Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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The Federal Aviation Administration hired Archer Western Contractors to build air traffic structures for an airport in Las Vegas. Archer challenged the FAA’s resolution of three contract disputes.   On the first dispute, the FAA said that Archer waited too long to challenge the FAA’s failure to provide an equitable adjustment for a modification to the contract. For the second dispute, the FAA said that Archer’s claim regarding contract modifications’ “cumulative impact” was also untimely. As for the third dispute, the FAA found that Archer had failed to install proper rectangular air ducts.   The DC Circuit granted Petitioners’ petition in part and denied it in part. The court vacated the FAA’s order only as to its dismissal of Archer’s first claim for failure to provide an equitable adjustment. The other challenged aspects of the FAA’s order are not arbitrary and capricious. The court held that the FAA erred in dismissing as untimely Archer’s failure-to-provide-an-equitable-adjustment claim. The court agreed with the FAA on the other two issues.   The court explained that it is reviewing a failure-to-provide-an-equitable-adjustment claim. And that claim was timely filed only one year and four months after it accrued — well within the two-year window for Archer to file a claim. However, Archer needed to separately allege a claim for cumulative impact within two years of that claim’s accrual. Instead, the ODRA did not receive notice of Archer’s cumulative impact until well past the contract’s two-year limit for filing a claim. The FAA was therefore correct to dismiss Archer’s cumulative-impact claim as untimely. View "Archer Western Contractors. LLC v. U.S. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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In 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) modified its regulations governing the maximum hours that commercial motor vehicle operators may drive or operate within a certain timeframe. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a labor union representing commercial truck drivers, and three national nonprofit organizations petitioned for review. They argued that the Final Rule was arbitrary and capricious for failing to grapple with the safety and driver health consequences of changes to record-keeping rules for short-haul commercial vehicle drivers and break requirements for long-haul drivers.   The DC Circuit denied the petition for review. The court held that the modifications to the hours-of-service rules were sufficiently explained and grounded in the administrative record. The court explained that the Administration not only directly tackled the issue of driver health but also reasonably explained why the health benefits estimated in the 2011 Rule would continue under the modified 30-minute break rule. That met the APA’s requirements. View "Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety v. FMCSA" on Justia Law

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The Federal Railroad Administration (“Administration”) issued a broad-ranging rule revising the regulations governing freight railroad safety (“Final Rule”). Two unions representing employees of freight railroads—the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (together, “Unions”)—petitioned for review. The Unions principally argue that the Administration fell short in numerous respects in its statutory obligation to prioritize safety in regulatory decision-making. They also contend that the Administration impermissibly denied them an opportunity to seek reconsideration, and that the Final Rule was untimely issued.   The DC Circuit agreed with Unions that the portion of the Final Rule lifting calibration requirements for certain telemetry devices did not grapple with the Administration’s safety obligation. But the court found that all Petitioner’s other challenges fail either on the merits or for lack of jurisdiction. As a result, the court granted the petition in part, denied the petition in part, dismissed the petition in part, and remanded part of the Final Rule.   The court stated that it agrees that the Administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to address the safety consequences of its decision for end-of-train devices that lack self-calibration technology. The court explained that nothing in the Administration’s explanation amounts to an “express and considered conclusion” regarding this safety issue, let alone a reasonable one. And the Administration offered no other explanation for how jettisoning a safety rule in favor of manufacturers’ self-regulation promotes safe rail operations. View "Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers v. FRA" on Justia Law

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Freight shippers (“Plaintiffs”) alleged that the nation’s four largest freight railroads (“Defendants” or “Railroads”) have violated the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. Section 1, by engaging in a price-fixing conspiracy to coordinate their fuel surcharge programs as a means to impose supra-competitive total price increases on their shipping customers. Before hearing summary judgment motions, the District Court considered Defendants’ motions to exclude certain evidence on which Plaintiffs rely. Defendants argued the challenged documents were inadmissible under 49 U.S.C. Section 10706(a)(3)(B)(ii)(II) (“Section 10706”) as evidence of the Railroads’ discussions or agreements concerning “interline” traffic.   The D.C. Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the District Court’s interpretation of Section 10706, vacated the District Court’s order and remanded for the court to reconsider the evidence at issue. The court held that the District Court’s interpretation of Section 10706 sometimes strays from the literal terms of the statute.  The court reasoned that a discussion or agreement “concern[s] an interline movement” only if Defendants meet their burden of showing that the movements at issue are the participating rail carriers’ shared interline traffic. A discussion or agreement need not identify a specific shipper, shipments, or destinations to qualify for exclusion; more general discussions or agreements may suffice. Further, the court held that a carrier’s internal documents need not convey the substance of a discussion or agreement concerning interline movements to qualify for exclusion under the statute. View "In re: Rail Freight Fuel Surcharge Antitrust Litigation" 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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Petitioner sought review of the TSA's Mask Directives, issued in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that the TSA has no authority to issue the directives. Petitioner argued that TSA's authority under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act does not empower TSA to require face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.The DC Circuit found no merit in petitioner's claim and denied the petition for review. The court concluded that the COVID-19 global pandemic poses one of the greatest threats to the operational viability of the transportation system and the lives of those on it seen in decades. TSA, which is tasked with maintaining transportation safety and security, plainly has the authority to address such threats under both sections 114(f) and (g) of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. The court stated that the Mask Directives are reasonable and permissible regulations adopted by TSA to promote safety and security in the transportation system against threats posed by COVID-19. The Mask Directives are not ultra vires, and the court deferred to the agency's interpretation of the Act. View "Corbett v. Transportation Security Administration" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a rule for trailers pulled by tractors based on a statute enabling the EPA to regulate “motor vehicles.” In that same rule, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued fuel efficiency standards for trailers based on a statute enabling NHTSA to regulate “commercial medium-duty or heavy-duty on-highway vehicles.” The “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles—Phase 2.” 81 Fed. Reg. 73,478, requires trailer manufacturers to adopt some combination of fuel-saving technologies, such as side skirts and automatic tire pressure systems. Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association sought review.The D.C. Circuit vacated all portions of the rule that pertain to trailers. Trailers have no motor and art not “motor vehicles.” Nor are they “vehicles” when that term is used in the context of a vehicle’s fuel economy since motorless vehicles use no fuel. View "Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are commercial truck drivers who received citations for violating state vehicle safety laws. State officials reported these citations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for inclusion in the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), 49 U.S.C. 31106(a)(3)(B). After state courts dismissed misdemeanor charges arising from the citations, the drivers asked the Administration to remove them from the MCMIS. The Administration forwarded the requests to the relevant state agencies, which declined to remove the citations. The drivers later authorized the release of their PreEmployment Screening Program (PSP) reports to prospective employers.The drivers allege harm from the inclusion of their citations in the PSP reports and sought damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681e. The drivers alleged that the Administration violated FCRA by not following reasonable procedures to ensure that their PSP reports were as accurate as possible, by failing to investigate the accuracy of their PSP reports upon request, and by refusing to add a statement of dispute to their PSP reports. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Administration, in releasing MCMIS records as required by the SAFE Transportation Act, is not a “consumer reporting agency” under FCRA. View "Mowrer v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Under the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act, the Secretary of Transportation must promulgate regulations requiring certain railroad carriers to “develop a railroad safety risk reduction program,” 49 U.S.C. 20156(a)(1)(A)), within a specified time frame, The Secretary delegated this regulatory authority to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which was required to conduct a study to determine whether it is in the public interest to withhold from discovery in litigation information gathered for implementation or evaluation of a risk reduction program. The FRA selected the Baker Botts law firm to conduct that study. Baker Botts concluded that it is in the public interest to protect the safety information railroads gather for risk reduction programs from discovery and use in litigation.In 2020 the FRA issued the Risk Reduction Program Final Rule (RRP Rule), mandating that each qualifying railroad establish and implement a risk reduction program with specified requirements. The FRA acknowledged that although the Act requires a risk reduction program to include a fatigue management plan, such plans were not addressed in this rulemaking and would be elaborated in a separate rulemaking. The FRA recently issued a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding fatigue management plans. The RRP Rule protects specific safety information railroads compile or collect from discovery and admissibility.The D.C. Circuit upheld the RRP, rejecting arguments by labor unions and attorneys representing railroad employees that it was untimely, arbitrary, and based on a study conducted by a biased contractor. View "Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Tranportation Workers v. e Federal Railroad Administration" on Justia Law

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Erwin-Simpson, a D.C. resident, alleges that she suffered injuries in 2016 on a flight from Malaysia to Cambodia with Malaysia-based AirAsia when a flight attendant spilled boiling water on her. She sued under the Montreal Convention, a treaty to which the U.S. is a signatory that provides for airline liability in the case of injuries that occur during flight. AirAsia is a low-cost airline that provides service across Asia; it does not operate any flights to or from the U.S.The D.C. Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for lack of jurisdiction. The injuries Erwin-Simpson alleged did not arise from any activity by AirAsia in the District of Columbia, and the only presence that the airline identifies here is its website. The website on its own is insufficient to render the corporation subject to suit in the District. View "Erwin-Simpson v. AirAsia Berhad" on Justia Law