Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

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In this case, plaintiff-appellant John Kowalchuck sued his former employer, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), under the Federal Employers' Liability Act for injuries he sustained while clearing snow at an MTA property. The MTA requested a pre-motion conference to discuss its anticipated motion for summary judgment. The district court granted the request, and at the pre-motion conference, it deemed the MTA's motion as having been made and denied it. However, two years later, and only four days before the trial was set to begin, the district court reconsidered its previous denial of the motion and granted summary judgment in favor of the MTA, dismissing the complaint. Kowalchuck was not given an opportunity to submit papers in opposition to the motion.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that the district court erred when it sua sponte reconsidered its denial of summary judgment and granted summary judgment to the MTA, without giving Kowalchuck notice or an opportunity to be heard. Therefore, the court vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court of Appeals emphasized the need for procedural safeguards such as notice and an opportunity to be heard before a court can grant summary judgment sua sponte. The court also noted that Kowalchuck was procedurally prejudiced by the district court's use of a truncated or expedited procedure, as he was surprised by the district court's sua sponte grant of summary judgment and that surprise resulted in his failure to present evidence in support of his position. View "Kowalchuck v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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In this case, Norfolk Southern Railway Company and Dille Road Recycling, LLC disputed over a narrow parcel of land adjacent to Norfolk’s active rail line in Euclid, Ohio. Although Norfolk owned the land, Dille had been using it for nearly two decades. The parties took the matter to federal court after negotiations failed. Dille sought to claim the parcel through adverse possession or a prescriptive easement, while Norfolk argued that Dille’s property claims were preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA). The district court held that Dille’s prescriptive-easement claim was not preempted and granted Dille the easement.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court's decision, ruling that federal law preempted Dille’s state-law prescriptive-easement claim. The court determined that the easement Dille sought was so exclusive and conflicting that it was essentially adverse possession by another name. The court noted that while Dille claimed the easement was nonexclusive, the reality was that Dille's use of the parcel did not allow for shared use with Norfolk. The court also found that Dille's proposed use of the parcel was much closer to the complete taking of the property, which would unreasonably interfere with rail transportation and therefore was preempted by the ICCTA. The court reasoned that the possession or conflicting use of railroad property can be burdensome even if the railroad is not currently using the contested property. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion. View "Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. Dille Road Recycling, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case, Glen Pace, a Mississippi resident, appealed the dismissal of his claims against multiple corporate defendants over personal injuries he suffered in a Texas airplane crash. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi dismissed the claims against the out-of-state defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction and held that the two Mississippi defendants were improperly joined, which allowed removal to federal court.Upon review, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The appellate court agreed that Pace failed to state a claim against either in-state defendant, and thus, they were improperly joined. As for the out-of-state defendants, the court found that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over them. The court reasoned that the aircraft crash, any equipment failure, and the injuries all occurred in Texas, and Pace's subsequent medical treatment and damages in Mississippi did not constitute an actual injury felt in the state for the purpose of establishing personal jurisdiction. The court held that Pace's injuries from the crash occurred in Texas and his subsequent medical treatment in Mississippi were "consequences stemming from the actual tort injury," which do not confer personal jurisdiction.The court also denied Pace's request for jurisdictional discovery, stating that Pace failed to present specific facts or reasonable particularity regarding jurisdictional facts. The court stressed that its decision should not be interpreted as implying a view on the merits of Pace’s claims. View "Pace v. Cirrus Design Corp" on Justia Law

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The case involves a fatal accident that occurred at a private railroad crossing owned by Ezra Alderman Ranches, Inc. and operated by Union Pacific Railroad Company. Rolando Prado, Jr. died when his vehicle was struck by a Union Pacific train at the crossing. His family members (the Prados) sued both Union Pacific and Ezra Alderman Ranches, Inc. for negligence. The central issue before the Supreme Court of Texas was whether the evidence was sufficient to create a fact issue on whether the railroad crossing, which was protected by both a stop sign and a crossbuck sign, was "extra-hazardous" and whether the landowner knew it was "unreasonably dangerous."The court held that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that the crossing was extra-hazardous. The court reasoned that the crossing had a stop sign in addition to the usual crossbuck sign, and anyone who actually stopped at the sign could clearly see a train coming from either direction. The expert testimony that suggested drivers would not stop at a particular stop sign because it "lacks credibility" did not establish that all reasonably prudent drivers would not, much less could not, stop at the sign.The court also held that there was no evidence to support a finding that the landowner, Ezra Alderman Ranches, Inc., had actual knowledge that the crossing was unreasonably dangerous. The court determined that the evidence indicated that the landowner knew of the high volume of traffic at the crossing, but it did not establish that the landowner had actual knowledge that the crossing was unreasonably dangerous.The court reversed the decision of the court of appeals and reinstated the judgment of the trial court in favor of Union Pacific and Ezra Alderman Ranches, Inc. View "UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY v. PRADO" on Justia Law

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The City of Norwalk sued the City of Cerritos, alleging that Cerritos' ordinance limiting commercial and heavy truck traffic to certain major arteries caused extra truck traffic to be diverted through Norwalk, constituting a public nuisance. The City of Cerritos demurred, arguing that it was immune from liability as the ordinance was enacted under the express authority of the Vehicle Code sections 35701 and 21101. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend, and Norwalk appealed this decision. The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, affirmed the trial court's decision. The appellate court held that the public nuisance alleged by Norwalk, namely, the diversion of heavy truck traffic and its adverse effects, necessarily and inescapably flowed from the enactment of the Cerritos ordinance, which was expressly authorized by the Vehicle Code. As such, Cerritos was immune from liability for public nuisance under Civil Code section 3482. In addition, the court found no merit in Norwalk's arguments that the ordinance was unreasonable and that Cerritos failed to obtain the state's permission to regulate certain streets. View "City of Norwalk v. City of Cerritos" on Justia Law

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In December 2019, a taxicab driver, Phillip Palmer, shot a heavily intoxicated passenger, Nicholas Young, following a dispute over cab fare. The incident escalated into a physical altercation at a gas station, where Young shoved Palmer twice, causing him to fear for his life. Palmer, who had begun carrying a gun in his cab after hearing about a driver who had been shot by a passenger, fired two shots at Young, hitting him in the neck. Young survived his injuries. At trial, Palmer admitted to the shooting but claimed self-defense. The trial court denied Palmer's request for a self-defense jury instruction, finding Palmer's statements about his means of escape not credible and determining that a reasonable person would not have believed they were in danger of being killed by Young under the circumstances. Palmer was acquitted of attempted murder but found guilty of felonious assault and a firearm specification.The Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the decision of the Twelfth District Court of Appeals, which had affirmed the trial court's judgment. The Supreme Court determined that the trial court had improperly weighed the evidence when performing a sufficiency analysis. The court found that Palmer had presented legally sufficient evidence for each element of self-defense and was therefore entitled to a self-defense jury instruction. The evidence presented, if believed, could convince a trier of fact that Palmer was acting in self-defense. Therefore, the case was remanded for a new trial on the felonious-assault charge and accompanying firearm specification. View "State v. Palmer" on Justia Law

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In Texas, the appellant was stopped by an officer for failing to remain in a single lane of traffic. After the officer smelled alcohol on the appellant's breath and observed signs of intoxication, he obtained a warrant for a blood sample, which showed a blood alcohol content of .174. The appellant was subsequently indicted for felony driving while intoxicated. The appellant filed a pre-trial motion to suppress, arguing that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop. The trial court denied the motion, and the appellant was convicted. The appellant appealed, and the Third Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, holding that the stop was unlawful because the appellant's failure to maintain a single lane was not unsafe.The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas considered whether a mistake of law should apply when an officer conducts a search or seizure under an ambiguous law. The court held that the officer's reasonable misinterpretation of the law did not undermine the reasonable suspicion required to conduct the traffic stop. The court noted that at the time of the stop, there was no controlling interpretation of the relevant section of the Texas transportation code from the Court of Criminal Appeals and the intermediate courts were split in their interpretations. The court therefore reversed the court of appeals' decision and affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Daniel v. State" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between two cities, Norwalk and Cerritos, both located in California. In 1974, Cerritos enacted an ordinance restricting commercial and heavy truck traffic to certain major arteries within the city. The ordinance was amended in 2019 and 2020, resulting in the removal of one of these arteries. Consequently, Norwalk sued Cerritos, arguing that the ordinance created a public nuisance by diverting extra truck traffic through Norwalk and thus causing various "adverse effects" linked to heavier traffic flow. Cerritos claimed immunity under Civil Code section 3482, which shields a city from public nuisance liability for actions "done or maintained under the express authority of a statute". The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District found that the Vehicle Code explicitly authorized cities to regulate the use of their streets by commercial or heavy vehicles. Therefore, the court held that Cerritos was immune from liability for the public nuisance of diverting traffic into Norwalk. The court stated that the immunity conferred by Civil Code section 3482 applied not only to the specific act expressly authorized by the statute, but also to the consequences that necessarily stemmed from that act. The court affirmed the judgment in favor of Cerritos. View "City of Norwalk v. City of Cerritos" on Justia Law

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In this case, a woman was severely injured while moving an inoperable airplane owned by her husband. She sought recovery from her husband's homeowner's insurance policy. The insurance policy, however, excluded injuries "arising out of" the ownership, maintenance, use, loading or unloading of an aircraft. The woman argued that the policy should cover her injury because, in her view, the aircraft had become mere "parts" after her husband removed the wings, elevators, and tail rudder. The lower court disagreed and concluded that her injuries were not covered by the policy. The woman appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska agreed with the lower court’s interpretation of the homeowner's insurance policy exclusion. The court maintained that regardless of whether the airplane was considered an aircraft or a collection of airplane “parts” when it injured the woman, the injury arose out of the husband’s ownership of the airplane. This interpretation was supported by the clear language of the policy which excluded coverage for bodily injury arising out of ownership or maintenance of an aircraft. As a result, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision. View "Thompson v. United Services Automobile Association" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of Maryland held that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) did not err in concluding that law enforcement had reasonable grounds to believe that Rahq Deika Montana Usan was driving a vehicle while impaired by alcohol, drugs, or both. The ALJ found substantial evidence to support this belief, including Usan's erratic driving, red and glassy eyes, slow and sluggish movement, and failure to perform three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) successfully. The court also affirmed the ALJ's finding that law enforcement, having reasonable suspicion of a driver impaired by alcohol, drugs, or both, may request testing pursuant to the Maryland Transportation Article § 16-205.1. The court further held that Usan violated the statute by refusing to submit to the requested testing. As a result, the Supreme Court of Maryland reversed the decision of the Circuit Court for Charles County, which had overturned the ALJ's decision to suspend Usan's driver's license. View "Motor Vehicle Admin. v. Usan" on Justia Law