Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) decided to preempt California’s MRB rules with respect to truck drivers subject to federal regulations. Swift Transportation (Plaintiffs) argued that the presumption against retroactive application of laws operates here to allow their lawsuit to proceed despite the FMSCA’s preemption of California’s meal and rest break (MRB) rules.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Swift Transportation Co. of Arizona, LLC in a class action brought by former hourly truck drivers for (“Plaintiffs”) alleging violations of California’s MRB rules and derivative state-law claims. The panel applied the retroactivity test set forth in Landgraf v. USI FilmProducts, 511 U.S. 244, 263-64, 280 (1994). Under step one of the twostep test, the panel held that because Congress clearly intended for the FMSCA to have the power to halt enforcement of state laws, and because the FMSCA intended for this particular preemption determination to apply to pending lawsuits, the FMSCA’s decision prohibits present enforcement of California’s MRB rules regardless of when the underlying conduct occurred. The panel held that it need not reach the second step of the Landgraf analysis. View "JOHEL VALIENTE, ET AL V. SWIFT TRANSP. CO. OF ARIZ." on Justia Law

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Defendant crashed his plane when he attempted to fly over Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range in Alaska. During both the investigation and Defendant’s appeal of the revocation of his airman certificate, Defendant claimed that the plane was climbing through 5,500 to 5,700 feet with a target altitude of 6,000 feet as it approached the pass. GPS data showed that the plane was flying at an altitude more than 1,000 feet lower than what Defendant claimed. The proceeding in Count One was the NTSB investigation. The proceeding in Count Two was the appeal before the NTSB of the FAA’s revocation of his airman certificate. Challenging his conviction on Count One, Defendant argued that the NTSB’s accident investigation was not a pending “proceeding” within the meaning of Section 1505.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction on two counts of obstructing a pending proceeding and affirmed the district court’s assessment of a $5,000 fine. The panel wrote that even if it were not reviewing for plain error, it would affirm, holding that the NTSB’s investigation of Defendant’s plane crash was a “proceeding” within the meaning of Section 1505. The panel held that the district court did not err in instructing the jury on the materiality element. The panel held that the district court did not commit clear error in finding Defendant able to pay the $5,000 fine, as there was no evidence before the district court showing that Defendant was unable to pay the fine, or was likely become unable to pay it. View "USA V. FOREST KIRST" on Justia Law

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Intervenor is a former commercial pilot who now flies a small Cessna jet for his own personal use. The intervenor landed his Cessna at the Lantana Airport. A Palm Beach County ordinance prohibits “pure turbo-jet aircraft” and cargo-carrying aircraft that weigh more than 12,500 pounds from using Lantana Airport, and Palm Beach County enforces the ordinance in a way that actually bans all jets, not just the “pure turbo” variety. The intervenor complained to the Federal Aviation Administration that the ordinance’s jet restriction violated a grant assurance the County had made to the FAA in exchange for federal airport improvement money. The FAA agreed with the Intervenor and ordered the County to rescind the restriction. The County and the City of Atlantis, which borders Lantana Airport, have petitioned us for review of the FAA’s final agency decision.   The Eleventh Circuit denied the petition for review. The court explained that the FAA has exclusive authority over our national navigable airspace, which means it’s responsible for “developing plans and policy . . . necessary to ensure the safety of aircraft and the efficient use” of that space. It “may modify or revoke an assignment of airspace when required in the public interest.” As long as any change in the FAA’s position on an airport restriction isn’t based on an impermissible bias, it has the authority to make that change. The Associate Administrator’s conclusion that Lantana Airport’s jet restriction violates Grant Assurance wasn’t arbitrary and capricious but instead was supported by substantial evidence. View "Palm Beach County, et al. v. Federal Aviation Administration" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court issuing a preliminary injunction preliminarily enjoining enforcement of a state law before it took effect, holding that the district court properly entered the preliminary injunction.The law at issue was enacted by the Maine legislature in 2021 to prevent Canadian truck drivers from hauling logs within the state under the auspices of the federal H-2A visa program. Just a few days before the law was to take effect Plaintiffs jointly filed suit in federal district court against the Director of the Maine Bureau of Forestry and the Attorney General of Maine (collectively, the State). Plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief, alleging that the law was preempted under federal law. Plaintiffs then moved for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law. The district court granted the motion. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiffs carried their burden of showing that the H-2A restriction imposed by the law was likely preempted by federal law; and (2) therefore, the district court properly entered the preliminary injunction. View "Maine Forest Products Council v. Cormier" on Justia Law

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Warren tenders gasoline products to Colonial (a common carrier) for shipment on Colonial’s pipeline from Texas to New Jersey, where Warren has a gasoline-blending operation. The rates and conditions for the transportation services are specified in tariffs approved by the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC). The tariff recognizes that the gasoline batches Colonial transports for Warren are fungible and allows Colonial to comingle gasoline from many shippers during transport. Colonial must deliver gasoline of the same volume and grade as the gasoline that was entrusted to it, with the same characteristics that influence the gasoline’s combustion performance (octane rating and distillation value), and its environmental impact, such as volatility. The tariff does not state whether “on specification” gasoline includes any “blend margin.” In 2016, FERC determined that the regulation of in-pipeline blending was outside its jurisdiction. Colonial continued giving Warren gasoline that complies with the relevant tariff but Warren claims that Colonial’s in-line blending of the gasoline with butane diminishes Warren’s ability to blend cheaper blendstocks into the gasoline. Warren regularly blends cheaper gasoline with more expensive gasoline to increase the amount of on-specification gasoline that it can sell,Warren sued for loss of profits (Carmack Amendment 49 U.S.C. 1590), conversion, unjust enrichment, and tortious interference. The Third Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of the claims. Warren’s request seeks an enlargement of its rights under the FERC-approved tariff and violates the filed-rate doctrine’s nondiscrimination principle. View "George E. Warren LLC v. Colonial Pipeline Co" on Justia Law

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The Indiana Southwestern Railway Company sought to abandon railway easements, in which the owners had reversionary interests. The Surface Transportation Board (49 U.S.C. 10903) issued a Notice of Interim Trail Use and Abandonment (NITU). Negotiations with potential railbanking sponsors failed. Eventually, the NITU expired, Railway abandoned its easements without entering into a trail use agreement, and the landowners’ fee simple interests became unencumbered by any easements.The landowners sought compensation for an alleged taking arising under the National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d), claiming that the government had permanently taken their property in April 2001, when the NITU became effective. The Claims Court found that the government had taken the property but that the taking lasted only from the date the NITU went into effect until it expired. The Federal Circuit affirmed in part. The landowner’s property was temporarily taken under the Trails Act. The NITU delayed the reversion of the owners’ interests. The Railway would have otherwise relinquished its rights to its right-of-way during the NITU period. The court remanded for a determination as to the compensation and interest to which the owners are entitled. View "Memmer v. United States" on Justia Law

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Kelly Day appealed the district court’s dismissal of the diversity action she filed against SkyWest Airlines for personal injuries she allegedly sustained when a SkyWest flight attendant carelessly struck her with a beverage cart. The district court granted SkyWest’s motion to dismiss the action as preempted under the Airline Deregulation Act (“ADA”), which preempted state laws “related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier.” The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with sister circuits that personal-injury claims arising out of an airline employee’s failure to exercise due care were not “related to” a deregulated price, route, or service. Therefore, the Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of Day’s action and remanded for further proceedings. View "Day v. SkyWest Airlines" on Justia Law

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Innovel hired Diakon to take furniture from warehouses to customers’ homes. Plaintiffs, two of Diakon's drivers, were citizens of Illinois who drove out of Innovel’s Illinois warehouses and made deliveries to customers in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. They signed “Service Agreements” that classify the drivers as independent contractors yet include detailed expectations for the drivers, covering uniforms, business cards, truck decals, and how to perform deliveries and installations. The Agreements select Virginia law to govern the parties’ relations and authorize Diakon to deduct fees and penalties from the drivers’ pay for truck rental fees, insurance, workers’ compensation coverage, damaged merchandise, and customers’ refused deliveries.Plaintiffs sued, alleging that Diakon misclassified them as independent contractors when they were employees under Illinois law. Illinois courts apply a three-part test to determine employee status, which is more likely to classify workers as employees than is Virginia law, which would treat the plaintiffs as contractors. The Illinois Wage Payment and Collections Act allows deductions from pay only if the employee consents in writing at the time of the deduction.The district judge certified a class but ruled in favor of Diakon. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The plaintiffs’ claims arise from their work in Illinois, not from their contracts. The Illinois Act governs payment for work in Illinois regardless of what state’s law governs other aspects of the parties' relations. View "Timothy Johnson v. Diakon Logistics, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Ohio's antiblocking statute, Ohio Rev. Code 5589.21, which prohibits a stopped train from blocking a railroad crossing for more than five minutes, is preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, 49 U.S.C. 10101 et seq., and that the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20101 et seq., does not exempt section 5589.21 from the Termination Act's preemptive force.The State charged CSX Transportation, Inc. with violating section 5589.21 on five occasions. The trial court dismissed the charges, concluding that the Termination Act and the Safety Act preempted section 5589.21. The court of appeals reversed, holding that federal law did not preempt the antiblocking statute. The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the trial court's dismissal of the charges brought against CSX, holding that section 5589.21 is preempted by federal law and therefore may not be enforced against CSX. View "State v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit denied Petitioner's petition for review of the judgment of the Department of Labor's Administrative Review Board (ARB) affirming an administrative law judge's (ALJ) determination that BNSF Railway Company had a valid same-action affirmative defense to Plaintiff's retaliation claim, holding that substantial evidence supported the decision.Plaintiff, a train engineer, brought an administrative complaint with the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) alleging that BNSF, his employer, violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act by retaliating against him for raising safety concerns and refusing to engage in unsafe practices. OSHA dismissed the complaint. A Department of Labor ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim based on the statutory same-action affirmative defense. The ARB affirmed. The Seventh Circuit denied review, holding that substantial evidence supported the ARB's decision that the same-action defense applied to BNSF's discipline of Plaintiff. View "Brousil v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, Administrative Review Board" on Justia Law