Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2010, the City of Mission passed a Transportation User Fee (TUF), which is assessed on all developed real property based on a formula that estimates the number of vehicle “trips” a particular property generates. The revenue raised by the TUF is used for the maintenance and upkeep of the City’s streets. Plaintiffs challenged the TUF as an impermissible excise tax levied by the City in violation of Kan. Stat. Ann. 12-194. The district court granted summary judgment to Mission. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the TUF is an impermissible excise tax. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Mission is prohibited from levying the TUF because the City’s TUF is an excise tax that does not meet any of the exceptions in section 12-194. View "Heartland Apartment Ass'n v. City of Mission" on Justia Law

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The administrator of the Utah Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division denied Tesla Motors UT, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of a motor vehicle manufacturer, an application for a license to sell new motor vehicles, determining that the application implicated both the Motor Vehicle Business Regulation Act (Licensing Act) and the New Automobile Franchise Act (Franchise Act). The Tax Commission affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Licensing Act and Franchise Act together prohibit a wholly owned subsidiary of a motor vehicle manufacturer from obtaining a license to sell the manufacturer’s new motor vehicles in stores in Utah, and the statutory scheme is constitutional. View "Tesla Motors UT, Inc. v. Utah Tax Commission" on Justia Law

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This case involved the differences between how ad valorem taxes are determined in South Carolina for railroad property and how they are determined for most other commercial and industrial property. CSXT filed suit against the State, alleging that the property taxes imposed for the 2014 tax year will discriminate against CSXT. CSXT sought a judgment declaring that excluding CSXT from the benefit of the caps of the South Carolina Real Property Valuation Reform Act (SCVA), S.C. Code 12-37-3140(B), violates the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976, 49 U.S.C. 11501(b)(4), which prohibits the imposition of "another tax that discriminates against a rail carrier." CSXT also sought preliminary and permanent injunctions. The district court ultimately rejected CSXT's section 11501(b)(4) challenge. The court explained that Congress designed section 11501(b)(4) to prohibit taxes that discriminate against railroads. In this case, CSXT alleged that if it is not allowed to benefit from the SCVA cap, its 2014 property tax will be just such a tax. The court concluded that there was no basis for precluding CSXT from proving the claim it alleged – discrimination – and requiring CSXT instead to fit its challenge into a provision that does not even address discrimination and that required proof of facts CSXT has not even alleged. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings because the district court granted judgment against CSXT without ever reaching the question of whether the challenged tax was discriminatory. View "CSX Transportation, Inc. v. South Carolina Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a national association of charter-bus companies, sought to enjoin regulations affecting their operations enacted by the City of Austin. At issue was whether federal law preempted the City's exercise of its regulatory authority over the intrastate operation of charter buses. The court affirmed the district court's holding that the regulations were not preempted. The arguments about preemption were based on a federal statute captioned "Federal authority over intrastate transportation." See 49 U.S.C. 14501. The court agreed with the district court's conclusion that section 14501(c)(2)(A) may appropriately be considered in interpreting and applying section 14501(a)(2), because both subsections use identical language. The court concluded that the distinctions between sections 14501(a) and (c) do not persuade it to construe "safety regulatory authority" more narrowly in the former than in the latter. The court applied a test that was similar to the Ninth Circuit, concluding that, in light of the permitting regulation's expressed purpose and effect, there was a safety motivation for the ordinance, and there was a nexus between the permitting regulations and the safety concern. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United Motorcoach Association, Inc. v. City of Austin" on Justia Law

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A year after CSX successfully petitioned the ICC to end CSX's obligation to provide common-carrier rail service on a portion of track in Putnam County, Indiana, CSX notified ICC that it had abandoned that segment. CSX then leased a portion of its track, including the abandoned segment, for use by a grain-shipping company. Plaintiffs, owners of property adjoining the abandoned track segment, filed suit seeking removal of the tracks and possession of the real property underlying the rail line. The district court granted CSX's motion for summary judgment. The court affirmed the district court's finding that plaintiffs' claims were preempted under the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C. 10501(b). In this case, plaintiffs seek to eject CSX from land with active, ongoing rail operations, and thus preemption applied to their claims. View "Wedemeyer v. CSX Transportation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that BNSF violated the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. 20109, when it terminated his employment for harassing a co-worker and threatening a supervisor. The district court ultimately granted BNSF summary judgment on the merits and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim because he failed to submit evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to infer that his FRSA-protected activities were a contributing factor in BNSF's decision to discharge him for harassing and intimidating a co-worker. Because BNSF did not sufficiently develop its alternative waiver argument, did not raise a laches or estoppel defense in the district court or on appeal, and presented insufficient proof (if any) on these fact intensive issues, the court left these questions for another day. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Gunderson v. BNSF Railway" on Justia Law

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ABM petitioned for review of the Board's determination that the Union's effort to represent the workers who handle airline baggage was governed by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C. 151 et seq., and not the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. 151 et seq. The court concluded that the Board violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(a), by applying a new test to determine whether the RLA applies, without explaining its reasons for doing so. Because an agency's unexplained departure from precedent was arbitrary and capricious, the court vacated the Board's order. In this case, the court held that the Board was not free to simply adopt the NMB's new approach without offering a reasoned explanation for that shift. The court explained that an agency cannot avoid its duty to explain a departure from its own precedent simply by pointing to another agency's unexplained departure from precedent. Accordingly, the court granted the petition for review, denied the Board's cross-application for enforcement, and vacated the order, remanding for further proceedings. View "ABM Onsite Services - West, Inc. v. NLRB" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought review of the Board's decision and order affirming the ALJ in petitioner's Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. 20109, retaliatory termination action. The court concluded that the ALJ correctly applied the background evidence rule enunciated by the Supreme Court in National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, which held that an employee can use prior acts as background evidence for a timely claim even when those same acts are time-barred; the court rejected petitioner's argument that hearsay evidence at the hearing undermines the ALJ's ultimate conclusions where the evidence was not offered to prove the truth of the matters asserted, but instead, to show the effect of the assertions on the decision maker; and the ALJ's determination that petitioner's protected acts were not a contributing factor in his termination was supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the court denied the petition and affirmed the final decision and order. View "Mercier v. U.S. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sustained injuries while working for Union Pacific Railroad Company “as a spiker machine operator near Minidoka, Idaho.” Union Pacific’s decision to reduce “the spiker machine’s customary three-[person] crew to a two-[person] crew” placed greater physical demands on plaintiff, causing or contributing to the injuries he suffered. As a result of Union Pacific’s alleged negligent maintenance of the spiker machine and its decision to reduce the number of persons operating that machine, plaintiff suffered economic and noneconomic damages totaling approximately $615,000. The question this case presented was whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permitted Oregon to exercise general jurisdiction over an interstate railroad for claims unrelated to the railroad’s activities in Oregon. The trial court ruled that it could exercise general jurisdiction over the railroad and denied the railroad’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s negligence action for lack of personal jurisdiction. After the railroad petitioned for a writ of mandamus, the Supreme Court issued an alternative writ to the trial court, which adhered to its initial ruling. After review, the Supreme Court held that due process did not permit Oregon courts to exercise general jurisdiction over the railroad. View "Barrett v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was working for BNSF Railway Company in Pasco, Washington, where she was repairing a locomotive engine. While she was reaching up to remove an engine part, the “portable stair supplied by [BNSF] rolled or kicked out from under [p]laintiff,” causing her to sustain substantial injuries. The question that this case presented was whether, by appointing a registered agent in Oregon, defendant (a foreign corporation) impliedly consented to have Oregon courts adjudicate any and all claims against it regardless of whether those claims have any connection to defendant’s activities in the state. Defendant moved to dismiss this action because the trial court lacked general jurisdiction over it. When the court denied the motion, defendant petitioned for an alternative writ of mandamus. The Oregon Supreme Court issued the writ, and held as a matter of state law, that the legislature did not intend that appointing a registered agent pursuant to ORS 60.731(1) would constitute consent to the jurisdiction of the Oregon courts. View "Figueroa v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law