Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Transportation Law
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The case involves Salt Lake County's challenge to the constitutionality of the Aircraft Valuation Law, which provides a preferred method for determining the fair market value of aircraft for tax purposes. The County argued that the application of the law to Delta Air Lines' aircraft resulted in an assessment below fair market value, violating the Utah Constitution. The County also contended that the law, on its face, violated the Utah Constitution by divesting the Utah State Tax Commission of its power to assess airline property.The Utah State Tax Commission had previously upheld the 2017 assessment of Delta's property, which was calculated according to the Aircraft Valuation Law. The Commission found that the County did not provide clear and convincing evidence that the legislature's preferred method of valuation did not reasonably reflect fair market value.The Supreme Court of the State of Utah rejected the County's arguments. The court held that the County failed to fully utilize the statutory safety valve, which allows the Commission to use an alternative valuation method if the preferred method does not reasonably reflect fair market value. The court also rejected the County's facial challenge to the Aircraft Valuation Law, concluding that the County did not show that the law prohibits the legislature from prescribing a preferred method for valuing aircraft. Therefore, the court affirmed the Commission's decision. View "Salt Lake Co v. Tax Commission" on Justia Law

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Randall J. Weddle was involved in a major motor vehicle accident in Washington, Maine, which resulted in the death of two drivers. The accident involved five vehicles, one of which was engulfed in flames. Weddle, the driver of a large tractor trailer, was found to be the cause of the accident. Hospital tests revealed that Weddle had alcohol in his system and officers found a three-quarters-full whiskey bottle and a shot glass in his truck several days after the accident.Weddle was charged with two counts of manslaughter, two counts of aggravated criminal operating under the influence, one count of causing injury while operating under the influence, one count of aggravated driving to endanger, one count of driving to endanger, and eight counts of violating commercial motor carrier operator rules. The jury found Weddle guilty of all counts. The court conducted a sentencing analysis and set the basic sentence at twenty years, considering the nature and circumstances of the crime. The court set the maximum sentence at thirty years, weighing mitigating and aggravating factors. The final sentence was set at thirty years, with all but twenty-five years suspended, followed by four years of probation.Weddle appealed his sentence to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. He argued that his sentence was unconstitutional because it was not proportioned to the offense and that it was excessively harsh. The court affirmed the sentence, concluding that the sentence was not greatly disproportionate to the offense and did not offend prevailing notions of decency. The court also found that the sentence was not excessively harsh, as the court had considered both aggravating and mitigating factors in setting the maximum sentence. View "State of Maine v. Weddle" on Justia Law

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Neal Bissonnette and Tyler Wojnarowski, distributors for Flowers Foods, Inc., a major producer and marketer of baked goods, sued the company for alleged violations of state and federal wage laws. Flowers Foods moved to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The key issue was whether the exemption from coverage under the FAA for any "class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce" is limited to workers whose employers are in the transportation industry.The District Court dismissed the case in favor of arbitration, stating that for Bissonnette and Wojnarowski to be exempt from the FAA, they must be "transportation workers." The court concluded that their broader scope of responsibility under the Distributor Agreements belied the claim that they were primarily truck drivers. The Second Circuit affirmed the District Court's decision on the alternative ground that Bissonnette and Wojnarowski "are in the bakery industry." According to the Second Circuit, §1 of the FAA exempts only "workers involved in the transportation industries."The Supreme Court of the United States disagreed with the Second Circuit's interpretation. The Court held that a transportation worker does not need to work for a company in the transportation industry to be exempt under §1 of the FAA. The Court emphasized that the relevant question is what the worker does for the employer, not what the employer does generally. The Court vacated the judgment of the Second Circuit and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Court did not express an opinion on any alternative grounds in favor of arbitration raised below. View "Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries Park St., LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves the City of Joliet and five commercial truck drivers who were fined for violating city ordinances prohibiting overweight and/or overlength vehicles on nondesignated highways. The drivers challenged the city's jurisdiction to administratively adjudicate the ordinance violations, arguing they were entitled to have the violations dismissed because applicable law required that they be adjudicated in the circuit court. The hearing officer overruled the drivers' objections and denied their motions to dismiss. The drivers then filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Will County, which affirmed the decisions of the hearing officer.The appellate court reversed the decisions of the circuit court and hearing officer, following a previous First District's opinion which held that home rule municipalities are prohibited from administratively adjudicating "traffic regulations governing the movement of vehicles," in addition to "reportable offense[s] under Section 6-204 of the Illinois Vehicle Code." The City of Joliet appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Illinois.The Supreme Court of Illinois found that section 1-2.1-2 of the Illinois Municipal Code does not preempt the City of Joliet's home rule authority to administratively adjudicate violations of its ordinances. Therefore, it vacated that part of the appellate court's judgment. However, the court also found that the hearing officer's administrative decisions were precluded by the Joliet Code of Ordinances, and thus affirmed, on different grounds, that part of the appellate court's judgment that reversed the judgment of the circuit court and the administrative decisions of the City. The court concluded that the administrative decisions were reversed, and the circuit court judgment was reversed. View "Cammacho v. City of Joliet" on Justia Law

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The case involves a truck driver, Frank McKenna, who sued his former employer, Dillon Transportation, LLC, for defamation based on a report Dillon sent to HireRight, a consumer reporting agency. The report claimed McKenna had an unsatisfactory safety record and had been involved in an accident. McKenna alleged the report was defamatory and resulted in his inability to secure employment. Dillon argued that the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) preempted McKenna’s claims.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision granting summary judgment in favor of Dillon. The court ruled that the FCRA does preempt McKenna's defamation claim. The court determined that under the FCRA, McKenna was a consumer, HireRight was a consumer reporting agency, and Dillon was a furnisher of information. The court found that the FCRA's preemption clause applied in this case, as it preempts state causes of action based on providing information to consumer reporting agencies like HireRight.Additionally, the court rejected McKenna’s argument that his suit was authorized under a Department of Transportation regulation that requires motor carriers to investigate the safety performance history of drivers, which preempts certain state-law claims against those providing such information. The court found the two preemption statutes, the FCRA, and the Department of Transportation regulation, complemented each other and could coexist. The court also ruled that the district court did not err in denying McKenna's request to postpone summary judgment to obtain additional documents related to his accident. View "McKenna v. Dillon Transportation, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves the defendant, Kevin James Van Zanten, who was convicted for felony possession of methamphetamine and misdemeanor driving under the influence. Van Zanten challenged the conviction, arguing that the evidence was obtained unlawfully following a stop of the commercial vehicle he was driving. He claimed the stop was based on regulations adopted by the Idaho State Police, which he argued resulted from an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power.In September 2020, an Idaho State Police Trooper observed a 2005 Kenworth truck driven by Van Zanten. The Trooper noted several violations, including an improperly displayed Department of Transportation number, unsecured hazardous material, and other items on the truck. The truck was stopped, and the driver was identified as Van Zanten, whose driving privileges were found to be suspended. A subsequent search of the truck resulted in the finding of drugs, leading to Van Zanten's arrest.At the trial court, Van Zanten moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that the Trooper had no legal basis to stop him. He asserted that the Trooper initiated the stop to investigate state regulations that were unenforceable because the statutes authorizing those regulations unconstitutionally delegated legislative power. The district court denied his motion, leading to his appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court.The Supreme Court of the State of Idaho affirmed the district court's judgment. It held that the Trooper had reasonable suspicion to stop Van Zanten due to specific, articulable facts, thus justifying the stop. The court noted that the inherent danger associated with unsecured hazardous waste and other violations fell within the community caretaking function of law enforcement, and given the nature of the vehicle Van Zanten was driving, the public interest in safety outweighed the limited intrusion of stopping the vehicle. Consequently, the court did not need to address the constitutionality of the statutes in question. The court affirmed Van Zanten’s judgment of conviction. View "State v. Van Zanten" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs, Jennifer Zeno-Ethridge and Dennis Ethridge, appealed from the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants, Comcast Corporation, Eustis Cable, and Green Mountain Flagging. The suit arose from an incident in which Jennifer witnessed a fatal accident involving a utility truck and a flagger while she was driving. Following the incident, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.Jennifer sued the defendants for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) and negligence, while Dennis filed a loss-of-consortium claim. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, determining that Jennifer's contact with the flagger’s blood and brain matter did not constitute a "physical impact from external force" necessary for a NIED claim. It also concluded that Jennifer's PTSD diagnosis did not satisfy the "actual injury" requirement for a negligence claim.On appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision, holding that the act of Jennifer stepping in the flagger's blood and brain matter was not a physical impact from an external force. Furthermore, the court clarified that a PTSD diagnosis alone is insufficient to satisfy the “actual injury” requirement of a negligence claim, as it is a mental or emotional harm, rather than a physical one. Consequently, Jennifer's NIED and negligence claims failed as a matter of law. Therefore, the defendants were entitled to summary judgment on Dennis's loss-of-consortium claim, which was dependent upon the success of Jennifer's claims. View "Zeno-Ethridge v. Comcast Corporation" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of Ohio was called upon to interpret the definition of "motor vehicle" as it applied to the crime of aggravated vehicular assault. The defendant, Joshua Fork, was charged with multiple counts, including aggravated vehicular assault, after driving a Polaris under the influence of alcohol and injuring his passengers. At issue was whether the Polaris should be classified as a "motor vehicle" or a "utility vehicle."The Court ruled that the definition of "motor vehicle" in R.C. 4501.01(B), which applies to penal laws, should be used in the context of aggravated vehicular assault. It also held that the Polaris should be classified as a "utility vehicle," as defined by R.C. 4501.01(VV), based on its principal purpose, not its use at the time of the incident.The Court reasoned that the principal purpose of the Polaris, as shown by evidence and testimony, was for farm-related activities, such as hauling rocks and bags of seed, removing limbs, pulling a sprayer, and trimming trees. The Polaris's ancillary use for recreation did not affect its principal purpose.The Court concluded that, since the Polaris fit the definition of a "utility vehicle" under R.C. 4501.01(VV), the evidence admitted at trial was legally insufficient to support Fork’s convictions for aggravated vehicular assault. Consequently, the Court affirmed the judgment of the Sixth District Court of Appeals, which had reversed the trial court's judgment and vacated Fork’s convictions for aggravated vehicular assault. View "State v. Fork" on Justia Law

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In this case, the plaintiff, Anila Daulatzai, was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight after the captain received information about her dog allergy and the presence of two dogs on board. Daulatzai insisted on remaining in her seat despite the captain’s decision, leading to her physical removal by Maryland Transportation Authority police officers. She was later charged with various offenses, including disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.Daulatzai filed an action against Southwest Airlines and the State of Maryland, alleging various grounds to challenge her removal from the plane and her arrest. The district court dismissed Daulatzai’s complaint for failure to state a plausible claim upon which relief could be granted. Daulatzai appealed that judgment and, while her appeal was pending, she also filed a motion in the district court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), seeking to file a fourth version of her complaint with the district court.The court denied her request, finding that her efforts were pursued in bad faith, that her repeated failures to cure defects in her pleadings had been prejudicial to the defendants, and that the fourth complaint would, in any event, be futile. Daulatzai appealed that ruling as well.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, finding that Daulatzai had failed to establish any of the grounds for relief under Rule 60(b) and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Daulatzai leave to file her proposed third amended complaint. The court also found that Daulatzai had waived her challenge to the district court’s dismissal of her second amended complaint by failing to preserve it below. View "Daulatzai v. Maryland" on Justia Law

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The plaintiff, Tillman Transportation, LLC, and the defendant, MI Business, Inc. (operating as affiliate companies RDT and RDF) entered into three trucking contracts, each of which included arbitration clauses. After the contracts were terminated, disputes arose between the parties, leading to this lawsuit and a separate ongoing arbitration. The defendants moved to compel arbitration, arguing that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) requires enforcement of the arbitration clauses. Tillman contended that it was exempt from compulsory arbitration under Section 1 of the FAA.The district court granted the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration, ruling that Section 1 of the FAA, which exempts "contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce" from the FAA's general policy favoring arbitration, did not apply to the arbitration clauses in the contracts because Tillman, as a limited liability company in contract with another corporate entity, did not qualify for the Section 1 exemption.Tillman appealed this decision. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The Sixth Circuit held that the Section 1 exemption did not apply to an agreement between two corporate entities. Thus, the exemption did not apply to Tillman, a limited liability company. The court also noted that Tillman had waived certain arguments by failing to raise them in its initial brief on appeal. View "Tillman Transp., LLC v. MI Bus. Inc." on Justia Law