Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Wisconsin Central in an action brought by plaintiff for unlawful retaliation under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's request for the information defendant's expert acquired in preparation for trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(4). The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in blocking a deposition of Wisconsin Central's counsel about her conversations with other employees and whether plaintiff's employment record caused his termination; the information was privileged; and thus the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the protective order. The court held that the district court properly granted summary judgment to Wisconsin Central because plaintiff did not make a prima facie case of retaliation under the Act. In this case, plaintiff failed to raise an inference of intentional retaliation prompted by any of his three specified acts, and no reasonable factfinder could infer a retaliatory motive. View "Smith-Bunge v. Wisconsin Central, Ltd." on Justia Law

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On June 16, 2010, crossing gates were down at a public railway-roadway crossing -- a position that normally indicated: (1) a train was approaching the crossing; (2) a railway was performing maintenance; or (3) they were malfunctioning. As Marvin Johnson, Jr. approached the railroad crossing driving his 28-foot-long truck with attached dumpster, he saw that the gates were down but cars were driving around the gates and over the crossing. Johnson followed suit, driving around the crossing gates into the path of an oncoming train on which Winford Hartry was serving as engineer. Hartry was injured as a result of the collision. The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to consider whether Winford Hartry’s claim under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (“FELA”) was precluded by regulations issued pursuant to the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”). Because the Supreme Court concluded that FRSA and its regulations did not preclude Hartry’s FELA claim, it affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. Hartry et al." on Justia Law

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The 1986 Bay Area County Traffic and Transportation Funding Act (Pub. Util. Code 131000) established a framework for counties and cities within the nine-county San Francisco Bay area to collectively develop and implement traffic and transportation projects and authorized the voters in those counties to create a county transportation authority to implement a retail transactions and use tax for funding a local transportation plan. San Francisco voters approved the creation of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA). Urban submitted public records requests to the SFCTA under the California Public Records Act (Gov. Code 6250) and the Sunshine Ordinance. SFCTA claimed it was not subject to the Sunshine Ordinance. Urban filed suit. After the parties resolved the outstanding records request issue, the trial court concluded the request for declaratory relief was not moot “due to the SFCTA’s position that it is not subject to the Sunshine Ordinance, which is sufficient to establish an actual controversy” then concluded the SFCTA is a state agency, exempt from the Ordinance. The court of appeal affirmed. Local public agencies are distinct from the cities and counties they serve. While the SFCTA may be classified as a local agency based on the scope of its functions, it remains an agency of the state. The Sunshine Ordinance indicates that it is limited to city agencies. View "SF Urban Forest Coalition v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Union Pacific in an action alleging that the company negligently contributed to a fatal railroad collision. In this case, the trucks in front of a caravan had left insufficient room for the last truck to clear the Oil & Gas Crossing. The last truck stopped on the tracks where, seconds later, a Union Pacific train collided with it, killing all three individuals inside. The court found plaintiffs' claim that Union Pacific breached a duty to provide adequate visual warning devices at the Oil & Gas Crossing unpersuasive; the Crossing was not a "dangerous trap;" and, although a jury could reasonably conclude that Union Pacific had a duty to plaintiffs to protect against the unique hazard presented by the Crossing, plaintiffs have failed to show why the signs Union Pacific installed were insufficient to fulfill this duty. The court also held that plaintiffs' claims that Union Pacific was negligent in operating the locomotive horn was either preempted by federal law or otherwise unsupported by sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment. View "Ryder v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court dismissing for want of jurisdiction under the Tax Injunction Act (TIA) this lawsuit asking that the district court enjoin the collection of certain Rhode Island tolls as violative of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, holding that the TIA's prohibition stating that district courts shall not enjoin levy or collection of "any tax under State law" where a remedy may be had in state courts is inapplicable to the Rhode Island tolls. A Rhode Island statute authorized the Rhode Island Department of Transportation to collect from tractor-trailers certain tolls in order to pay for replacement, reconstruction, maintenance, and operation of Rhode Island bridges. Plaintiff trucking entities brought this lawsuit. The district court dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction under the TIA. The First Circuit reversed, holding the the tolls in this case were not a "tax" under the statute. View "American Trucking Ass'n v. Alviti" on Justia Law