Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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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

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Two U.S. railroads began allowing engineers and conductors employed by their Mexican affiliates to operate trains on their tracks in the U.S. Railroads certify their own engineers and conductors, in compliance with minimum standards. The Federal Railroad Administration (49 U.S.C. 20135(a)) does not issue formal documentation approving a railroad’s written certification program but has a passive approval system. If the Administration does not notify the railroad that its written certification program fails to meet the minimum regulatory criteria, the program is considered approved. Because Mexican railroads do not meet the Administration standards, trains have traditionally switched crews at the border, a time-consuming practice.Unions representing railroad employees filed suit, arguing that it was unlawful to approve a certification program permitting one railroad to certify employees of a foreign affiliate railroad that it does not control and for a certification program to deploy an abbreviated curriculum and training protocol to engineers with operating experience only in Mexico.The D.C. Circuit vacated and remanded in part. The Administration’s approval of a railway’s revised engineer certification program that allows that railroad to use an abbreviated program to certify Mexican engineers is a final action subject to Hobbs Act jurisdiction. The court rejected a timeliness argument, stating that the Administration had “completely hidden its already obscured passive approval from public view.” The Administration failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its approval of the materially-altered certification program. View "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen v. Federal Railroad Administration" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review of the Department's determination that Hagerstown Airport was not eligible for federally subsidized air service because it did not meet the statutory "enplanement" requirement. In this case, petitioners argue that it was arbitrary and capricious for the Department to refuse to grant the airport a waiver as it had done four times previously.After determining that the Department's decision was subject to judicial review, the court deferred to the Department's decision not to waive the airport's failure to meet the enplanement requirement. The court was unconvinced by petitioners' contention that the Department acted arbitrarily because it had been so forgiving in the past. The court explained that the Department was entitled to credit Hagerstown's explanations and predictions less after another year of noncompliance. The court also concluded that the Department's view -- that Hagerstown's history of noncompliance and its location are superior predictors of future enplanement numbers -- is reasonable and therefore is entitled to deference. Finally, it was reasonable for the Department to rely on certain factors to distinguish another community from Hagerstown. View "Board of County Commissioners of Washington County v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The county sought to revoke two exemptions the Board granted with respect to a freight rail easement over the county's property, alleging that both notices misrepresented the easement's ownership. The Board denied the petitions because only a court competent in property, contract, and bankruptcy law could determine whether the notices' representations were in fact false.The DC Circuit dismissed the county's first petition for review as incurably premature and dismissed the second petition with respect to its material-error challenge to the Board's reconsideration order. The court held that it has jurisdiction to review the Board's initial order pursuant to the county's second petition, and that the Board's denial of the petitions to revoke was arbitrary and capricious for failing to address the claim that the notices, whether or not ultimately false, misleadingly omitted material information. Accordingly, the court granted the second petition for review insofar as it challenges the Board's initial order, vacated that order, and remanded the case to the Board for further proceedings. View "Snohomish County v. Surface Transportation Board" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied Union Pacific's petition for review of the Administration's regulation governing disclosures made by railroads that are transporting hazardous materials. Union Pacific alleged that the regulation was insufficiently protecting the railroad's data and thus failed to meet the requirement in section 7302 of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST) to establish security and confidentiality protections to prevent access to the information by unauthorized parties.The court held that FAST 7302 is neither dependent on a misreading of the statute nor arbitrary and capricious. In this case, the agency developed a mechanism to prevent inadvertent disclosure. Furthermore, Union Pacific failed to provide evidence to controvert the agency's express finding that this rule will satisfy security and confidentiality concerns as mandated by the statute. View "Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review of the TSA's order stating that it would neither confirm or deny any information about petitioner which may be within federal watchlists or reveal any law enforcement sensitive information. The court held that the petition was filed after the statutory deadline pursuant to 49 U.S.C. 46110, and there were no reasonable grounds justifying her untimely filing. In this case, petitioner had no good excuse, much less reasonable grounds, for her failure to file a petition for review not later than 60 days after TSA issued the disputed order. View "Matar v. TSA" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a commercial pilot, filed a petition for review challenging the TSA's Known Crewmember Program. Petitioner claimed that TSA lacked statutory authority to select and screen airline crewmembers in the same manner as passengers.The DC Circuit held that petitioner had standing to challenge TSA's policies and assumed, without deciding, that his petition for review was timely. On the merits, the court held that TSA has broad statutory authority to protect civil aviation security and the agency's reasoned decisionmaking should be accorded deference. In this case, TSA has reasonably concluded that a random-screening regime is required to protect airline travelers from the unique threat posed by insiders with privileged access to airport sterile areas. Furthermore, petitioner failed to demonstrate any persuasive evidence that TSA's policies were unauthorized or otherwise impermissible. Therefore, the court denied the petition for review. View "Bonacci v. TSA" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Department of Transportation issued a rule requiring airlines to report the number of wheelchairs and scooters that are mishandled after being transported as checked luggage on passenger flights. The “Reporting Rule” was scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2018. In March 2017, DOT issued an “Extension Rule” that delayed the Reporting Rule's effective date by one year. More than four months after the issuance of the Extension Rule, Paralyzed Veterans filed suit, challenging the Extension Rule as procedurally infirm because it was issued without notice-and-comment procedures and as arbitrary and capricious. DOT argued only that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction. The court agreed and transferred the case to the D.C. Circuit pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1631. The D.C. Circuit dismissed. Under 49 U.S.C. 46110(a), petitions for review of specified orders issued by the Secretary of Transportation must be filed in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit or in the court of appeals for the circuit in which the petitioner resides or has its principal place of business. The court also noted that the claim was filed after the 60-day statutory deadline and there are no “reasonable grounds” justifying the untimely filing. View "Paralyzed Veterans of America v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law