Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff appealed an adverse jury verdict on his retaliation claims under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, challenging the jury instructions. The Eighth Circuit agreed with plaintiff that the jury instructions misstated the "honestly held belief" defense in the context of the Act's contributing-factor standard, and misallocated and misstated the burden of proof. The court explained that the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that intentional retaliation in response to protected conduct served as a contributing factor in an adverse employment action, and the defendant then bears the burden of proving an affirmative defense. In this case, the "honestly held belief" instruction failed to reference the contributing-factor standard and the instructions as a whole expressly incorporated this defense into plaintiff's case. Therefore, this failure to allocate the burden of proof to BNSF and to identify that burden of proof as clear and convincing evidence constituted prejudicial error. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Blackorby v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) set up a commercial vehicle inspection program authorized by Subsection 4704(a)(2) of the Vehicle Code. The inspection program was scheduled approximately one month in advance and occurred at a Clinton County landfill located in the Village of McElhatten. Appellant Jeffrey Maguire’s truck was stopped at the checkpoint by Pennsylvania State Police. The trooper conducted a “Level Two” inspection, which included a review of Appellant’s documents and a walk-around inspection of the truck, checking its lights, horn, wipers, tires, and wheels. During the course of this conversation, the trooper detected the smell of alcohol on Appellant’s breath. Following the inspection, the trooper had Appellant exit the truck, told him that he smelled of alcohol, and asked whether he had been drinking. Appellant stated that he drank one beer on his trip to the landfill. At that point, the trooper noticed a cooler on the floor of the truck near the gearshift, the contents of which were a yellow plastic bag that was wet from ice, three twelve-ounce cans of beer, and one or two bottles of water. Appellant failed field sobriety testing. Appellant was arrested, transported to the Jersey Shore Hospital for blood testing, and ultimately charged with several counts of driving under the influence (“DUI”), as well as five counts of unlawful activities. In Commonwealth v. Tarbert, 535 A.2d 1035 (Pa. 1987) (plurality), and Commonwealth v. Blouse, 611 A.2d 1177 (Pa. 1992), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted guidelines for assessing the constitutionality of government-conducted systematic vehicle checkpoints to which the entirety of the public are subjected. Before the Court in this case was the issue of whether the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines were applicable to statutorily authorized warrantless inspections of commercial vehicles. The Court determined they were not: such inspections should be scrutinized in accord with the test outlined by the United States Supreme Court in New York v. Burger, 482 U.S. 691 (1987), adopted in Pennsylvania in Commonwealth v. Petroll, 738 A.2d 993 (Pa. 1999). Because a panel of the Superior Court, in a two-to-one majority decision, reached the correct result, the Supreme Court affirmed that court’s judgment, which reversed a trial court’s order granting appellant’s motion to suppress evidence. View "Pennsylvania v. Maguire" on Justia Law

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The Federal Railway Safety Act (FRSA) provides that if railroad carriers retaliate against employees who report safety violations, the aggrieved employee may file a complaint with OSHA within 180 days after the alleged retaliation, 49 U.S.C. 20109(d)(2)(A)(ii). The Secretary of Labor then has 210 days to issue a final decision. If the Secretary takes too long, the employee may file suit. Guerra, a Conrail conductor and brakeman, alleged that Conrail urged him to ignore safety regulations. When he refused, Conrail threatened him and eliminated incidental perks of his job. Guerra reported this to Conrail’s compliance office. He says he was told that if he kept reporting safety issues, there would be “undesirable consequences.” Soon after Guerra filed complaints about allegedly defective braking systems, a train Guerra was operating failed to brake properly and ran through a railroad switch. On April 6, 2016, Conrail notified Guerra that he would be suspended. On May 10, Guerra’s attorney, Katz, allegedly filed a FRSA complaint. Receiving no response, on November 28, Katz followed up with OSHA by email. OSHA notified Guerra that his claim was dismissed as untimely because OSHA first received Guerra’s complaint 237 days after the retaliation. Guerra attempted to invoke the common-law mailbox rule’s presumption of delivery. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Third Circuit affirmed on other grounds. FRSA’s 180-day limitations period is a non-jurisdictional claim-processing rule. Guerra’s claim still fails because he has not produced enough reliable evidence to invoke the common-law mailbox rule. View "Guerra v. Consolidated Rail Corp" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission sets and collects Turnpike tolls. Act 44 (2007) authorized the Commission to increase tolls and required it to make annual payments for 50 years to the PennDOT Trust Fund. Act 89 (2013) continued to permit toll increases but lowered the annual PennDOT payments. Plaintiffs, individuals and members of groups who pay Turnpike tolls, assert that since the enactment of Act 44, tolls have increased more than 200% and that the current cost for the heaviest vehicles to cross from New Jersey to Ohio exceeds $1800. Pennsylvania’s Auditor General found that the annual “costly toll increases place an undue burden” on Pennsylvanians and that “the average turnpike traveler will ... seek alternative toll-free routes.” More than 90 percent of Act 44/89 payments—approximately $425 million annually— benefit “non-Turnpike road and bridge projects and transit operations.” Plaintiffs sued, alleging violations of the dormant Commerce Clause and their right to travel. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, 105 Stat. 1914 permits state authorities to use the tolls for non-Turnpike purposes, so the collection and use of the tolls do not implicate the Commerce Clause. Plaintiffs have not alleged that their right to travel to, from, and within Pennsylvania has been deterred, so their right to travel has not been infringed. View "Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Sirius XM in an action brought by plaintiff under the Driver's Privacy Protection Act after the dealership from which he bought a used car provided his personal information to Sirius XM and plaintiff received unsolicited advertisements asking him to renew his radio subscription. The panel held that the Act did not apply where the source of personal information is a driver's license in the possession of its owner, rather than a state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Therefore, Sirius XM's use of personal information derived from plaintiff's driver's license did not violate the Act. The panel also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff leave to amend his complaint to add a claim under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Given the CFAA's limited conception of loss, an amendment would have been futile. View "Andrews v. Sirius XM Radio, Inc." on Justia Law

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Shyan Frye, age 13, was struck by a train while walking her bicycle over a rail crossing in Huron Township, Michigan. At the time of the accident, the train was traveling below the applicable speed limit and its horn sounded for approximately 20 seconds before it reached the crossing—more than required by federal law. The collision proved fatal. Shyan’s mother sued CSX, the train’s owner, Gallacher, the train’s conductor; and Conrail, the owner of the track. The claims against Gallacher were resolved in his favor at summary judgment. A jury returned a verdict in favor of CSX and Conrail. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, upholding the district court’s entry of summary judgment for Gallacher. The court also upheld the district court’s refusal to strike a potential juror for cause during voir dire; evidentiary rulings admitting evidence of the potential side effects of an anti-depressant Shyan was taking at the time of her death, and excluding photographs of the railroad crossing after it was resurfaced; and the court’s refusal to give a jury instruction regarding the heightened duty of care imposed on tortfeasors when children are present. View "Frye v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the police chief, the city, and other public officials, alleging violations of the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). After the police chief admitted liability for six violations of the Act, the jury awarded plaintiff punitive damages. The district court ruled that plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence that the city was directly liable for the violations, but authorized the jury's finding that the city was vicariously liable for the police chief's actions. The Eighth Circuit affirmed and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by ruling that plaintiff's proposed class failed to satisfy the numerosity requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and the predominance requirement of Rule 23(b)(3); the district court properly refused to entertain direct liability against the city where the police chief acted for personal reasons, not under the auspices of official policymaking authority, and thus his actions did not represent a policy of the city; the district court correctly construed the civil action provisions of the Act to incorporate background tort-related rules of vicarious liability; the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding certain evidence at trial; and the district court did not err in declining to award requested costs. The court rejected plaintiff's remaining claims and denied the city's motion to strike portions of plaintiff's appendix and brief. View "Orduno v. Pietrzak" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's request for declaratory and injunctive relief, seeking a ruling that the Missouri State Highway Patrol is forbidden to stop and inspect his 54,000-pound dump truck, used in furtherance of his private commercial venture, without probable cause. The court held that plaintiff is a member of the closely regulated commercial trucking industry, and that the patrol's random stops and inspections of his truck would comport with the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Furthermore, Missouri's regulatory scheme advances a substantial government interest as applied to plaintiff, and warrantless inspections are necessary to further the regulatory scheme. View "Calzone v. Olson" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the City's motion for summary judgment in an action challenging the City's rules banning advertisements in for-hire vehicles (FHVs) absent authorization from the Taxi and Limousine Commission. The district court concluded that the City's rules banning advertisements in for‐hire passenger vehicles, such as Ubers and Lyfts, violate the First Amendment, primarily because the City permits certain advertising in taxicabs. The court held that the City's prohibition on advertising in FHVs did not violate the First Amendment under the Central Hudson test. In this case, the City's asserted interest in improving the overall passenger experience is substantial, the prohibition "directly advances" that interest, and the prohibition was no more extensive than necessary to serve that interest. The court held that the City's determination that banning ads altogether is the most effective approach was reasonable. View "Vugo, Inc. v. City of New York" on Justia Law

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Adams Outdoor Advertising sought a permit to install a billboard near an interchange on U.S. Route 22 in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation denied the permit because Pennsylvania law prohibits “off-premise” billboards within 500 feet of a highway interchange. Adams challenged the provision as too vague and under the First Amendment because there is no time limit for PennDOT’s decisions on applications. The district court ruled in Adams’ favor on the time-limit claim and entered an injunction barring the enforcement of the permit requirement until PennDOT establishes reasonable time limits on its permit decisions. The court dismissed Adams’ vagueness challenge and First Amendment scrutiny challenge. The Third Circuit agreed that the permit requirement violates the First Amendment because it lacks a reasonable time limit for permit determinations and that the Interchange Prohibition communicates clearly what it prohibits and is not vague. The court reversed in part. While the Interchange Prohibition is not subject to strict scrutiny, the record is insufficient to establish the required reasoning for the prohibition. View "Adams Outdoor Advertising Ltd v. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation" on Justia Law