Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
by
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

by
Puchalski, a Wisconsin citizen, took a cruise aboard an RCL ship. While the ship was docked in Juneau, Alaska, he experienced shortness of breath and went to the ship’s infirmary. The ship’s physician prescribed medications. Puchalski returned to his quarters, then collapsed. He was taken to a hospital and died days later. Puchalski’s estate sued RCL, a Liberian corporation headquartered in Florida, alleging negligent medical care and treatment. Florida law would have authorized non-pecuniary damages for loss of companionship and mental pain and suffering. Wisconsin law would not. The parties agreed to address the issue only if a damages award made it necessary. A jury awarded $3,384,073.22 in damages, $3,360,000 of which represented non-pecuniary losses. The district court denied RCL’s Motion for Remittitur, finding that Florida law governed damages.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. General maritime law does not allow non-pecuniary damages for wrongful death, but the Supreme Court has held that state law may supplement general maritime law for damages in suits for deaths that occur within state territorial waters. In determining that Florida law applied, the court applied the “Lauritzen” factors: the place of the wrongful act, domiciles of the injured and of the defendant, place of contract, law of the forum, and location of the defendant’s base of operations. Wisconsin’s interests would not be served by applying Wisconsin law to this case. Applying Florida law, however, would further Florida’s interests in wrongful death suits involving its domiciliaries. View "Goodloe v. Royal Caribbean Cruises, LTD." on Justia Law

by
The Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) does not impose a tax on a railroad's stock transfers to its employees nor a railroad's provision of relocation benefits to its employees. The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further consideration of the statutory requirements and the calculation of CSX's taxable compensation. The court held that the Supreme Court's decision in Wisconsin Cent. Ltd. v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2067 (2018), was dispositive of the stock issue. Under Wisconsin Central, the phrase "money remuneration" in the RRTA refers only to currency or a medium of exchange. Wisconsin Central, as well as the court's plain meaning of the statute, guided the court's decision regarding the relocation benefits. View "CSX Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against defendants for violation of the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), 18 U.S.C. 2721-2725. The Eleventh Circuit held that the DPPA permitted punitive damages against municipal agencies; the district court did not abuse its discretion when it assessed liquidated damages for both occasions when Defendant Thomas accessed plaintiff's information; the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to certify a class action; the district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to grant a new trial; and the district court did not err when it instructed the jury that punitive damages should bear a reasonable relationship to compensatory damages. View "Truesdell v. Thomas" on Justia Law

by
Alabama rail carriers pay a 4% sales and use tax on diesel fuel. Motor carriers and water carriers are exempt from that tax but motor carriers pay a Motor Fuels Excise Tax of $0.19 per gallon of diesel. Water carriers pay no tax for diesel fuel. The Eleventh Circuit previously determined that Alabama failed to sufficiently justify the scheme under the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act, 49 U.S.C. 11501, which forbids states from discriminating against rail carriers in assessing property or imposing taxes. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. On remand, the district court again ruled that Alabama’s tax scheme does not violate the Act. The Eleventh Circuit then reversed. The excise tax justifies the motor carrier exemption. As to water carriers, their exemption is not “compelled by federal law.” Although imposing the sales and use tax on water carriers transporting freight interstate might “expose” the state to a lawsuit under federal law, compulsion requires more than exposure. The water carrier exemption is “compelled by federal law” only if imposition of the sales and use tax would violate federal law. It would not, so it violates the Act. View "CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Alabama Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

by
The Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act prohibits states from imposing a tax that discriminates against a rail carrier. 49 U.S.C. 11501(b)(4). The Eleventh Circuit held that Alabama's tax scheme, which imposes either a sales or use tax on rail carriers when they buy or consume diesel fuel but exempts competing motor and water carriers from those taxes, violates the Act as to water carriers, but not to motor carriers. The court held that the district court correctly concluded that the excise tax was roughly equivalent to the sales and use tax and thus the excise tax justified the motor carrier sales-tax exemption. However, unlike the motor carrier exemption, the State could offer no rough equivalency justification for the water carrier exemption because water carriers pay no state taxes at all when they buy or consume diesel. View "CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Alabama Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

by
The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment against two transportation companies, Barrett and Landstar, in an action by Nationwide and its insurer, Essex, seeking to recover loss of an MRI under the Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. 14706 et seq. The court held that the Magistrate Judge applied the correct standard for distinguishing brokers from carriers, but that there was a genuine factual dispute as to whether Barrett accepted legal responsibility to transport the magnet or communicated to Nationwide that it was brokering the shipment of the magnet to a third party. The court applied the holding in Werner Enterprises, Inc. v. Westwind Maritime International, Inc., 554 F.3d 1319 (11th Cir. 2009), to this case, and held that Landstar was entitled to rely on the Broker-Carrier Agreement's (BCA) limitation of liability, because the BCA satisfied the Carmack Amendment's requirements. In this case, Landstar was entitled to the $1.00 per pound liability limitation in the bill of lading. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Essex Insurance Co. v. Barrett Moving & Storage, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against a sheriff's deputy for improperly accessing and viewing her private information on Florida driver's license databases. The district court granted plaintiff's motion for judgment as a matter of law and held the deputy liable under the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the liquidated damages award where the district court did not abuse its discretion in shaping a damages award appropriate for the facts of this case. The court held, however, that the district court failed to start with the lodestar and gave too much weight to the eighth Johnson factor (the amount involved and the results obtained). Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for the district court to recalculate an appropriate amount of attorneys' fees. View "Ela v. Destefano" on Justia Law