Magistrate Judge Steven Rau recommended striking two affirmative defenses pleaded by the railroad. The first defense, based on the language of 49 U.S.C. 20109(f), suggested that a railroad employee who challenges discipline through his or her union under a Collective Bargaining Agreement is precluded from filing a lawsuit that the railroad’s actions violate Federal statute. The Court concluded that the defense was “legally insufficient” as being foreclosed by the plain language of the statute. The second defense, based on a Department of Transportation regulation that directs plaintiffs to provide the Department of Labor 15-days’ notice in advance of filing a Federal claim, suggested that failure to do so deprived the Court of jurisdiction. The Court rejected the railroad’s argument, finding that Article III Courts owe “no deference to the Department of Labor’s interpretation” of the statute.
- Petersen v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., No. 13-090 (U.S. Dep’t of Labor ARB, Nov. 20, 2014): ARB affirmance of FRSA whistleblower award. The ALJ had determined that “the central reason for disciplining [the employee] for the parking lot incident was that he failed to prevent his feet from being run over, i.e., he sustained an injury that he reported, thereby causing an investigation to be conducted.” The case resulted in a determination that the railroad’s rules were “written in such a manner that anyone who is injured and reports it will have violated at least a part of one or more of them,” which has the illegal “chilling effect on the reporting of injuries.” It also marked the first time that the ALJ awarded punitive damages in nearly 20 years on the bench, noting that the railroad’s conduct had been so egregious and “so openly blatant” in ignoring the FRSA’s whistleblower protections of railroad employees. Following the ARB’s decision, the railroad filed a Petition for Review with the Eighth Circuit, after which the parties settled the matter for a confidential amount.
- Grimes v. BNSF Railway Co., 746 F.3d 184 (5th Circuit, 2014): Fifth Circuit vacated district court’s dismissal of FRSA case, finding that district court’s application of collateral-estoppel doctrine was erroneous because the investigatory hearing was conducted by the railroad and the Public Law Board’s review was limited to the closed record prepared by the railroad, the procedures of the PLB were not adequate to allow for the doctrine to apply in FRSA cases.
- Kennedy v. Soo Line Railroad Co., d/b/a Canadian Pacific (Hennepin County District Court, Minnesota; 27-CV-12-3265): District court denied railroad’s motion for judgment as a matter of law, a new trial, or conditional remittitur after finding that a radio communication that is incomplete under GCOR 2.6 violates 29 C.F.R. § 220.45, thereby negating any contributory negligence on the part of the railroad employee.
- Whistleblower Protections of the Federal Rail Safety Act: An Overview, 8 Wm. Mitchell J.L. & Prac. 1 (2015) (available online at https://www.wmlawandpractice.com/2015/06/15/1259)
- Daubert, Frye & DTI: Hijacking the Right to Trial by Jury, Am. J. of Bioethics: Neuroscience, 5(2): 16-23 (2014) (with William G. Jungbauer)