Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries
Little v. Budd Company
Robert Rabe worked as a pipefitter in an Atchison Topeka & Sante Fe Railroad (“ATSF”) repair shop. In that capacity, he replaced pipe insulation on passenger cars manufactured by The Budd Company (“Budd”). Rabe died from malignant mesothelioma. Nancy Little, individually and as personal representative of Rabe’s estate, brought state common-law tort claims against Budd, claiming Rabe died from exposure to asbestos-containing insulation surrounding the pipes on Budd-manufactured railcars. A jury ruled in Little’s favor. On appeal, Budd contended Little’s state tort claims were preempted by the Locomotive Inspection Act (“LIA”), under a theory that all passenger railcars were “appurtenances” to a complete locomotive. The Tenth Circuit determined that because Budd did not raise this issue before the district court, and because Budd did not seek plain-error review, this particular assertion of error was waived. Alternatively, Budd contended Little’s tort claims were preempted by the Safety Appliance Act (“SAA”. The Tenth Circuit determined that assertion was foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co. v. Georgia, 234 U.S. 280 (1914). Therefore, finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Little v. Budd Company" on Justia Law
CITGO Asphalt Refining Co. v. Frescati Shipping Co.
CARCO sub-chartered an oil tanker from tanker operator Star, which had chartered it from Frescati. During the tanker’s journey, an abandoned ship anchor punctured the tanker’s hull, causing 264,000 gallons of heavy crude oil to spill into the Delaware River. The 1990 Oil Pollution Act, 33 U.S.C. 2702(a), required Frescati, the vessel’s owner, to cover the cleanup costs. Frescati’s liability was limited to $45 million. The federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund reimbursed Frescati for an additional $88 million in cleanup costs. Frescati and the government sued, claiming that CARCO had breached a clause in the subcharter agreement that obligated CARCO to select a berth that would allow the vessel to come and go “always safely afloat,” and that obligation amounted to a warranty regarding the safety of the selected berth. Finding that Frescati was an implied third-party beneficiary of the safe-berth clause, the Third Circuit held that the clause embodied an express warranty of safety. The Supreme Court affirmed. The safe-berth clause's unqualified plain language establishes an absolute warranty of safety. That the clause does not expressly invoke the term “warranty” does not alter the charterer’s duty, which is not subject to qualifications or conditions. Under contract law, an obligor is strictly liable for a breach of contract, regardless of fault or diligence. While parties are free to contract for limitations on liability, these parties did not. A limitation on the charterer’s liability for losses due to “perils of the seas,” does not apply nor does a clause requiring Star to obtain oil-pollution insurance relieve CARCO of liability. View "CITGO Asphalt Refining Co. v. Frescati Shipping Co." on Justia Law
Snohomish County v. Surface Transportation Board
The county sought to revoke two exemptions the Board granted with respect to a freight rail easement over the county's property, alleging that both notices misrepresented the easement's ownership. The Board denied the petitions because only a court competent in property, contract, and bankruptcy law could determine whether the notices' representations were in fact false. The DC Circuit dismissed the county's first petition for review as incurably premature and dismissed the second petition with respect to its material-error challenge to the Board's reconsideration order. The court held that it has jurisdiction to review the Board's initial order pursuant to the county's second petition, and that the Board's denial of the petitions to revoke was arbitrary and capricious for failing to address the claim that the notices, whether or not ultimately false, misleadingly omitted material information. Accordingly, the court granted the second petition for review insofar as it challenges the Board's initial order, vacated that order, and remanded the case to the Board for further proceedings. View "Snohomish County v. Surface Transportation Board" on Justia Law
Uber Technologies Pricing Cases
Taxi companies and taxi medallion owners sued Uber, alleging violations of the Unfair Practices Act’s (UPA) prohibition against below-cost sales (Bus & Prof. Code, 17043) and of the Unfair Competition Law (section 17200). The UPA makes it unlawful “for any person engaged in business within this State to sell any article or product at less than the cost thereof to such vendor, or to give away any article or product, for the purpose of injuring competitors or destroying competition” but does not apply “[t]o any service, article or product for which rates are established under the jurisdiction of the [California] Public Utilities Commission [(CPUC)] . . . and sold or furnished by any public utility corporation.” Uber is a “public utility corporation” under section 17024 and is subject to CPUC’s jurisdiction. CPUC has conducted extensive regulatory proceedings in connection with Uber’s business but has not yet established the rates for any Uber service or product. The trial court ruled the exemption applies when the CPUC has jurisdiction to set rates, regardless of whether it has yet done so, and dismissed the case. The court of appeal affirmed, reaching “the same conclusion as to the applicability of section 17024(1) as have three California federal district courts, two within the last year, in cases alleging identical UPA claims against Uber.” View "Uber Technologies Pricing Cases" on Justia Law
Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
The DC Circuit denied Union Pacific's petition for review of the Administration's regulation governing disclosures made by railroads that are transporting hazardous materials. Union Pacific alleged that the regulation was insufficiently protecting the railroad's data and thus failed to meet the requirement in section 7302 of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST) to establish security and confidentiality protections to prevent access to the information by unauthorized parties. The court held that FAST 7302 is neither dependent on a misreading of the statute nor arbitrary and capricious. In this case, the agency developed a mechanism to prevent inadvertent disclosure. Furthermore, Union Pacific failed to provide evidence to controvert the agency's express finding that this rule will satisfy security and confidentiality concerns as mandated by the statute. View "Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration" on Justia Law
Soto v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
Irma Yolanda Munoz Soto sued Union Pacific Railroad Company and two of its employees, Scott King and Robert Finch (collectively, Union Pacific), for wrongful death (premises liability and general negligence) after Soto’s 16-year-old daughter was struck and killed by a freight train on an at-grade railroad crossing in Santa Clarita. The court granted Union Pacific’s motion for summary judgment, concluding as to Soto’s premises liability claim Union Pacific had no duty to remedy a dangerous condition because it did not own or control the railroad crossing. As to Soto’s negligence claim, the court ruled Soto could not establish that Union Pacific employees had negligently operated the train. On appeal, Soto argued she raised triable issues of material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment. After review, of the evidence and governing law applicable to Soto’s claim, the Court of Appeal concurred there were no triable issues of fact, and summary judgment was appropriate. View "Soto v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Black v. Cent. Puget Sound Reg’l Transit Auth.
In 2015, the Washington legislature enacted RCW 81.104.160(1) (MVET statute) authorizing Sound Transit to use two separate depreciation schedules to calculate motor vehicle excise taxes (MVET). Under the statute, Sound Transit could pledge revenue from a 1996 depreciation schedule for MVETs to pay off bond contracts; Sound Transit could use a 2006 depreciation schedule for all other MVETs. Though each schedule is referenced, the MVET statute did not restate in full either schedule. Taylor Black and other taxpayers alleged the MVET statute violated article II, section 37 of the Washington Constitution, stating "no act shall ever be revised or amended by mere reference to its title, but the act revised or the section amended shall be set forth at full length." The Washington Supreme Court held the MVET statute is constitutional because (1) the statute was a complete act because it was readily ascertainable from its text alone when which depreciation schedule would apply; (2) the statute properly adopted both schedules by reference; and (3) the statute did not render a straightforward determination of the scope of rights or duties established by other existing statutes erroneous because it did not require a reader to conduct research to find unreferenced laws that were impacted by the MVET statute. View "Black v. Cent. Puget Sound Reg'l Transit Auth." on Justia Law
Ezell v. BNSF Railway Company
Petitioner George Ezell was a conductor for BNSF Railway Company. In 2014, the trainmaster directed Ezell to detach twenty ballast-loaded railcars from a train about to enter the Enid, Oklahoma train yard. To detach, Ezell had to climb railcar ladders to see which cars were more than half full of ballast. Ezell safely performed this method for five or six railcars, but while inspecting the next railcar, his left hand slipped from the flange after he had let go of the ladder rung with his right hand. He was unable to resecure a grip with either hand and fell several feet to the ground, fracturing his right leg, right ankle, and left foot. He sued BNSF under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) for failing to provide him with a reasonably safe place to work. BNSF moved for summary judgment, arguing that its railcar complied with the governing safety regulations and that Ezell had offered no evidence of BNSF’s negligence. “Ezell’s proffering what he believes are safer alternatives does not show negligence.” The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the evidence established that to do their jobs railroad conductors need to climb the ladders, and that this was a reasonably safe activity. For that reason, the Court agreed with the district court’s dismissal of this case. View "Ezell v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law
Lockhart v. MTA Long Island Railroad
The Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) does not prevent employers from requesting reasonable documentation to assure themselves that employees' absences are legitimate. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of MTA's motion for summary judgment and dismissal of plaintiff's claims for failure to establish a prima facie case of retaliation under the FRSA. Plaintiff, a locomotive engineer, alleged that MTA was liable for disciplinary action against him when he failed to report to work while under the influence of a prescribed narcotic. The court held that there was no reason to conclude that the FRSA precludes employers from implementing standard policies reasonably designed to verify employees' appropriate use of medical leave. In this case, plaintiff failed to demonstrate that his absences, when unaccompanied by SLA-28 forms, were protected activity, as directly required by element (i), and indirectly by (ii) and (iv). View "Lockhart v. MTA Long Island Railroad" on Justia Law
Independent Living v. State, Department of Transportation
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court denying the motion for summary judgment filed by Montana Independent Living Project (MILP) and granting the Montana Department of Transportation's (MDOT) motion for summary judgment in this case concerning the disbursement of Transportation Assistance for the Elderly and Disabled (TransADE) funds, holding that the district court properly granted summary judgment to MDOT. The TransADE program provides operating assistance for bus transportation to state agencies serving elderly and disabled persons. MDOT was authorized to administer the TransADE program and award special revenue grants using guidelines established in the State Management Plan (Plan). MILP, a nonprofit organization that provides transportation services for the elderly and disabled, submitted a proposal to offer weekend transportation services for elderly and disabled citizens in the Helena area. MDOT, however, awarded the general 2018 TransADE grant to the City of Helena. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Mont. Code Ann. 7-14-112 constitutionally delegates legislative authority to MDOT by authorizing the funds consistent with the Plan; (2) the Plan's policies and procedures are not subject to rulemaking procedures; (3) in adopting the Plan, MDOT met its constitutional requirements; and (4) the Legislature's authorization of disbursement of TransADE funds does not violate Mont. Const. art. VII, 12. View "Independent Living v. State, Department of Transportation" on Justia Law