Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

by
The case involves MCR Oil Tools, L.L.C., who filed a petition for review against the United States Department of Transportation, its Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and William S. Schoonover in his official capacity as Associate Administrator of Hazardous Materials Safety. The petition was filed in response to an order from the Department of Transportation.The case was brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Prior to this, the case had been reviewed by the Department of Transportation, but the details of the lower court's proceedings and decisions are not provided in the document.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted the petition for review. The court decided to expedite the matter to the next available randomly designated regular oral argument panel. Additionally, the court ruled that the motions for stay pending review and for administrative stay should be decided by the argument panel. The court carried these motions with the case, consistent with their panel practice. However, the court did not express any opinion on the disposition of these motions. View "MCR Oil Tools v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

by
In November 2021, David Goyco was struck and injured by an automobile while operating a low-speed electric scooter (LSES). Goyco filed a claim for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits under his personal automobile policy with Progressive Insurance Company. Progressive denied the claim, arguing that Goyco's LSES did not meet the definition of an "automobile" and that Goyco could not be considered a "pedestrian" under the New Jersey Automobile Reparation Reform Act, commonly known as the No-Fault Act. Goyco filed a complaint, asserting that LSES riders should be considered "pedestrians" entitled to PIP benefits under the No-Fault Act. The trial court denied relief to Goyco, and the Appellate Division affirmed.The Supreme Court of New Jersey affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The court held that an LSES rider does not fall within the definition of "pedestrian" for purposes of the No-Fault Act. The court found that Goyco's LSES was a "vehicle" that used a rechargeable electric motor and was therefore "propelled by other than muscular power" and was "designed for use on highways, rails and tracks." The court also rejected Goyco's reliance on a 2019 statute that provides that an LSES should be considered equivalent to a bicycle, stating that the statute was not intended to have any effect on the No-Fault Act. The court concluded that Goyco was not a pedestrian entitled to PIP benefits under Progressive's No-Fault insurance policy. View "Goyco v. Progressive Insurance Company" on Justia Law

by
The case revolves around a dispute between Diamond Transportation Logistics (Diamond) and The Kroger Company (Kroger). In 2010, the two companies entered into a transportation agreement, which was renewed in 2016, for Diamond to transport Kroger's goods. The agreement included an indemnity provision, which allowed Kroger to withhold payments from Diamond for claims against Diamond under certain conditions. In December 2015, a subcontractor of Diamond was involved in a fatal accident while transporting Kroger's goods. The family of the deceased sued both Diamond and Kroger for wrongful death, alleging negligence in Kroger's selection, hiring, and retention of Diamond as a shipper. Kroger demanded Diamond to cover its legal expenses based on the indemnity provision in their agreement. However, Diamond failed to reimburse Kroger, leading Kroger to withhold nearly $1.8 million in shipping payments from Diamond.The case was first heard in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, where Kroger filed a counterclaim for breach of the transportation agreement's indemnity provision. The district court ruled in favor of Kroger, awarding it $612,429.45 plus interest. Diamond appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision. The main issue was whether the indemnity provision's exception for "liability...caused by the sole negligence or willful misconduct of Kroger" relieved Diamond of its obligation. The court held that the exception did not apply in this case because Kroger's liability for the family's negligent selection, hiring, and retention claim was not caused by its "sole negligence." The court reasoned that Diamond's negligence also played a part in Kroger's liability, and therefore, Diamond was required to cover Kroger's costs in settling the family's claim. View "Diamond Transp. Logistics, Inc. v. Kroger Co." on Justia Law

by
A pilot, who was injured in an airplane crash in 1985, sought medical benefits for a 2016 spinal surgery and subsequent treatment, as well as for diabetes treatment related to his spinal treatment. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board denied his claim, concluding that the 1985 injury was not a substantial factor in the pilot’s spinal problems. The Board also excluded the testimony of the pilot’s biomechanics expert due to non-compliance with Board regulations. The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission affirmed the Board’s decision, finding substantial evidence in the record to support the Board’s decision and that the Board had not abused its discretion in its procedural rulings.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed the Commission’s decision. The court found that substantial evidence supported the Board's decision that the 1985 injury was not a substantial factor in the pilot's spinal problems. The court also found that the Board did not abuse its discretion by excluding the testimony of the pilot's biomechanics expert due to non-compliance with Board regulations. The court further held that the Board did not have an obligation to secure the testimony of a particular witness, and that the pilot's failure to secure a witness's testimony did not create an obligation for the Board to do so. View "Jespersen v. Tri-City Air and Alaska Insurance Guaranty Company" on Justia Law

by
The defendant, Antonio Santonastaso, was convicted of making a false statement to federal investigators and attempted witness tampering. The charges stemmed from a 2018 investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) into allegations that Santonastaso was flying a helicopter without the necessary certifications. During the investigation, Santonastaso falsely claimed that he had the requisite certifications to fly and that his previous involvement in a 2000 helicopter theft was part of an undercover operation.The case was first heard in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, where Santonastaso was found guilty. He appealed the decision, arguing that the government's evidence was insufficient to prove his guilt and that the district court erred by not giving a materiality instruction based on the Supreme Court's decision in Maslenjak v. United States.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find Santonastaso guilty of making a false statement to federal investigators and attempted witness tampering. The court also ruled that the district court did not commit instructional error in rejecting Santonastaso's proposed materiality instruction. The court held that the law-of-the-circuit doctrine foreclosed the application of the Maslenjak materiality standard to § 1001(a) prosecutions, and that the district court's instruction correctly stated the controlling law on materiality. View "United States v. Santonastaso" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Scotlynn Transport, LLC and Plains Towing and Recovery, LLC, disputing the ownership of a semi-tractor. The semi-tractor, owned by Scotlynn, was involved in an accident and subsequently towed by Plains Towing to its impound lot. After Scotlynn paid for the towing services and took possession of the trailer, the semi-tractor remained at the impound lot. Plains Towing, considered a "removal agency" under South Dakota law, sent a notice to Scotlynn and later acquired the title to the semi-tractor using the statutory procedure outlined in SDCL 32-36-8 and 32-36-9. Scotlynn initiated a lawsuit against Plains Towing, alleging several claims related to the disputed ownership of the semi-tractor.The Circuit Court of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, Meade County, South Dakota, granted Plains Towing's motion for summary judgment, concluding that Plains Towing had complied with SDCL 32-36-8 and lawfully obtained the title to the semi-tractor. Scotlynn appealed, arguing that there were genuine issues of material fact relating to claims raised in Scotlynn’s complaint that were not addressed by the court.The Supreme Court of the State of South Dakota partially reversed and affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that there were genuine issues of material fact concerning the existence of an implied contract between the parties regarding the storage of the tractor. However, the court agreed with the lower court that the "drafting errors" Scotlynn alleged were contained in the notice would not, themselves, preclude obtaining the title under SDCL 32-36-9. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the court's holdings. View "Scotlynn Transport, LLC v. Plains Towing and Recovery, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The case involves James Fejes, a pilot who held a certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under 49 U.S.C. § 44703. Fejes used his aircraft to transport and distribute marijuana to retail stores within Alaska, an activity that is legal under state law but illegal under federal law. After an investigation, the FAA revoked Fejes's pilot certificate under 49 U.S.C. § 44710(b)(2), which mandates revocation when a pilot knowingly uses an aircraft for an activity punishable by more than a year's imprisonment under a federal or state controlled substance law.Fejes appealed the FAA's decision to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who affirmed the revocation. He then appealed the ALJ's decision to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which also affirmed the ALJ. Throughout the agency proceedings, Fejes admitted that he piloted an aircraft to distribute marijuana within Alaska, but argued that his conduct fell outside of § 44710(b)(2)'s reach.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied Fejes's petition for review of the NTSB's order affirming the FAA's revocation of his pilot certificate. The court rejected Fejes's argument that the FAA lacked jurisdiction to revoke his pilot certificate because Congress cannot authorize an administrative agency to regulate purely intrastate commerce like marijuana delivery within Alaska. The court held that airspace is a channel of commerce squarely within congressional authority, and therefore, Congress can regulate Fejes's conduct. The court also rejected Fejes's argument that his conduct was exempt under FAA regulation 14 C.F.R. § 91.19, and that the FAA misinterpreted § 44710(b)(2). The court concluded that the FAA's revocation of Fejes's pilot certificate was not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. View "FEJES V. FAA" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Salt Lake County's challenge to the constitutionality of the Aircraft Valuation Law, which provides a preferred method for determining the fair market value of aircraft for tax purposes. The County argued that the application of the law to Delta Air Lines' aircraft resulted in an assessment below fair market value, violating the Utah Constitution. The County also contended that the law, on its face, violated the Utah Constitution by divesting the Utah State Tax Commission of its power to assess airline property.The Utah State Tax Commission had previously upheld the 2017 assessment of Delta's property, which was calculated according to the Aircraft Valuation Law. The Commission found that the County did not provide clear and convincing evidence that the legislature's preferred method of valuation did not reasonably reflect fair market value.The Supreme Court of the State of Utah rejected the County's arguments. The court held that the County failed to fully utilize the statutory safety valve, which allows the Commission to use an alternative valuation method if the preferred method does not reasonably reflect fair market value. The court also rejected the County's facial challenge to the Aircraft Valuation Law, concluding that the County did not show that the law prohibits the legislature from prescribing a preferred method for valuing aircraft. Therefore, the court affirmed the Commission's decision. View "Salt Lake Co v. Tax Commission" on Justia Law

by
Randall J. Weddle was involved in a major motor vehicle accident in Washington, Maine, which resulted in the death of two drivers. The accident involved five vehicles, one of which was engulfed in flames. Weddle, the driver of a large tractor trailer, was found to be the cause of the accident. Hospital tests revealed that Weddle had alcohol in his system and officers found a three-quarters-full whiskey bottle and a shot glass in his truck several days after the accident.Weddle was charged with two counts of manslaughter, two counts of aggravated criminal operating under the influence, one count of causing injury while operating under the influence, one count of aggravated driving to endanger, one count of driving to endanger, and eight counts of violating commercial motor carrier operator rules. The jury found Weddle guilty of all counts. The court conducted a sentencing analysis and set the basic sentence at twenty years, considering the nature and circumstances of the crime. The court set the maximum sentence at thirty years, weighing mitigating and aggravating factors. The final sentence was set at thirty years, with all but twenty-five years suspended, followed by four years of probation.Weddle appealed his sentence to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. He argued that his sentence was unconstitutional because it was not proportioned to the offense and that it was excessively harsh. The court affirmed the sentence, concluding that the sentence was not greatly disproportionate to the offense and did not offend prevailing notions of decency. The court also found that the sentence was not excessively harsh, as the court had considered both aggravating and mitigating factors in setting the maximum sentence. View "State of Maine v. Weddle" on Justia Law

by
Neal Bissonnette and Tyler Wojnarowski, distributors for Flowers Foods, Inc., a major producer and marketer of baked goods, sued the company for alleged violations of state and federal wage laws. Flowers Foods moved to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The key issue was whether the exemption from coverage under the FAA for any "class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce" is limited to workers whose employers are in the transportation industry.The District Court dismissed the case in favor of arbitration, stating that for Bissonnette and Wojnarowski to be exempt from the FAA, they must be "transportation workers." The court concluded that their broader scope of responsibility under the Distributor Agreements belied the claim that they were primarily truck drivers. The Second Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision on the alternative ground that Bissonnette and Wojnarowski "are in the bakery industry." According to the Second Circuit, §1 of the FAA exempts only "workers involved in the transportation industries."The Supreme Court of the United States disagreed with the Second Circuit's interpretation. The Court held that a transportation worker does not need to work for a company in the transportation industry to be exempt under §1 of the FAA. The Court emphasized that the relevant question is what the worker does for the employer, not what the employer does generally. The Court vacated the judgment of the Second Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Court did not express an opinion on any alternative grounds in favor of arbitration raised below. View "Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries Park St., LLC" on Justia Law