Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the State Corporation Commission dismissing Verizon Virginia LLC's petition for a declaratory judgment for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that the Commission lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Verizon's petition pursuant to Va. Code 33.2-1815(B) and 33.2-1821.Verizon, a telecommunications company, filed a petition for a declaratory judgment with the Commission requesting a declaration that either Capital Beltway Express LLC (CBE) or The Lane Construction Corporation was responsible for costs pursuant to section 33.2-1815(B) to relocate some of Verizon's utility facilities, as required by the Virginia Department of Transportation in the underlying project to extend portions of the I-495 express lanes. The Commission dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction. Verizon appealed, arguing that sections 33.2-1815(B) and 33.2-1821 granted the Commission jurisdiction to resolve which party was responsible for the costs of the utility relocations necessitated by the project. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission correctly concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Verizon's petition. View "Verizon Virginia LLC v. SCC" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court interpreting Me. Rev. Stat. 29-A, 2413-A to permit a determination that Defendant had committed three civil violations and to authorize the trial court to impose consecutive license suspensions, holding that the trial court did not err.Defendant admitted to three counts of committing a motor vehicle violation resulting in death pursuant to section 2413-A(1). After a penalty hearing, the trial court imposed a $5,000 fine and a three-year license suspension for each of the counts, with the fines being cumulative and the suspensions to be imposed consecutively. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the penalties, holding (1) section 2413-A(1) authorizes separate violations for each death that occurs as a result of a driving violation and authorizes trial courts to impose consecutive license suspensions under their discretion; and (2) the trial court in this case did not abuse its discretion when it imposed the consecutive suspensions. View "State v. Santerre" on Justia Law

by
The United States Maritime Administration (“MARAD”) approved a shipping company’s request to replace two vessels operating in the Pacific trade within the Maritime Security Program. Matson Navigation Co., a competitor in the Pacific, petitions for review of the replacements. As a source of jurisdiction, Matson points to the Hobbs Act, under which the DC Circuit had original jurisdiction over some acts of MARAD.   The DC Circuit reversed two orders of the district court, consolidated with these petitions, that held jurisdiction over Matson’s claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) and was exclusive in the court of appeals. The court wrote that Matson was not a “party” to the replacement proceedings for either vessel, therefore, the court denied the petitions for direct review. The court explained that whether a case begins in district court or is eligible for direct review in the court is a policy decision that is for “Congress rather than us to determine.” The court wrote that as Matson’s counsel stated at oral argument, the company is just “trying to get review.” Because sending limited comments based on limited information to an informal agency proceeding does not confer “party” status under the Hobbs Act, that review starts in the district court. View "Matson Navigation Company, Inc. v. DOT" on Justia Law

by
The Middle Mississippi is the 195-mile-long stretch from St. Louis, Missouri, where the Missouri River flows into the Mississippi, to Cairo, Illinois, where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi and doubles its flow. The 1910 Rivers and Harbors Act authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to construct permanent river training structures in the Middle Mississippi and perform supplemental dredging to maintain a channel sufficient for commercial traffic. The Corps has for decades built and maintained structures—dikes, jetties, and chevrons—along the Middle Mississippi to ensure that the channel is at least nine feet deep and 300 feet wide for commercial navigation. In 1976, under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Corps prepared an environmental impact statement (EIS) assessing the project's ecological impacts. In 2013, the Corps decided to supplement its 1976 EIS, based on newly designated threatened and endangered species, and new information on the effects of river training structures and dredging. In the final supplemental EIS and record of decision, the Corps chose the “Continue Construction Alternative.” Because the exact locations and types of future river training structures are unknown, the supplemental statement studied environmental impacts at a programmatic level and will perform site-specific environmental assessments before actually building additional river training structures.In a challenge brought by environmental groups, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the government, rejecting arguments that the supplemental EIS did not comply with the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, 121 Stat. 1041, or the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321. View "National Wildlife Federation v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law

by
An Illinois state agency oversees Metra, a railroad with passenger service over lines radiating from Chicago. For three lines, Metra owns the rolling stock, while Union Pacific supplies the track, the workforce, and ticket sales. Ticket revenue goes to Metra, which pays UP for its services. UP notified Metra that it would discontinue its services. Metra replied that UP cannot drop the service unless relieved of its obligations by the Surface Transportation Board. Metra argued that UP is locked into its relationship with Metra because the 1995 ICC Termination Act repealed 49 U.S.C. 10908, 10909, the only statutes giving the Board authority over the discontinuation of passenger service. UP argued that the repeal deregulated passenger rail service so that railroads can end passenger service when business considerations dictate. Federal law requires the Board’s permission to abandon all service over a line of track but UP will continue freight service; the lines will not be abandoned.The district court declined to defer to the Board’s primary jurisdiction because the dispute does not require any findings of fact by an agency. The Board agreed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in favor of UP. The controlling contract has long expired. Any reduction in service, therefore, depends on “compliance with all applicable statutory and regulatory provisions.” To the extent that UP is a common carrier—rather than an independent contractor of Metra—it has unfettered authority to discontinue any service without the Board’s approval if it keeps the rails in place and continues running some trains. View "Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Regional Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

by
In a challenge to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s policy of towing safely and lawfully parked vehicles without a warrant based solely on the accrual of unpaid parking tickets, the Coalition argued that the warrantless tows are unreasonable seizures within the meaning of article I, section 13 of the California Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The trial court denied a motion for a writ of mandate and declaratory and injunctive relief.The court of appeal reversed. The challenged warrantless tows are not permissible under the vehicular community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The defendants have not shown that legally parked cars with unpaid parking tickets that present no threat to “public safety and the efficient movement of vehicular traffic” may be towed under that exception. The court rejected an argument that the governmental interest in deterring parking violations and nonpayment of parking fines justifies warrantless tows under the vehicular community caretaking exception. The tows at issue may not be justified by analogy to warrantless property seizures in the forfeiture context. View "Coalition on Homelessness v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

by
Ye sought to recover against GlobalTranz, a freight broker, following the death of her husband in a highway accident. Ye claimed, under Illinois law, that GlobalTranz negligently hired the motor carrier (Sunrise) that employed the driver of the truck that caused the accident. Ye obtained a $10 million default judgment against Sunrise.The district court concluded that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act’s express preemption provision in 49 U.S.C. 14501(c)(1) bars Ye’s claim against GlobalTranz and that the Act’s safety exception in 14501(c)(2)(A) does not save the claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting the significant economic effects that would result from imposing state negligence standards on brokers. Congress broadly disallowed state laws that impede its deregulatory goals, with a specific carveout for laws within a state’s “safety regulatory authority." Ye’s negligent hiring claim against GlobalTranz falls within 14501(c)(1)’s express prohibition on the enforcement of state laws “related to a ... service of any ... broker ... with respect to the transportation of property.” Rejecting the "safety exception" claim, the court reasoned that a common law negligence claim enforced against a broker is not a law that is “with respect to motor vehicles." View "Ye v. GlobalTranz Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit affirmed the determination of the Title III court, during the course of its confirmation of the Modified Fifth Amended Title III Plan of Adjustment (Plan) for the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority (PRHTA), that the Vazquez-Valezquez Group's claims for additional compensation made in a separate federal lawsuit were dischargeable, holding that there was no error.The Group, which was composed of sixty-nine current and former PRHTA employees who received extra compensation under PRHTA Regulation 12-2017, with which the PRHTA later broke. At issue was the Group's objection to the Title III court's determination that the Group's claims for additional compensation were dischargeable under the Plan. After the Title III court entered an order and judgment confirming the plan the Group appealed, arguing that its members' claims were nondischargeable. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the claims for additional compensation were not exempt from discharge. View "Financial Oversight & Management Bd. v. Vazquez-Velazquez Group" on Justia Law

by
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court in favor of the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority (PRHTA) and its executive directors (collectively, Appellees) and dismissing this complaint brought by sixty-nine current and former employees of the PRHTA (collectively, Appellants), holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion.Appellants brought this action challenging the PRHTA's decision no longer to give effect to a regulation providing Appellants with additional compensation. Specifically, Appellants claimed that the decision was contrary to P.R. Act No. 66-2014, giving rise to violations of the Contracts Clause and Due Process Clause. The district court granted summary judgment for the PRHTA on the federal constitutional claims and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Appellants' claims under Puerto Rico law. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in concluding that Appellants could not establish their federal constitutional claims; and (2) did not abuse its discretion in declining to exercise jurisdiction over Appellants' remaining Puerto Rico law claims. View "Vazquez-Velazquez v. P.R. Highway & Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

by
Norfolk Southern Railway Company (Norfolk Southern) petitioned for review of a decision of the Surface Transportation Board (STB or Board), the successor agency to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) charged with authorizing certain rail carrier transactions under the Interstate Commerce Act. Norfolk Southern is a rail carrier that owns a 57.14 percent share of the Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line Railroad Company (Belt Line), the operator of a major switching terminal in Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk Southern’s majority interest goes back to 1982, when its corporate family acquired and consolidated various rail carriers with smaller ownership interests in the Belt Line. Norfolk Southern’s competitor, CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSX), owns the remainder of the Belt Line’s shares (42.86 percent). This case involves a different question raised before the Board for the first time:  whether the ICC/Board approvals of Norfolk Southern’s subsequent corporate-family consolidations in 1991 and 1998 authorized Norfolk Southern to control the Belt Line. The Board again answered no. Norfolk Southern petitioned for review.   The DC Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the Board’s decision regarding the 1991 and 1998 transactions is neither arbitrary nor capricious. The Board reasonably sought to avoid an absurd interpretation of 49 C.F.R. Section 1180.2(d)(3)’s corporate-family exemption that would allow a carrier to gain control of a new entity without following the Board’s review requirements and then “cure that unauthorized acquisition by reorganizing the corporate family.” The Board reasonably rejected Norfolk Southern’s claim that, by reshuffling the pieces of its corporate family, it acquired control authority of the Belt Line sub silentio. View "Norfolk Southern Railway Company v. STB" on Justia Law