Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

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After plaintiff, who was employed by Hulcher Services, lost several fingers at work in an accident at the railyard, he filed suit against Norfolk, the railyard owner, under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA).The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Norfolk, concluding that plaintiff failed to show that he was an employee of Norfolk and thus he could not recover under FELA. The court explained that plaintiff failed to show that Norfolk controlled the performance of his work or retained the right to do so. View "Wheeler v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a certified question from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit regarding whether a private school was entitled to receive public funding to transport children to its school.St. Augustine School applied for transportation benefits pursuant to Wis. Stat. 121.51 and 121.54, under which private schools are entitled to receive public funding to transport children to their schools but only one affiliated school per "religious denomination" can receive the funding in each "attendance area." The Superintendent of Public Transportation denied the application on the grounds that St. Gabriel was another school of the same religious denomination within the same attendance area. The certified question asked what information the Superintendent may consider in making a determination regarding whether two schools are affiliated with the same religious denomination. The Supreme Court answered that the Superintendent is not limited to consideration of a school's corporate documents exclusively but may also conduct a neutral and secular inquiry. View "St. Augustine School v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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Zen-Noh purchased grain shipments. Sellers were required to prepay barge freight and deliver the product to Zen-Noh’s terminal but were not required to use any specific delivery company. Ingram, a carrier, issued the sellers negotiable bills of lading, defining the relationships of the consignor (company arranging shipment), the consignee (to receive delivery), and the carrier. Printed on each bill was an agreement to "Terms” and a link to the Terms on Ingram’s website. Those Terms purport to bind any entity that has an ownership interest in the goods and included a forum selection provision selecting the Middle District of Tennessee.Ingram updated its Terms and alleges that it notified Zen-Noh through an email to CGB, which it believed was “closely connected with Zen-Noh,” often acting on Zen-Noh's behalf in dealings related to grain transportation. Weeks after the email, Zen-Noh sent Ingram an email complaining about invoices for which it did not believe it was liable. Ingram replied with a link to the Terms. Zen-Noh answered that it was “not party to the barge affreightment contract as received in your previous email.” The grains had been received by Zen-Noh, which has paid Ingram penalties related to delayed loading or unloading but has declined to pay Ingram's expenses involving ‘fleeting,’ ‘wharfage,’ and ‘shifting.’” Ingram filed suit in the Middle District of Tennessee. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Zen-Noh was neither a party to nor consented to Ingram’s contract and is not bound to the contract’s forum selection clause; the district court did not have jurisdiction over Zen-Noh. View "Ingram Barge Co., LLC v. Zen-Noh Grain Corp." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of BNSF in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging constructive discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) under Nebraska law. The court concluded that the Railway Labor Act (RLA) divested the district court of subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's constructive discharge claim and thus the claim was properly dismissed.However, the court concluded that the district court erred in dismissing the IIED claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) because that claim can be resolved interpreting the collective bargaining agreement. Therefore, the district court did have subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. Nevertheless, the court concluded that dismissal was appropriate under Rule 12(b)(6) because the complaint failed to state a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress under Nebraska law no matter what the collective bargaining agreement says. In this case, plaintiff alleged that BNSF or its employees disciplined and fired him without cause and berated him with expletive laced language and threats of physical violence. The court explained that it is unnecessary to interpret the collective bargaining agreement to conclude that these allegations do not support a reasonable inference of liability. Rather, plaintiff's allegations of discipline and termination without cause are insufficient to generate a reasonable inference of liability because discipline and termination without cause are not so outrageous that they give rise to a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Nebraska law. View "Richardson v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Puchalski, a Wisconsin citizen, took a cruise aboard an RCL ship. While the ship was docked in Juneau, Alaska, he experienced shortness of breath and went to the ship’s infirmary. The ship’s physician prescribed medications. Puchalski returned to his quarters, then collapsed. He was taken to a hospital and died days later. Puchalski’s estate sued RCL, a Liberian corporation headquartered in Florida, alleging negligent medical care and treatment. Florida law would have authorized non-pecuniary damages for loss of companionship and mental pain and suffering. Wisconsin law would not. The parties agreed to address the issue only if a damages award made it necessary. A jury awarded $3,384,073.22 in damages, $3,360,000 of which represented non-pecuniary losses. The district court denied RCL’s Motion for Remittitur, finding that Florida law governed damages.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. General maritime law does not allow non-pecuniary damages for wrongful death, but the Supreme Court has held that state law may supplement general maritime law for damages in suits for deaths that occur within state territorial waters. In determining that Florida law applied, the court applied the “Lauritzen” factors: the place of the wrongful act, domiciles of the injured and of the defendant, place of contract, law of the forum, and location of the defendant’s base of operations. Wisconsin’s interests would not be served by applying Wisconsin law to this case. Applying Florida law, however, would further Florida’s interests in wrongful death suits involving its domiciliaries. View "Goodloe v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD." on Justia Law

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In 1958, the Northern Pacific Railroad physically abandoned the 20-mile segment outside of Noxon, Montana. Part of that segment runs through the Finnigan property, which is entirely within the boundaries of the Kanisku National Forest. Several landowners along the right of way sought a judicial decree of abandonment and ultimately gained title to their respective segments of the abandoned railway. The Finnigan property’s then-owner did not seek a judicial decree of abandonment. In 2018, the Finnigan Estate brought suit to quiet its title to the right of way across its property. The district court rejected the action on summary judgment.The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Northern Pacific stopped using the segment in 1958, but the railway was not formally declared abandoned before the 1988 enactment of the Rails-to-Trails Act, 6 U.S.C. 1248(c), so the United States retained its reversionary interest in the land. The Act provides that title “shall remain” with the U.S. for railroad rights-of-way abandoned after October 4, 1988, except to the extent that the right of way was converted to a public highway. To transfer rights-of-way to neighboring landowners, abandonment requires both physical abandonment and a judicial decree of abandonment. The judicial-decree requirement was not met when another parcel in the segment obtained a judicial decree of abandonment that did not cover the Finnigan property. View "Estate of Finnigan v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the West Virginia Public Service Commission ruling that its jurisdiction under state law to regulate a company that was operating in West Virginia solely as a contractor for a federal agency was preempted by federal law, holding that there was no error in the Commission's determination.The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the federal agency in this case, was impelled to give the company, Community Pastor Care, LLC (CPC), the subject contract to meet a goal expressed by Congress in 38 U.S.C. 8127(a). Metro Tristate, Inc. filed this case asking that the Commission bar CPC from transporting VA passengers until it received a permit from the Commission. The Commission concluded that its jurisdiction to regulate CPC was preempted by federal law. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission correctly determined that its jurisdiction to regulate CPC was preempted by federal law. View "Metro Tristate, Inc. v. Public Service Commission of W. Va." on Justia Law

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Skidmore’s West Virginia home sits 70-80 feet west of Norfolk’s railroad track, across Loop Creek. In 2001, Norfolk installed a culvert to drain surface water from its tracks into Loop Creek near Skidmore’s home. According to Skidmore, the water streaming from the culvert caused soil erosion and threatened the foundation of her home. Skidmore sued Norfolk in state court, alleging negligence, private nuisance, and trespass.Norfolk obtained a survey and deeds revealing that, in 1903, Norfolk obtained a right of way extending across Loop Creek, over part of the land on the other side. Part of Skidmore’s house sits atop the land over which the right of way runs. Norfolk asserted an affirmative defense that Skidmore lacked standing because she had no right to exclude Norfolk from the land. Skidmore amended her complaint to add claims for adverse possession and prescriptive easement (quiet title claims). Norfolk removed the case to federal court, arguing that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act completely preempts the quiet title claims. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.The Fourth Circuit vacated. While 49 U.S.C. 10501(b) “entirely displaces” Skidmore’s quiet title claims, a conclusion that complete preemption applies means that the court has jurisdiction over ostensibly state-law claims. On remand, the court must convert Skidmore’s quiet title claims into claims under the Termination Act and may permit Skidmore to amend her complaint to clarify the scope of her Termination Act claims. View "Skidmore v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co" on Justia Law

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As a Chicago Midway International Airport ramp supervisor, Saxon supervises, trains, and assists a team of ramp agents—Southwest employees who physically load and unload planes. Ostensibly her job is purely supervisory but Saxon and other ramp supervisors frequently fill in as ramp agents. The ramp agents are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Supervisors are excluded and agree annually as part of their contract of employment—not separately—to arbitrate wage disputes. Believing that Southwest failed to pay ramp supervisors for overtime work, Saxon filed a putative collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201–219. Southwest moved to dismiss or stay the suit pending arbitration (Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 3).The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit, citing the FAA exemption for “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” The last category refers not to all contracts of employment, but only to those belonging to “transportation workers.” The act of loading cargo onto a vehicle to be transported interstate is commerce, as that term was understood at the time of the FAA’s 1925 enactment. Airplane cargo loaders, as a class, are engaged in that commerce, as seamen and railroad employees were; Saxon and the ramp supervisors are members of that class. View "Saxon v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff worked as a delivery driver for TBS, a “last-mile” delivery company whose primary client was Amazon.com. At the start of his employment, he signed an At-Will Employment, Non-Disclosure, Non-Solicitation, Class-Action Waiver and Arbitration Agreement. Plaintiff filed suit asserting violations of the Labor Code, California’s Unfair Competition Law, and the Private Attorneys General Act, unlawful retaliation, and wrongful termination. The trial court denied TBS’s motion to compel the plaintiff to arbitrate his individual claims and to dismiss his class claims. The court found that the plaintiff was exempt from Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. 1, FAA) coverage because he was a transportation worker engaged in interstate commerce and that the class action waiver was unenforceable, rendering the arbitration agreement unenforceable.The court of appeal affirmed that the plaintiff is exempt from FAA coverage and that the class action waiver is unenforceable under California law. The court reversed the order denying the motion to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s individual claims; the trial court improperly found the arbitration agreement unenforceable in its entirety rather than severing the class action waiver provision from the remainder of the employment agreement and considering the validity of the arbitration provision with respect to the individual claims for unlawful retaliation and wrongful termination. View "Betancourt v. Transportation Brokerage Specialists, Inc." on Justia Law