Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

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Appellant SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority (the “JRA”) was a joint authority formed pursuant to the MAA, governed by a sixteen member Board, with each of the eight member counties appointing two members. In addition to the MAA, the Board’s operations were governed by the JRA’s bylaws and a code of conduct. Appellee Susquehanna Union Railroad Company (“SURC”) was a third-party rail line operator. The JRA began the process to award a new operating agreement. At an October 2014 Board meeting, the JRA’s counsel announced because the Board had sixteen members, a nine-vote majority was required for the Board to act. Carload Express received twenty-four points, SURC received twenty-three, and Northern Plains Railroad received thirteen. A roll call vote was taken on the motion to award the contract to Carload and, of the ten voting Board members, seven voted in favor and three against. When certain Board members questioned the nine vote requirement for action, the Board voted unanimously to table the decision to award the operating agreement to Carload pending further review of the JRA’s bylaws and the applicable law. After the meeting, Carload submitted its position to the JRA, arguing that it had been awarded the operating agreement based upon the seven-to-three vote. The JRA responded by filing an action requesting a declaration upholding its use of the nine vote requirement. The Supreme Court granted discretionary appeal to determine whether Section 5610(e) of the Pennsylvania Municipality Authorities Act's use of the phrase “members present” abrogated the common law rule that a simple majority (a majority vote of the voting members who make up the quorum of a municipal authority) carried a vote. Because the Court concluded that it did not, it affirmed the Commonwealth Court. View "Seda-Cog Joint Rail Auth v. Carload Express et al" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff suffered serious injuries when he was struck by a semi-tractor trailer, he filed suit against C.H. Robinson, the freight broker that arranged for the trailer to transport goods for Costco. Plaintiff alleged that C.H. Robinson negligently selected an unsafe motor carrier.The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that plaintiff's claim is "related to" C.H. Robinson's services, but held that the district court erred in determining that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994's (FAAAA) safety exception does not apply. The panel explained that, in enacting that exception, Congress intended to preserve the States’ broad power over safety, a power that includes the ability to regulate conduct not only through legislative and administrative enactments, but also though common-law damages awards. The panel also held that plaintiff's claim has the requisite "connection with" motor vehicles because it arises out of a motor vehicle accident. Therefore, the negligence claims against brokers, to the extent that they arise out of motor vehicle accidents, have the requisite "connection with" motor vehicles, and thus the safety exception applies to plaintiff's claims against C.H. Robinson. The panel reversed and remanded. View "Miller v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Section 858.01 of the Codified Ordinances of the Village of Put-In-Bay does not impose an unconstitutional tax on motor vehicles.The Village filed separate criminal complaints against Defendants, who operated businesses that made motorized golf cars available for rent within the Village, for failing to pay the annual license fee on their golf carts. The trial court dismissed the criminal complaints on the basis that section 858.01 is for a similar purpose as the annual state license tax levied on the operation of motor vehicles under Ohio Rev. Code 4503.02 and the local government tax permitted by Ohio Rev. Code 4504.02 and 4504.06. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that section 858.01 was not preempted by state law and did not violate Ohio Const. art. XII, 5a. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the tax is a constitutional exercise of the municipality's right to tax; and (2) section 858.01 does not impose an unconstitutional tax. View "Put-in-Bay v. Mathys" on Justia Law

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In 2006, Mlsna was hired by Union Pacific, as a conductor. Union Pacific was aware of Mlsna’s hearing impairment. In 2012 the Federal Railroad Administration implemented regulations to ensure that train conductors possessed hearing acuity, and to confirm that railroads appropriately protected their employees’ hearing, 49 C.F.R. 242.105(c). Union Pacific had Mlsna’s hearing tested several different ways. Mlsna passed the hearing acuity test only when he relied on his hearing aids with no additional hearing protection. Later Mlsna was retested with the same results. Union Pacific decided it could not recertify Mlsna to work as a conductor. When he wore hearing aids and passed the hearing acuity requirement he was in violation of Union Pacific’s hearing conservation policy, which required additional hearing protection; when he complied with that policy by wearing the protection, he could not pass the hearing acuity test. Mlsna proposed he use specific custom‐made hearing protection. Union Pacific rejected his proposal because that device did not have a factory‐issued or laboratory‐tested noise reduction rating, as required by the regulation. Mlsna’s employment was terminated.Mlsna sued, alleging discrimination based on his hearing disability. The district court granted the railroad summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Issues of fact exist as to whether wearing hearing protection is an essential function of Mlsna’s work as a conductor, as well as whether reasonable accommodations for the conductor were properly considered. View "Mlsna v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Uber’s smartphone application connects riders needing transportation with available local drivers. Rideshare fares are charged automatically via the Uber App, with Uber withholding a percentage as a “service fee.” Grice, an Alabama Uber driver, has used the Uber App since 2016 to provide rideshare services to and from Huntsville International Airport and Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Uber had agreements with these airports to allow Uber drivers to pick up arriving passengers. Grice, in the course of his work, never crosses state lines. Grice filed a putative class action lawsuit, alleging that Uber failed to safeguard drivers’ and riders’ personal information and mishandled a data security breach in which that information was stolen by online hackers. Uber moved to compel arbitration, citing the Technology Services Agreement that Grice and other drivers signed, requiring arbitration of “any disputes . . . arising out of or related to [the driver’s] relationship” with Uber and prohibiting arbitration “on a class, collective action, or representative basis.” Grice responded that he drives passengers who are engaged in interstate travel to and from airports and qualified for the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 1 exemption for workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.The district court compelled arbitration. The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for a writ of mandamus seeking to vacate the order The district court’s decision was not clearly erroneous as a matter of law, as required for granting a writ of mandamus. View "Grice v. United States District Court for the Central District of California" on Justia Law

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The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) removed sovereign immunity from suits for “injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission” of a federal employee acting within the scope of his employment, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1)). The FTCA generally exempts intentional torts, which remain barred by sovereign immunity. The “law-enforcement proviso” allows plaintiffs to file claims arising “out of assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, abuse of process, [and] malicious prosecution” that are the result of “acts or omissions of investigative or law enforcement officers of the United States Government” and defines investigative or law enforcement officer as “any officer of the United States who is empowered by law to execute searches, to seize evidence, or to make arrests for violations of Federal law.”Iverson went through security at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, walking with the aid of crutches. Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) performed a pat-down search; Iverson was allowed to place his hands on his crutches but had to stand on his own power. Iverson alleges that a TSO pulled him forward and then abruptly let go, causing Iverson to fall and be injured. The TSA denied an administrative claim. Iverson sued, asserting battery and negligence. The Eighth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the case, finding that TSOs satisfy the FTCA’s definition of an investigative or law enforcement officer. View "Iverson v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit granted a petition for review of the NHTSA's final rule, which reversed the agency's 2016 increase to the base rate of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) penalty. The court held that the CAFE penalty is a civil monetary penalty under the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act. Consequently, NHTSA did not act in accordance with law when it reached the contrary conclusion in its 2019 Final Rule and reversed its initial catch-up inflation adjustment.The court also held that the NHTSA's reconsideration of the economic effects of its initial rule was untimely and therefore unauthorized. In this case, the Improvements Act provided a limited window of time for NHTSA to reduce the initial catch-up inflation adjustment to the CAFE penalty based on a conclusion that the increase would have a negative economic impact. However, by 2019, that window had closed and the agency acted in excess of its authority when it reconsidered and reversed its prior increase of the CAFE penalty based on an assessment of economic consequences. Accordingly, the court vacated the rule. View "New York v. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration" on Justia Law

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Two U.S. railroads began allowing engineers and conductors employed by their Mexican affiliates to operate trains on their tracks in the U.S. Railroads certify their own engineers and conductors, in compliance with minimum standards. The Federal Railroad Administration (49 U.S.C. 20135(a)) does not issue formal documentation approving a railroad’s written certification program but has a passive approval system. If the Administration does not notify the railroad that its written certification program fails to meet the minimum regulatory criteria, the program is considered approved. Because Mexican railroads do not meet the Administration standards, trains have traditionally switched crews at the border, a time-consuming practice.Unions representing railroad employees filed suit, arguing that it was unlawful to approve a certification program permitting one railroad to certify employees of a foreign affiliate railroad that it does not control and for a certification program to deploy an abbreviated curriculum and training protocol to engineers with operating experience only in Mexico.The D.C. Circuit vacated and remanded in part. The Administration’s approval of a railway’s revised engineer certification program that allows that railroad to use an abbreviated program to certify Mexican engineers is a final action subject to Hobbs Act jurisdiction. The court rejected a timeliness argument, stating that the Administration had “completely hidden its already obscured passive approval from public view.” The Administration failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its approval of the materially-altered certification program. View "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen v. Federal Railroad Administration" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was injured while serving as an engineer for UP when the train he was operating partially derailed because of a misaligned switch, he filed suit under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), alleging claims of FELA negligence per se and negligence.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment and grant of UP's motion for summary judgment. In regard to plaintiff's negligence per se claim, the court held that plaintiff failed to present any evidence that would raise a genuine issue of material fact that UP "played any part, even the slightest" to cause the switch to be moved from its designated position. Rather, the evidence showed the switch was misaligned by a criminal act of a third party. Furthermore, there is no evidence in the record that any act of a UP employee contributed to the misalignment. Therefore, UP committed no act violating the regulation requiring switches to be aligned per the railroad's written policy.In regard to the negligence claim, the court held that UP cannot be liable under a negligence theory for failing to properly align the switch unless it knew or had reason to know it was misaligned. In this case, there was no evidence that UP was aware the switch was not properly aligned. Likewise, plaintiff presented no evidence that UP failed to reasonably protect its keys or had reason to know that the security of its keys or locks were compromised; plaintiff proffered no evidence of an industry standard or other evidence that could lead a jury to find UP negligent for failing to remove the switch or track; and plaintiff failed to point to any evidence that would establish that UP was negligent if it failed to install additional or different devices to prevent someone from tampering with the switch. View "Miller v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying in part Uber's motion to compel arbitration of claims brought by plaintiffs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff alleged that Uber failed to provide a wheelchair-accessible ride-sharing option (uberWAV) in their hometown of New Orleans.The panel held that plaintiffs plausibly alleged sufficient facts to establish Article III standing where they sufficiently alleged an injury in fact under the "deterrent effect doctrine." The doctrine recognizes that when a plaintiff who is disabled within the meaning of the ADA has actual knowledge of illegal barriers at a public accommodation to which he or she desires access, that plaintiff need not engage in the futile gesture of attempting to gain access in order to show actual injury. In this case, plaintiffs have alleged that they are aware that Uber does not offer uberWAV in New Orleans; that they cannot use the Uber App because of its failure to offer uberWAV; that they plan to use the Uber App if it becomes wheelchair-accessible; and that they presently fear that they will encounter the mobility-related barriers which exist within Uber's Application and services. The panel also held that plaintiffs have plausibly alleged causation and redressability where plaintiffs' alleged injuries would not exist absent Uber's actions, and these injuries cannot be redressed without enjoining Uber to comply with the ADA. Finally, the panel held that equitable estoppel does not apply where plaintiffs' ADA claims are fully viable without any reference to Uber's Terms and Conditions. View "Namisnak v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law