Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiffs are commercial truck drivers who received citations for violating state vehicle safety laws. State officials reported these citations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for inclusion in the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), 49 U.S.C. 31106(a)(3)(B). After state courts dismissed misdemeanor charges arising from the citations, the drivers asked the Administration to remove them from the MCMIS. The Administration forwarded the requests to the relevant state agencies, which declined to remove the citations. The drivers later authorized the release of their PreEmployment Screening Program (PSP) reports to prospective employers.The drivers allege harm from the inclusion of their citations in the PSP reports and sought damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681e. The drivers alleged that the Administration violated FCRA by not following reasonable procedures to ensure that their PSP reports were as accurate as possible, by failing to investigate the accuracy of their PSP reports upon request, and by refusing to add a statement of dispute to their PSP reports. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Administration, in releasing MCMIS records as required by the SAFE Transportation Act, is not a “consumer reporting agency” under FCRA. View "Mowrer v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, CSX, for unlawful retaliation under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), alleging that he was terminated because he engaged in protected activity by "reporting, in good faith, a hazardous safety or security condition."The Second Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of CSX, concluding that the district court erred in determining that plaintiff's belief that the subject of his report – pressure from supervisors to make false entries in work reports causing employees undue stress and distraction from their duties – concerned a "hazardous safety or security condition" was objectively unreasonable. Rather, the court concluded that the FRSA's protection of reports made "in good faith" requires only that the reporting employee subjectively believe that the matter being reported constitutes a hazardous safety or security condition, regardless of whether that belief is objectively reasonable. The district court also erred in determining that, in any event, only physical conditions subject to the railroad's control could constitute such a condition. The court explained that the statutory text suggests no reason to confine the meaning of "hazardous safety or security condition" to encompass only physical conditions. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Ziparo v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the decision of the district court refusing to quash subpoenas seeking discovery from Rhode Island public officials and a state consultant, holding that Petitioners were entitled to a writ of advisory mandamus reversing the decision to allow the discovery sought from Rhode Island's former governor, the former speaker of Rhode Island's legislature, and former state representative.In these consolidated cases Petitioners sought to reverse the district court's decision refusing to quash subpoenas seeking discovery from Rhode Island public officials and a state consultant. Proponents of the discovery - trucking interests - asserted that the discovery was reasonably calculated to provide evidence that Rhode Island elected officials intended to discriminate against interstate commerce in charging bridge tolls. The First Circuit issued a writ of advisory mandamus reversing the decision to allow the discovery sought from certain Rhode Island public officials, holding that the district court erred in determining that the proponents' interest in obtaining evidence of the state officials' subject motives outweighed the comity considerations implicated by the subpoenas. View "American Trucking Associations, Inc. v. Raimondo" on Justia Law

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In the 1930s and 1940s GE designed and manufactured self-propelled, electric passenger railcars that included liquid-cooled transformers. The transformers, which generated a great deal of heat, used a coolant called Pyranol that contains toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). GE sold some railcars to government entities whose trains operated on Penn Central lines. Pyranol from the transformers escaped and contaminated four Penn Central rail yards. APU, Penn Central’s successor, had to pay for the costly environmental cleanup and sued GE under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which makes four classes of “[c]overed persons” strictly liable for environmental contamination, 42 U.S.C. 9607(a). APU argued that GE “arranged for disposal” of hazardous PCB because it designed and manufactured transformers with pressure-release valves whose “natural function” was to discharge Pyranol when conditions required, it knew that “[t]he frequency of minor spills [was] large,” it took affirmative steps to direct spills onto the roadbed; and it implemented a fail-and-fix policy for defective transformers rather than recall them.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment. GE is neither an arranger nor an operator under CERCLA. APU assigned away its contractual right to indemnification; any claims based on reassigned indemnity rights are time-barred. View "American Premier Underwriters, Inc. v. General Electric Co." on Justia Law

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BNSF Railway sought a declaration that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (ICCTA) preempts Clark County, Washington’s permitting process. Clark County asserted that BNSF needed to obtain a permit for a project to upgrade an existing track and construct a second track in the Columbia River Gorge.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of BNSF. Under the ICCTA, the Surface Transportation Board has exclusive jurisdiction over rail carriers and track construction. If an apparent conflict exists between the ICCTA and a federal statute, then the courts must strive to harmonize the two laws, giving effect to both if possible. The court rejected an argument that the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act is such a federal statute. The Gorge Act does not establish national environmental standards but provides a framework for a commission of state-appointed officials to adopt a management plan and implement it through county land use ordinances. The Columbia River Gorge Commission retains final say over the approval and enforcement of the management plan and local county ordinances; enforcement actions may be brought in state court. The Gorge Act is not comparable to federal environmental laws and nothing in the Gorge Act indicates that the local ordinances otherwise have the force and effect of federal law. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. Friends of the Columbia River Gorge" on Justia Law

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Under the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act, the Secretary of Transportation must promulgate regulations requiring certain railroad carriers to “develop a railroad safety risk reduction program,” 49 U.S.C. 20156(a)(1)(A)), within a specified time frame, The Secretary delegated this regulatory authority to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which was required to conduct a study to determine whether it is in the public interest to withhold from discovery in litigation information gathered for implementation or evaluation of a risk reduction program. The FRA selected the Baker Botts law firm to conduct that study. Baker Botts concluded that it is in the public interest to protect the safety information railroads gather for risk reduction programs from discovery and use in litigation.In 2020 the FRA issued the Risk Reduction Program Final Rule (RRP Rule), mandating that each qualifying railroad establish and implement a risk reduction program with specified requirements. The FRA acknowledged that although the Act requires a risk reduction program to include a fatigue management plan, such plans were not addressed in this rulemaking and would be elaborated in a separate rulemaking. The FRA recently issued a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding fatigue management plans. The RRP Rule protects specific safety information railroads compile or collect from discovery and admissibility.The D.C. Circuit upheld the RRP, rejecting arguments by labor unions and attorneys representing railroad employees that it was untimely, arbitrary, and based on a study conducted by a biased contractor. View "Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Tranportation Workers v. e Federal Railroad Administration" on Justia Law

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Turner, a Wisconsin resident, filed a putative class action against Costa, an Italian cruise operator, and its American subsidiary, alleging that their negligence contributed to an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard the Costa Luminosa during his transatlantic voyage beginning on March 5, 2020. The Luminosa had evacuated a passenger, who subsequently died of COVID-19, from a cruise immediately preceding Turner’s cruise. Costa told passengers that the ship was safe. It did not hire any experts to verify that the ship had been sufficiently cleaned and allegedly failed to refuse boarding to individuals who had COVID-19 symptoms or had traveled to high-risk areas. On March 8, the Luminosa had docked to transport passengers with COVID-19 symptoms to the hospital but did not inform passengers of those circumstances, When passengers disembarked on March 19, 36 of the 75 passengers tested positive for COVID-19. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Turner’s complaint on forum non conveniens grounds. Turner's passage ticket contract included a forum selection clause requiring that all claims associated with his cruise be litigated in Genoa, Italy. Forum selection clauses are presumptively valid and enforceable; Turner failed to defeat the presumption by showing that the clause was induced by fraud or overreaching, that he would be deprived of his day in court because of inconvenience or unfairness, the chosen law would deprive him of a remedy or enforcement of the clause would contravene public policy.’ View "Turner v. Costa Crociere S.P.A." on Justia Law

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Romero, a truck driver employed by Watkins, an interstate trucking business, made deliveries only to retail stores in California. To complete paperwork and training, Romero periodically logged in to an online portal that required a unique employee identification number and password. Romero’s unique user account completed a set of “Associate Acknowledgements,” through which he clicked “I Agree,” signifying that he read and agreed to the Arbitration Policy, a stand-alone agreement that purports to waive any right to bring or participate in a class action; it states that the agreement is “governed by the Federal Arbitration Act,” and purports to waive "any provision of the FAA which would otherwise exclude [the agreement] from its coverage.” However, if "this [agreement] and/or its Waiver Provisions are not subject to and governed by the FAA, then the laws of the State of Nevada . . . will be the applicable state law.” The Arbitration Policy was not a condition of employment. Romero did not opt-out. In August 2019, Watkins announced it would cease operations. Romero and other employees were laid off.Romero filed a putative class action under the California and federal WARN Acts, 29 U.S.C. 2101, which require advance notice to employees before being laid off. The district court granted a motion to compel arbitration. The NInth Circuit affirmed, while noting that the Federal FAA exemption of employment contracts for transportation workers applies and cannot be waived by private contract. View "Romero v. Watkins & Shepard Trucking, Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court's final judgment against Plaintiffs on their claims that Uber Technologies competed unlawfully in the on-demand, ride-hail ground transportation in and around Boston, Massachusetts, holding that Uber did not compete unfairly in violation of statutory and common law prohibitions governing the commercial marketplace.Plaintiffs - owners of companies that dispatched, leased, and maintained taxicab vehicles and owned taxi medallions - brought this complaint alleging that, in violation of Boston regulations, Uber caused asset devaluation by competing unfairly under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, violating the common law for unfair competition, and aiding and abetting a conspiracy to engage in unfair competition. The district court issued judgment in favor of Defendants. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Uber's conduct in the transportation market during a period of regulatory uncertainty did not violate the statutory or common law governing the commercial marketplace. View "Anoush Cab, Inc. v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's preliminary injunction in favor of BNSF in an action brought by BNSF, alleging that several California counties are taxing railroad property at a higher rate than the rate applicable to commercial and industrial property in the same assessment jurisdiction, in violation of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976, 49 U.S.C. 11501(b)(3).As a preliminary matter, the panel held that the district court had jurisdiction over the action under section 11501(c), and the panel has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1292(a). The panel concluded that the district court applied the correct preliminary injunction standard under section 11501, which does not require courts to consider traditional equitable factors. Rather, binding circuit precedent establishes that a railroad is entitled to a preliminary injunction if its evidence demonstrates reasonable cause to believe that a violation of section 11501 has been, or is about to be committed. The panel also concluded that the district court properly analyzed BNSF's tax rate under the Trailer Train framework, and concluded that the counties were overtaxing BNSF's property in violation of section 11501(b)(3). The court suggested, as proceedings continue, that the district court consider in the first instance whether the State or the county is the proper assessment jurisdiction. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. County of Alameda" on Justia Law