Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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The Ninth Circuit denied petitions for review of the FMCSA's determination that federal law preempted California’s meal and rest break rules (MRB rules), as applied to drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles who are subject to the FMCSA's own rest break regulations.The panel held that the agency's decision reflects a permissible interpretation of the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 and is not arbitrary or capricious. Applying Chevron deference to the agency's interpretation of the statute and the phrase "on commercial motor vehicle safety," the panel held that even assuming petitioners identified a potential ambiguity in the statute, the agency's reading was a permissible one. In this case, the FMCSA reasonably determined that a State law "on commercial motor vehicle safety" is one that "imposes requirements in an area of regulation that is already addressed by a regulation promulgated under [section] 31136." Furthermore, the FMCSA's 2018 preemption decision also reasonably relied on Congress's stated interest in uniformity of regulation.The panel concluded that the FMCSA permissibly determined that California's MRB rules were State regulations "on commercial motor vehicle safety," so that they were within the agency's preemption authority. The panel also concluded that the FMCSA faithfully interpreted California law in finding that California's rules were "additional to or more stringent than" federal regulations. Finally, the panel concluded that the agency did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in finding that enforcement of the MRB rules "would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce." View "International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration" on Justia Law

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Daylight, an expedited less-than-truckload carrier, contracts with independent truck drivers. Daylight’s California drivers only provided services within California. The plaintiffs each entered into an “Independent Contractor Service Agreement” before beginning to drive for Daylight and regularly signed materially identical contract extensions while driving for Daylight. All of those Agreements contained an identical arbitration provision. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action, requesting relief from Daylight’s “unlawful misclassification of former and current Daylight delivery drivers as ‘Independent Contractors,’ ” and alleging violations of Labor Code and wage order provisions, and the law against unfair competition.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Daylight’s motion to compel arbitration, applying California law and finding the agreement procedurally and substantively unconscionable, and that severance of the unconscionable terms is not possible. Daylight was in a superior bargaining position and presented the contracts on a take it or leave it basis. The Agreement’s 120-day limitations period is substantially shorter than the statutory limits. The Agreement permits Daylight to seek a provisional judicial remedy but precludes plaintiffs from equivalent access and requires that the parties split the cost of arbitration, a cost greater than litigation filing fees. Because Daylight had waived its argument, the court did not address preemption under the Federal Arbitration Act, which“provides a limited exemption from FAA coverage to contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce (9 U.S.C. 1). View "Ali v. Daylight Transport, LLC" on Justia Law

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Kevyn Menges suffered catastrophic injuries in a motor vehicle accident. Menges, through her guardian ad litem Susan Menges, sued the Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for its negligent construction of an interstate off-ramp. Caltrans moved for summary judgment, asserting design immunity. The trial court granted Caltrans’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, Menges argued: (1) design immunity should not have applied since the approved plans were unreasonable, and the construction of the interstate off-ramp did not match the previously approved design plans; (2) the trial court erred in denying her oral request for a continuance at the summary judgment hearing; and (3) Caltrans’s Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offer was unreasonable and invalid, and a portion of the cost award for expert witness fees should have been disallowed. The Court of Appeal determined none of Menges’s arguments had merit, and affirmed the judgment. View "Menges v. Dept. of Transportation" on Justia Law

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BNSF Railway Co. (“BNSF”) appealed a jury verdict and money judgment entered in favor of David Rentz. In July 2012, a tractor-trailer driven by Rentz was struck by a train operated by BNSF and train engineer, Reinaldo Guitian, Jr. The collision occurred at a public railroad grade crossing. In December 2015, Rentz sued BNSF and Guitian for personal injuries sustained during the vehicle/train collision. Guitian was subsequently dismissed as a named defendant in the action. Trial was held over eleven days in January 2019. Guitian was designated as BNSF’s party representative under N.D.R.Ev. 615 and was not sequestered from the courtroom. The jury returned a verdict finding Rentz 15% at fault and BNSF 85% at fault. A money judgment was entered in favor of Rentz. BNSF asserted it was denied a fair trial because: (1) BNSF’s designated representative at trial was allowed to be questioned beyond the scope of his knowledge; (2) video and audio clips taken from discovery depositions of BNSF’s designated representatives were improperly played during opening and closing arguments; (3) BNSF’s internal operating procedures were improperly used to modify the standard of care; and (4) opinion testimony of the investigating highway patrol trooper was excluded from evidence. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the questioning of BNSF’s representative at trial exceeded his personal knowledge and affected a substantial right, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Rentz v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a carman for Metro-North, filed suit under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, alleging unlawful retaliation for his refusal to walk outdoors to another building in the railyard in allegedly unsafe winter conditions or, in the alternative, for his reporting those unsafe conditions to a foreman.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of Metro-North's motion for summary judgment, holding that the district court did not commit reversible error. The court adopted the "reasonableness" definition in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act context, which means that a "reasonable belief contains both subjective and objective components," and applied it in the FRSA context. The court agreed with Metro-North and the district court that plaintiff has not identified a genuine dispute of material fact over whether the walkways were safe or over the reasonableness of his own assessment. In this case, plaintiff did not submit any specific evidence to support his generalized contention that the walkways at the railyard were unsafe, other than to assert that other employees slipped as they walked. The court concluded that plaintiff's subjective assessment alone cannot create a genuine issue of material fact.The court agreed with the Seventh and Eighth Circuits and held that some evidence of retaliatory intent is a necessary component of an FRSA claim. The court considered the Eighth Circuit's Gunderson factors and concluded that plaintiff's protected activity was not a contributing factor in his discharge. Finally, the court considered plaintiff's remaining arguments and found them to be without merit. View "Tompkins v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Siemens shipped two electrical transformers from Germany to Kentucky. K+N arranged the shipping, retaining Blue Anchor Line. Blue Anchor issued a bill of lading, in which Siemens agreed not to sue downstream Blue Anchor subcontractors for any problems arising out of the transport from Germany to Kentucky. K+N subcontracted with K-Line to complete the ocean leg of the transportation. Siemens contracted with another K+N entity, K+N Inc., to complete the land leg of the trip from Baltimore to Ghent. K+N Inc. contacted Progressive, a rail logistics coordinator, to identify a rail carrier. They settled on CSX. During the rail leg from Maryland to Kentucky, one transformer was damaged, allegedly costing Siemens $1,500,000 to fix.Progressive sued CSX, seeking to limit its liability for these costs. Siemens sued CSX, seeking recovery for the damage to the transformer. The actions were consolidated in the Kentucky federal district court, which granted CSX summary judgment because the rail carrier qualified as a subcontractor under the Blue Anchor bill and could invoke its liability-shielding provisions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A maritime contract, like the Blue Anchor bill of lading, may set the liability rules for an entire trip, including any land-leg part of the trip, and it may exempt downstream subcontractors, regardless of the method of payment. The Blue Anchor contract states that it covers “Multimodal Transport.” It makes no difference that the downstream carrier was not in privity of contract with Siemens. View "Progressive Rail Inc. v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law