Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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As Plaintiff William Frey proceeded through the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) checkpoint at Jackson Hole Airport in Teton County, Wyoming, the body scanner alerted TSA screeners to a potentially suspicious area on Plaintiff’s person. When the security screeners informed Plaintiff that they would have to conduct a pat down, Plaintiff became agitated and repeatedly refused to cooperate. So the security screeners summoned a police officer, Defendant Nathan Karnes, who arrested Plaintiff. After being transported to the Teton County Jail for booking, Plaintiff continued his noncooperation, refusing to participate in the booking process and demanding that jail officials allow him to have an attorney present. Jail officials detained Plaintiff for about three hours before releasing him. Plaintiff sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law, alleging many violations of his rights. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s federal claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, denied leave to file a second amended complaint, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims, awarded attorney’s fees to the Municipal Defendants, and sanctioned Plaintiff’s attorneys. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that some of his claims should have survived dismissal, that the district court should have permitted him to add some of his new proposed claims in a second amended complaint, and that the district court should not have awarded any attorney’s fees. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Frey v. Town of Jackson, WY, et al." on Justia Law

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Norman Champine brought an action against the Michigan Department of Transportation in the Court of Claims alleging that defendant had breached its duty to maintain I-696. Plaintiff was driving on I-696 in Macomb County when a large piece of concrete dislodged from the road and crashed through the windshield of his car, causing serious injuries. The Court of Claims granted summary judgment in favor of defendant on the basis that plaintiff had failed to provide proper notice under MCL 691.1404. The court reasoned that plaintiff’s separate notice to defendant was inadequate because it was not filed in the Court of Claims, the complaint itself could not serve as notice, and the complaint had not identified the exact location of the highway defect. Plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished per curiam opinion, holding that the filing of a complaint could not satisfy the statutory notice requirements. The Court of Appeals declined to address whether plaintiff also failed to adequately describe the location of the incident, even assuming plaintiff’s complaint could serve as proper notice. The Michigan Supreme Court determined “notice” was not defined by MCL 691.1404, so courts were permitted to consider its plain meaning as well as its placement and purpose in the statutory scheme. "The plain meaning of the word 'notice' in the context of the statute indicates only that the governmental agency must be made aware of the injury and the defect. The statute does not require advance notice beyond the filing of the complaint, and the Court of Appeals erred by holding otherwise. Plaintiff properly gave notice by timely filing his complaint in the Court of Claims." Nonetheless, the case had to be remanded to the Court of Appeals for that Court to address whether the complaint adequately specified the exact location and nature of the defect as required by MCL 691.1404(1). View "Champine v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Dean McMaster brought a negligence action against DTE Energy Company, Ferrous Processing and Trading Company (Ferrous), and DTE Electric Company (DTE), seeking compensation for injuries he sustained when a metal pipe fell out of a scrap container and struck him in the leg. DTE, the shipper, contracted with Ferrous to sell scrap metal generated by its business. DTE and Ferrous moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion as to DTE but denied the motion as to Ferrous. McMaster settled with Ferrous and appealed with regard to DTE. The Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning that DTE did not have a duty to warn of or protect McMaster from a known danger, relying on the open and obvious danger doctrine. McMaster sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court peremptorily vacated Part III of the opinion and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration of DTE’s legal duty under the law of ordinary negligence. On remand, the Court of Appeals again affirmed the trial court, finding that the common-law duty of a shipper was abrogated by Michigan’s passage of MCL 480.11a, which adopted the federal motor carrier safety regulations as part of the Motor Carrier Safety Act (the MCSA). The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the common-law duty of care owed by a shipper to a driver was not abrogated by MCL 480.11a. As an issue of first impression, the Court adopted the “shipper’s exception” or “Savage rule” to guide negligence questions involving participants in the trucking industry, as this rule was consistent with Michigan law. Applying this rule, the Supreme Court affirmed on alternate grounds, the grant of summary disposition to DTE Electric Company (DTE) because there existed no genuine issue of material fact that DTE did not breach its duty to plaintiff. View "McMaster v. DTE Energy Company" on Justia Law

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The four truckers who initiated this action regularly drove more than forty hours per week for their employer, JP Trucking, Inc., a Colorado transport company. The question they presented for the Colorado Supreme Courts review concerned whether they were entitled to overtime pay for hours exceeding forty hours per week or twelve hours per day. The Court surmised the answer depended on the meaning of a state regulation that exempted “interstate drivers” from overtime compensation. The truck drivers and JP Trucking both urged the Supreme Court to declare that the term “interstate drivers” was unambiguous: the truck drivers argued the term referred to drivers whose work predominantly took them across state lines; JP Trucking argued that “interstate drivers” were drivers involved in the transportation of goods in interstate commerce, even if their work never took them across state lines. A division of the Colorado court of appeals determined that “interstate drivers” was unambiguous from JP Trucking’s understanding of the term. The Supreme Court concluded the term was ambiguous, and consistent with a different appellate court division, held that “interstate drivers” refers to drivers whose work takes them across state lines, regardless of how often. Hence, the state exemption from overtime compensation was triggered the first time a driver crosses state lines during a work trip. The case was remanded for further proceedings, namely to allow the appeals court to consider JP Trucking’s remaining contentions regarding the calculation of damages. View "Gomez v. JP Trucking" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, SwiftAir, entered into an agreement with the defendant, Southwest Airlines (“Southwest”). Under the agreement, SwiftAir would develop software for Southwest. In turn, Southwest would test the software to determine whether to license it. When Southwest decided not to license the software, SwiftAir filed various breach of contract and fraud claims against Southwest.The trial court granted summary judgment in Southwest’s favor, finding that the Airline Deregulation Act (“ADA”) preempted all but one of SwiftAir’s claims. The remaining claim was presented to a jury, which found in Southwest’s favor.The Second Appellate District affirmed. For a claim to be preempted by the ADA, 1.) the claim must derive from state law, and (2) the claim must relate to airline rates, routes, or services, either by expressly referring to them or by having a significant economic effect upon them. Here, the subject of the contract was providing passengers with inflight entertainment and wireless internet access, which are considered “services” under the ADA. Thus, Southwest did not need to prove that SwiftAir’s claims would have a significant economic effect on Southwest’s services. View "SwiftAir v. Southwest Airlines" on Justia Law

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James Hamre died when an Amtrak train derailed in Dupont, Washington, in 2017. He was survived by his mother, who lived with him, and three adult siblings. Under the wrongful death statutes in effect at the time, James’ mother could recover for his wrongful death because she was dependent on him, while his siblings could recover nothing because they did not rely on James financially. The wrongful death beneficiary statute in effect at that time also denied any recovery to beneficiaries like parents or siblings if they did not reside in the United States. In 2018, one of James’ brothers, acting as his personal representative, agreed to a settlement and release with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (aka Amtrak), on behalf of their mother, the only then qualifying wrongful death beneficiary. In 2019, the Washington Legislature amended RCW 4.20.020 to remove the requirement that second tier beneficiaries (parents and siblings) be both dependent on the decedent and residents of the United States. It explicitly stated that the amendment should apply retroactively to claims that were not time barred. In 2020, James’ siblings who qualified as beneficiaries under the revised statute brought wrongful death actions against Amtrak. Amtrak argued that retroactive application would violate its contracts clause and due process rights under the Washington Constitution. The federal district court certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court to address the issue of retroactivity, and the Supreme Court concluded the Washington State Legislature intended the 2019 amendments to RCW 4.20.020 to apply retroactively to permit newly qualified second tier beneficiaries to assert wrongful death claims that were not time barred. View "Kellogg v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp." on Justia Law

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Municipal authorities in Oklahoma fined Plaintiff BNSF Railway Company for violating its Blocked Crossing Statute—setting up a preemption challenge between the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (“ICCTA”) and the Blocked Crossing Statute. Defendants argued the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”), not the ICCTA, applied to Oklahoma’s statute and did not preempt it. The district court held that the ICCTA preempted Oklahoma’s Blocked Crossing Statute because it regulated railroad operations. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the federal district court and affirmed its decision. View "BNSF Railway v. City of Edmond, et al." on Justia Law

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Appellants, two individuals who have traveled on Amtrak in connection with their work and expect to continue doing so, sought declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent Amtrak from imposing an arbitration requirement on rail passengers and purchasers of rail tickets.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint because appellants have not plausibly alleged an actual injury-in-fact and therefore lack Article III standing. In this case, appellants have alleged neither ongoing nor imminent future injury. Rather, appellants assert only one cognizable interest, the interest in purchasing tickets to travel by rail, but Amtrak's new term of service has not meaningfully abridged that interest. View "Weissman v. National Railroad Passenger Corp." on Justia Law

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The Reefer arrived at the Port of Wilmington, Delaware for what its owner, Nederland, expected to be a short stay. Upon inspection, the Coast Guard suspected that the vessel had discharged dirty bilge water directly overboard and misrepresented in its record book that the ship’s oil water separator had been used to clean the bilge water prior to discharge. Nederland, wanting to get the ship back to sea as rapidly as possible, entered into an agreement with the government for the release of the Reefer in exchange for a surety bond to cover potential fines. Although Nederland delivered the bond and met other requirements, the vessel was detained in Wilmington for at least two additional weeks.Nederland sued. The Delaware district court dismissed the complaint, holding that Nederland’s claims had to be brought in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims because the breach of contract claim did not invoke admiralty jurisdiction a claim under the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS) failed because of sovereign immunity. The Third Circuit reversed. The agreement is maritime in nature and invokes the district court’s admiralty jurisdiction. The primary objective of the agreement was to secure the vessel's departure clearance so that it could continue its maritime trade. APPS explicitly waives the government’s sovereign immunity. View "Nederland Shipping Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Turner, a Wisconsin resident, filed a putative class action against Costa, an Italian cruise operator, and its American subsidiary, alleging that their negligence contributed to an outbreak of COVID-19 aboard the Costa Luminosa during his transatlantic voyage beginning on March 5, 2020. The Luminosa had evacuated a passenger, who subsequently died of COVID-19, from a cruise immediately preceding Turner’s cruise. Costa told passengers that the ship was safe. It did not hire any experts to verify that the ship had been sufficiently cleaned and allegedly failed to refuse boarding to individuals who had COVID-19 symptoms or had traveled to high-risk areas. On March 8, the Luminosa had docked to transport passengers with COVID-19 symptoms to the hospital but did not inform passengers of those circumstances, When passengers disembarked on March 19, 36 of the 75 passengers tested positive for COVID-19. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Turner’s complaint on forum non conveniens grounds. Turner's passage ticket contract included a forum selection clause requiring that all claims associated with his cruise be litigated in Genoa, Italy. Forum selection clauses are presumptively valid and enforceable; Turner failed to defeat the presumption by showing that the clause was induced by fraud or overreaching, that he would be deprived of his day in court because of inconvenience or unfairness, the chosen law would deprive him of a remedy or enforcement of the clause would contravene public policy.’ View "Turner v. Costa Crociere S.P.A." on Justia Law