Chris is an attorney 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, Whitecaps, and Gopher hockey teams; spending time with his wife and daughters, and playing hockey though HockeyFinder.com.
- Anoka County Bar Association
- Minnesota State Bar Association: Appellate Practice Section (Council Member)
- Episcopal Church in Minnesota, Vice Chancellor
- Wooten v. BNSF Ry. Co., No. 9:16-CV-139-DLC (D.Mont.): Following a two-week trial in Missoula, Montana, a federal jury unanimously found in favor of the plaintiff on both his claims for his personal injury under the FELA and for the railroad’s termination of his employment as a result of filing his personal injury report under the FRSA. The jury awarded over $1.4 million in lost wages, $500,000 in emotional pain and suffering, and $249,999 in punitive damages ($1 below the statutory maximum). Following post-trial motions, the district court affirmed the judgment in all respects and added approximately $1 million in prejudgment interest, attorneys’ fees, litigation costs, expert-witness fees, and taxable costs. Of note, the Federal Court issued a resounding criticism of the railroad’s approach to the litigation, commenting that “BNSF repeatedly claimed that it would have terminated Wooten for being dishonest but points to no dishonesty outside of the [injury] report itself. Weighing the evidence, the jury reasonably concluded that BNSF’s accusations of dishonesty were hollow. Additionally, the jury weighed BNSF’s claims that it routinely terminates dishonest employees against Wooten’s evidence that BNSF had not fired numerous employees who had been found to be dishonest, one of whom had been dishonest in reporting an injury.” The Federal Court also commented that while “BNSF puts much stock in its internal procedures and safeguards designed to prevent discrimination,” its doing so “fail[s] to recognize that these checks are only as effective as the people enforcing them.” The Court went on to state: “BNSF repeatedly emphasized its safeguards at trial but the jury nonetheless found that BNSF had retaliated against Wooten in violation of the FRSA. Inherent in this conclusion is the finding that BNSF’s safeguards did not prevent discrimination in this case. In other words, BNSF’s safeguards are ineffective. If the safeguards are ineffective, then they need to be fixed.” (Emphasis added).
- Rookaird v. BNSF Ry. Co., 908 F.3d 451 (9th Circuit, 2018): 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. Near the conclusion of the trial, the district court determined that the specific circumstances, while presenting a “close call” and existing in a “twilight zone,” meant that the air-brake test performed was not legally required under the applicable statutes and regulations. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit rejected the railroad’s argument that the FRSA’s whistleblower protections applied only when there was an actual violation of a rule or regulation that was being refused, finding that the FRSA protects railroad employees who engage in a “good-faith refusal to undertake conduct the employee believed to be violative of a law, rule, or regulation, even if the conduct at issue would not constitute an actual violation of a law, rule, or regulation if performed or continued.” While the Ninth Circuit did vacate a judgment in favor of the plaintiff and remand the case to the district court, it did so on the basis of its conclusion that the district court had gone too far by awarding summary judgment on the question of whether the employee’s statutorily protected conduct was a contributing factor in the railroad’s decision to terminate the employee, finding that this question should have been submitted to the jury. Rookaird therefore clarifies the FRSA in a way that is protective of employees, not requiring them to have the benefit of a Federal Judge and several days of testimony in order to invoke the statute’s whistleblower protections. Video of the oral argument before the Ninth Circuit is available here
- Wallis v. BNSF Ry. Co., 680 Fed. Appx. 515 (9th Circuit, 2017): Following an FRSA trial in which the jury returned a verdict in favor of the employee, the railroad challenged the district court’s award of attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses awarded under the statute. Chris successfully defended the District Court’s order providing for the fees and expenses, helping ensure that railroad employees are able to find competent counsel for legal representation even when their monetary damages may be lower, as the statute provides that a successful employee is entitled to recovery of litigation expenses. The video of the oral argument before the Ninth Circuit is available here.
- 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. The Federal Court later adopted the recommendations in full. 2015 WL 5009349 (D.Minn. Aug. 24, 2015).
- Colleran v. Soo Line Railroad Company, d/b/a Canadian Pacific Railway (Milwaukee County Circuit Court, Wisconsin; 14-CV-1269, Feb. 5, 2015): After a different attorney misnamed the defendant railroad in a summons and complaint, Chris successfully fought the railroad’s motion for summary judgment on a lack-of-personal-jurisdiction argument. The district court rejected the railroad’s argument that the misnomer in the initial summons and complaint constituted a fundamental defect—holding that the railroad’s reliance on Johnson v. Cintas Corp. No. 2 was misplaced—and that the complaint could therefore be amended at any stage of the litigation.
- 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. Following the appeal, the District Court denied a renewed summary judgment motion, and the railroad settled the matter out of court.
- 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.
- In re Thornton v. Ortiz Bosquez, No. A18-0223 (Minnesota Supreme Court): Counsel for amicus curiae Minnesota State Bar Association in case considering interpretation and application of Minnesota’s statutory presumption against joint custody arrangements in instances where domestic abuse had occurred between the parents of a minor child. While the court did not cite the MSBA’s brief in its opinion, the analysis (in particular Section I concerning the application of the presumption) tracks that of the MSBA. Video of oral argument (as amicus, the MSBA did not participate in oral argument) is available here.
- In re Application of J.M.M. o/b/o Minors for a Change of Name, No. A17-1730 (Minnesota Supreme Court): Appointed as party counsel by Minnesota State Bar Association
- Whistleblower Protections of the Federal Rail Safety Act: An Overview, 8 Wm. Mitchell J.L. & Prac. 1 (2015) (available online)
- Daubert, Frye & DTI: Hijacking the Right to Trial by Jury, Am. J. of Bioethics: Neuroscience, 5(2): 16-23 (2014) (with William G. Jungbauer)
- 13th Annual Appellate Practice Institute, Minnesota CLE (March 15, 2019) (Planning Committee & Course Faculty)
- Available in PDF Format here