Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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In this case, Patrick Tvrdy was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 to 16 years' imprisonment following a vehicle-motorcycle collision that resulted in the death of the motorcycle driver, Brady Sweetser. Tvrdy appealed on three grounds: that the district court used erroneous jury instructions relating to motor vehicle homicide instead of manslaughter, that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction, and that the sentence imposed was excessive.The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the jury instructions correctly stated the law and were not misleading. The court noted that the law in Nebraska does not consider a victim's negligence as a defense to manslaughter unless that negligence is the sole proximate cause of the death. This principle was correctly reflected in the jury instructions.Regarding the sufficiency of the evidence, the court found that there was enough evidence to support Tvrdy's conviction. The court emphasized that an appellate court does not resolve conflicts in the evidence, pass on the credibility of witnesses, or reweigh the evidence. The court found that there was sufficient evidence of Tvrdy's intoxication and that there was never enough time for Tvrdy to complete his left turn without causing Sweetser, who had the right of way, to collide with him.As to the sentence, the court found no abuse of discretion by the district court. Tvrdy's sentence was within the statutory limits for his offense, and the court noted his criminal history of multiple speeding and possession of marijuana offenses, as well as a driving under the influence offense. View "State v. Tvrdy" on Justia Law

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A group of petitioners, including several municipalities, private individuals, and organizations, challenged the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) approval of a new terminal for the Trenton-Mercer Airport. The petitioners alleged that the FAA’s decision violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to fully consider the environmental impact of the new terminal, among other things. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that the FAA had adequately considered the environmental impact of the new terminal and had not violated NEPA. The court found that the FAA reasonably concluded that the new terminal would not induce additional air traffic, and therefore, would not result in increased noise or air pollution. The court also found that the FAA had conducted a reasonable environmental justice analysis and did not need to perform a health risk assessment. The Court of Appeals denied the petitioners' request to review the FAA's decision. View "Trenton Threatened Skies Inc v. FAA" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Joseph Brent Mattingly, an employee of R.J. Corman Railroad Services, LLC (“Corman Services”), suffered injuries while repairing a bridge owned and operated by Memphis Line Railroad (“Memphis Line”). Mattingly filed a lawsuit seeking recovery under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”), which covers employees of common carriers by railroad. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, ruling that Mattingly was not employed by a common carrier, a prerequisite for FELA coverage.On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision. The appellate court rejected Mattingly’s argument that Corman Services, his employer, was a common carrier because it was part of a “unitary” railroad system managed by Corman Group. The court held that Corman Services' bridge repair and construction services did not provide an inextricable function for Memphis Line’s common carrier services and thus, did not qualify as a common carrier under FELA. The court further rejected Mattingly’s assertion that he was a “subservant” of a common carrier. The court found that Mattingly failed to demonstrate that Memphis Line, a common carrier, controlled or had the right to control the daily operations of Corman Services, as required to establish a master-servant relationship under common law.The court also held that Mattingly's claims regarding discovery issues were unpreserved for appeal, as he did not adequately inform the district court of his need for discovery in compliance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d). View "Mattingly v. R.J. Corman R.R. Grp., LLC" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is faced with deciding if a passenger on a train station platform, who involuntarily falls into a non-public area (a trough housing electrical and lighting equipment) and sustains severe injuries, becomes a trespasser due to his fall. The injured party, Okiemute C. Whiteru, was intoxicated and fell into the trough after attempting to sit on the station platform ledge. The fall resulted in a fractured vertebra, which led to his eventual death by asphyxiation. Whiteru's parents and estate filed claims of negligence and wrongful death against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), arguing that WMATA failed in its duty as a common carrier to render aid to Whiteru.In a previous decision, the court held that Whiteru's contributory negligence did not preclude liability for WMATA's failure to aid. However, on remand, WMATA argued that Whiteru's status changed from passenger to trespasser when he fell into the non-public area, thus reducing WMATA's duty of care. The district court granted WMATA's motion for summary judgment, accepting the argument that Whiteru became a trespasser upon his fall.The Appeals Court, however, found uncertainty in how to determine Whiteru's status under District of Columbia law as either a passenger or a trespasser, which in turn would determine WMATA's duty of care. The court found no controlling precedent from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals on this matter and thus certified the question to that court. The certified question asks if, under District of Columbia law, a passenger of a common carrier who involuntarily falls into a non-public area, sustaining immobilizing injuries, may recover for the exacerbation of the injuries due to the common carrier's failure to aid him, if the common carrier knew or had reason to know of the injuries. View "Whiteru v. WMATA" on Justia Law

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In a case brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Bruce McWhorter, a mechanic, had his certification revoked by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after it was discovered that he had not replaced certain components of an aircraft's engine despite claiming to have performed a major overhaul. McWhorter appealed the decision to an administrative law judge who affirmed the FAA's decision. McWhorter then sought to appeal this decision to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), but failed to serve the FAA with his notice of appeal in a timely manner. The NTSB dismissed McWhorter's appeal on these grounds. McWhorter subsequently petitioned for a review of the NTSB’s dismissal, but did so 111 days after the NTSB issued its final order, exceeding the 60-day limit prescribed by law.The court clarified that the 60-day limit for seeking appellate review stipulated in 49 U.S.C. § 1153(b)(1) is not a jurisdictional requirement, but rather a claim-processing rule. This means that a petitioner’s failure to comply with this time limit does not affect the court’s jurisdiction to hear the appeal. However, the court found that McWhorter had not established reasonable grounds for the delay in filing his petition for review, as required by the same statute for petitions filed after the 60-day limit. The court determined that the primary blame for the delay was on McWhorter, not on any confusion created by the FAA or the NTSB. Therefore, the court denied McWhorter's petition as untimely. View "McWhorter v. FAA" on Justia Law