Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the West Virginia Public Service Commission ruling that its jurisdiction under state law to regulate a company that was operating in West Virginia solely as a contractor for a federal agency was preempted by federal law, holding that there was no error in the Commission's determination.The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the federal agency in this case, was impelled to give the company, Community Pastor Care, LLC (CPC), the subject contract to meet a goal expressed by Congress in 38 U.S.C. 8127(a). Metro Tristate, Inc. filed this case asking that the Commission bar CPC from transporting VA passengers until it received a permit from the Commission. The Commission concluded that its jurisdiction to regulate CPC was preempted by federal law. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission correctly determined that its jurisdiction to regulate CPC was preempted by federal law. View "Metro Tristate, Inc. v. Public Service Commission of W. Va." on Justia Law

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Skidmore’s West Virginia home sits 70-80 feet west of Norfolk’s railroad track, across Loop Creek. In 2001, Norfolk installed a culvert to drain surface water from its tracks into Loop Creek near Skidmore’s home. According to Skidmore, the water streaming from the culvert caused soil erosion and threatened the foundation of her home. Skidmore sued Norfolk in state court, alleging negligence, private nuisance, and trespass.Norfolk obtained a survey and deeds revealing that, in 1903, Norfolk obtained a right of way extending across Loop Creek, over part of the land on the other side. Part of Skidmore’s house sits atop the land over which the right of way runs. Norfolk asserted an affirmative defense that Skidmore lacked standing because she had no right to exclude Norfolk from the land. Skidmore amended her complaint to add claims for adverse possession and prescriptive easement (quiet title claims). Norfolk removed the case to federal court, arguing that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act completely preempts the quiet title claims. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.The Fourth Circuit vacated. While 49 U.S.C. 10501(b) “entirely displaces” Skidmore’s quiet title claims, a conclusion that complete preemption applies means that the court has jurisdiction over ostensibly state-law claims. On remand, the court must convert Skidmore’s quiet title claims into claims under the Termination Act and may permit Skidmore to amend her complaint to clarify the scope of her Termination Act claims. View "Skidmore v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co" on Justia Law

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As a Chicago Midway International Airport ramp supervisor, Saxon supervises, trains, and assists a team of ramp agents—Southwest employees who physically load and unload planes. Ostensibly her job is purely supervisory but Saxon and other ramp supervisors frequently fill in as ramp agents. The ramp agents are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Supervisors are excluded and agree annually as part of their contract of employment—not separately—to arbitrate wage disputes. Believing that Southwest failed to pay ramp supervisors for overtime work, Saxon filed a putative collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201–219. Southwest moved to dismiss or stay the suit pending arbitration (Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 3).The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit, citing the FAA exemption for “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” The last category refers not to all contracts of employment, but only to those belonging to “transportation workers.” The act of loading cargo onto a vehicle to be transported interstate is commerce, as that term was understood at the time of the FAA’s 1925 enactment. Airplane cargo loaders, as a class, are engaged in that commerce, as seamen and railroad employees were; Saxon and the ramp supervisors are members of that class. View "Saxon v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff worked as a delivery driver for TBS, a “last-mile” delivery company whose primary client was Amazon.com. At the start of his employment, he signed an At-Will Employment, Non-Disclosure, Non-Solicitation, Class-Action Waiver and Arbitration Agreement. Plaintiff filed suit asserting violations of the Labor Code, California’s Unfair Competition Law, and the Private Attorneys General Act, unlawful retaliation, and wrongful termination. The trial court denied TBS’s motion to compel the plaintiff to arbitrate his individual claims and to dismiss his class claims. The court found that the plaintiff was exempt from Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. 1, FAA) coverage because he was a transportation worker engaged in interstate commerce and that the class action waiver was unenforceable, rendering the arbitration agreement unenforceable.The court of appeal affirmed that the plaintiff is exempt from FAA coverage and that the class action waiver is unenforceable under California law. The court reversed the order denying the motion to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s individual claims; the trial court improperly found the arbitration agreement unenforceable in its entirety rather than severing the class action waiver provision from the remainder of the employment agreement and considering the validity of the arbitration provision with respect to the individual claims for unlawful retaliation and wrongful termination. View "Betancourt v. Transportation Brokerage Specialists, Inc." on Justia Law

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Owned by the Indiana Finance Authority, the Indiana Toll Road has been operated since 2006 by a lessee, ITR. What ITR can charge depends on state law. In 2018, ITR paid the state $1 billion in exchange for permission to raise by 35 percent the tolls on heavy trucks. The district court dismissed a suit under the Commerce Clause, reasoning that Indiana, as a market participant, was exempt from rules ordinarily applied under the Commerce Clause.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the increase is valid even if it discriminates against interstate commerce. The tolls are neutral with respect to the origins, destinations, and ownership of the trucks. The court also reasoned that when a state participates in, rather than just regulates, the market, it may discriminate in favor of its own citizens and declined to find that tollways “are different.” The court noted the history of private ownership of roads. View "Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. v. Holcomb" on Justia Law

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Southern Furniture Leasing, Inc. filed a putative class action against a group of less-than-truckload (“LTL”) freight carriers, all predecessors to or current subsidiaries of YRC, Inc. Southern Furniture alleged YRC “carried out a widespread and systematic practice of overcharging its customers by intentionally using inflated shipment weights when determining shipment prices.” YRC asked the Tenth Circuit to affirm on the alternate ground that Southern Furniture failed to allege Article III standing. The district court rejected YRC’s standing argument, and the Tenth Circuit agreed with its analysis. The district court granted YRC’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that Southern Furniture had only 180 days to contest the alleged overcharges under 49 U.S.C. 13710(a)(3)(B). To this, the Tenth Circuit concurred and affirmed. View "Southern Furniture Leasing v. YRC" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the FRA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing a national minimum requirement of two crew members for trains. In 2019, the FRA issued an order purporting to adopt a nationwide maximum one-person crew rule and to preempt "any state laws concerning that subject matter." Two Unions and three states petitioned for review of the Order under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).As a preliminary matter, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the Unions' petition because venue was not proper under 28 U.S.C. 2343. The panel explained that the Unions' principal officers were not in the Ninth Circuit. The panel concluded that it had jurisdiction over the States' petitions because they were sufficiently aggrieved to invoke jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 2344. On the merits, the panel held that the FRA's Order does not implicitly preempt state safety rules, that the FRA failed to comply with the APA's notice-and-comment provisions in issuing the Order, and that the order is arbitrary and capricious. The panel explained that the Order's basis for its action did not withstand scrutiny, and the FRA's contemporaneous explanation was lacking. In this case, the States met their burden of showing that the issuance of the Order violated the APA. Accordingly, the panel dismissed the petition for review but granted the States' petitions, vacating the Order. View "Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers v. Federal Railroad Administration" on Justia Law

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In 2020 Union Pacific Railroad announced a change to its employee attendance policy. Several regional branches of the union opposed the change and sought an order under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 151a (RLA), requiring Union Pacific to submit the change to collective bargaining. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction; the claim belonged in arbitration before the National Railroad Adjustment Board.The Seventh Circuit affirmed and granted Union Pacific’s motion for sanctions under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38 for the frivolous appeal. For the second time in three years, the Brotherhood has pressed a position squarely foreclosed by settled law. The union’s challenge to the revised policy amounted to a “minor dispute” subject to mandatory arbitration under the RLA. Given the parties’ course of dealing over workplace attendance requirements, there was a clear pattern and practice of Union Pacific modifying its policies many times over many years without subjecting changes to collective bargaining, which provided the railroad with a nonfrivolous justification to unilaterally modify its attendance policy. That reality made this dispute a minor one subject to resolution through mandatory arbitration. View "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen GCA UP v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”)’s petition seeking review of a Commonwealth Court holding that a de facto taking of an unmined coal estate, owned by Penn Pocahontas and leased to PBS Coals, Inc. (collectively “the Coal Companies”), occurred under the Eminent Domain Code, 26 Pa.C.S. sections 101-1106 (“Code”), when PennDOT’s construction of Highway 219 on an adjoining parcel destroyed options for constructing rights-of-ways to the coal estate’s surface. In reaching that conclusion, the Commonwealth Court held that the feasibility of mining the coal, as measured by the probability of obtaining a legally required permit from the Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”), was relevant only to damages. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s decision, agreeing with PennDOT that the legality of extracting the coal went directly to the trial court’s duty to determine whether a taking occurred. Furthermore, the Court held the Commonwealth Court erred by failing to remand the case for consideration of whether consequential damages are available to the Coal Companies. The matter was remanded to the Commonwealth Court with instructions to remand to the trial court with respect to the Coal Companies’ consequential damages claim. View "PBS Coals, et al v. PennDOT" on Justia Law

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Erwin-Simpson, a D.C. resident, alleges that she suffered injuries in 2016 on a flight from Malaysia to Cambodia with Malaysia-based AirAsia when a flight attendant spilled boiling water on her. She sued under the Montreal Convention, a treaty to which the U.S. is a signatory that provides for airline liability in the case of injuries that occur during flight. AirAsia is a low-cost airline that provides service across Asia; it does not operate any flights to or from the U.S.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for lack of jurisdiction. The injuries Erwin-Simpson alleged did not arise from any activity by AirAsia in the District of Columbia, and the only presence that the airline identifies here is its website. The website on its own is insufficient to render the corporation subject to suit in the District. View "Erwin-Simpson v. AirAsia Berhad" on Justia Law