Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The case involves MCR Oil Tools, L.L.C., who filed a petition for review against the United States Department of Transportation, its Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and William S. Schoonover in his official capacity as Associate Administrator of Hazardous Materials Safety. The petition was filed in response to an order from the Department of Transportation.The case was brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Prior to this, the case had been reviewed by the Department of Transportation, but the details of the lower court's proceedings and decisions are not provided in the document.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted the petition for review. The court decided to expedite the matter to the next available randomly designated regular oral argument panel. Additionally, the court ruled that the motions for stay pending review and for administrative stay should be decided by the argument panel. The court carried these motions with the case, consistent with their panel practice. However, the court did not express any opinion on the disposition of these motions. View "MCR Oil Tools v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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In this case, Glen Pace, a Mississippi resident, appealed the dismissal of his claims against multiple corporate defendants over personal injuries he suffered in a Texas airplane crash. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi dismissed the claims against the out-of-state defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction and held that the two Mississippi defendants were improperly joined, which allowed removal to federal court.Upon review, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The appellate court agreed that Pace failed to state a claim against either in-state defendant, and thus, they were improperly joined. As for the out-of-state defendants, the court found that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over them. The court reasoned that the aircraft crash, any equipment failure, and the injuries all occurred in Texas, and Pace's subsequent medical treatment and damages in Mississippi did not constitute an actual injury felt in the state for the purpose of establishing personal jurisdiction. The court held that Pace's injuries from the crash occurred in Texas and his subsequent medical treatment in Mississippi were "consequences stemming from the actual tort injury," which do not confer personal jurisdiction.The court also denied Pace's request for jurisdictional discovery, stating that Pace failed to present specific facts or reasonable particularity regarding jurisdictional facts. The court stressed that its decision should not be interpreted as implying a view on the merits of Pace’s claims. View "Pace v. Cirrus Design Corp" on Justia Law

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The Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport is a major airport located in Jackson, Mississippi. Since 1960, the airport has been operated by the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority, whose five commissioners are selected by the city government. In 2016, the Mississippi legislature passed, and the governor signed into law SB 2162, which abolishes the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority and replaces it with a regional authority composed of nine commissioners, only two of whom are selected by Jackson city government.   A Jackson citizen filed a suit seeking to enjoin the law. The mayor, the city council, the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority, its board of commissioners, and the commissioners in their individual capacities intervened in that lawsuit. The intervenors contend that SB 2162 violates the Equal Protection rights of the citizens of Jackson by eliminating the locally controlled Jackson Municipal Airport Authority for racially discriminatory reasons. The intervenors served subpoenas on eight nonparty state legislators who participated in SB 2162’s drafting and passage. The Legislators refused to comply with Request #3 in the subpoena, which sought documents and communications related to SB 2162, asserting that any responsive discovery would either be irrelevant or protected by legislative privilege. The magistrate judge, and later the district court, rejected this position.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in ordering the Legislators to produce a privilege log. But the district court erred in broadly holding that legislative privilege was automatically waived for any documents that have been shared with third parties. View "Jackson Muni Airport v. Harkins" on Justia Law

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Two years after an unfortunate single-boat accident, one of the boat’s two occupants died as a result of his injuries. The boat in which he was a passenger had struck a warning sign that was totally submerged at the time of the allision between the boat and sign. His estate and survivors sued the companies responsible for the sign in question. The district court granted summary judgment to the Defendants on the ground that the incident occurred on water governed by Louisiana law rather than federal. The parties agree that if Louisiana law governs, the claims are barred. At issue in this appeal is whether or not the allision occurred in “navigable” waters such that federal law governs.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the allision occurred on non-navigable waters. The first ground on which the Plaintiffs claim that the allision took place on navigable water is that the “navigational servitude” for the Refuge is alleged to be 65 feet above the mean sea level (“MSL”). The court explained that the parties agree that the Corps has not in fact permanently flooded the refuge; the water may not be said to be navigable under this theory. Further, the unvegetated channel establishes the ordinary high-water mark of the Bayou; water outside of that channel is not navigable. Finally, the court held that Plaintiffs here fail to present even slight evidence concerning a commercial purpose for the channel in question. View "Newbold v. Kinder Morgan SNG Operator" on Justia Law

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BNSF Railway Co. (“BNSF”) petitions for review, contending that the refusal of the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”) to grant a waiver of standard track-inspection regulations so that BNSF could test a new technology was arbitrary and capricious.   The Fifth Circuit granted review, vacated, and remanded for reconsideration. The court explained that “Agency action must be reasonable and reasonably explained.” The agency must “articulate a satisfactory explanation for its action, including a rational connection between the facts found and the choice made. Here, the court found that the FRA’s letter lacking in this regard. Therefore, on limited remand, the court directed the FRA to enter its decision no later than one hundred days from the announcement of the court’s opinion. View "BNSF Railway v. FRA" on Justia Law

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Union Pacific Railroad Company (“Union Pacific”) sought to end its operations in Palestine, Texas but has been unable to do so because of a 1954 Agreement between its predecessor and Defendants City of Palestine (“Palestine”) and Anderson County, Texas (“Anderson County”) has prevented it from leaving.   Union Pacific filed a motion for summary judgment, which the district court granted, holding that the 1954 Agreement was expressly and impliedly preempted. After the district court entered judgment, Palestine and Anderson County filed suit in Texas state court seeking to enforce the 1955 Judgment which had approved the 1954 Agreement.   Defendants appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for Union Pacific and the denials of their motion to dismiss for failure to join a necessary party, motion for judgment on the pleadings, and cross-motion for summary judgment.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling granting summary judgment for Union Pacific after determining that federal law preempts the statutorily mandated contractual agreements between the parties, both expressly and as applied. The court explained that there is no requirement for contemporaneous movement of property related to the rails for the regulation to be preempted. If the facilities or services—in any non-incidental way—relate to the movement of property by rail, they are preempted by the ICCTA.  Further, the court held that the district court properly determined that the Anti-Injunction Act does not bar Union Pacific from seeking declaratory relief. View "Union Pac. RR v. City of Palestine" on Justia Law

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Defendant, Union Pacific, is a national rail carrier. Plaintiff, The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen ("BLET"), is a labor union representing Union Pacific engineers. Division 192 is the exclusive representative for Union Pacific employees around the area. An issue arose when an off-duty fistfight broke out during a union meeting between local division officers and an engineer. About two months after the fight, the engineer filed a complaint with Union Pacific, alleging that was threatened and assaulted by local division representatives in retaliation for taking extra shifts. The suspension of six union members effectively barred all of Division 192’s leadership from Union Pacific’s premises.BLET sued Union Pacific in federal court, alleging Union Pacific retaliated against the union for its shove policy. BLET argued the retaliation violated the section of the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”) prohibiting carrier interference with union activity.The court first found that federal courts have jurisdiction over post-certification disputes alleging that railroad conduct motivated by antiunion animus is interfering with the employees’ “choice of representatives.” Next, the court found that the facts support the determination that the union was likely to succeed in showing that the discipline was motivated by a desire to weaken the local division. Thus, the court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the union is likely to prevail in showing that Union Pacific’s suspension of effectively all the division’s elected representatives amounted to the prohibited interference under the RLA. View "BLET v. Union Pacific Railroad" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of Vertafore's motion to dismiss in an action brought by plaintiffs, Texas driver's license holders, alleging claims under the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) after Vertafore announced that unauthorized users had gained access to personal information protected by the statute that Vertafore had stored on unsecured external servers. Vertafore argued that plaintiffs failed to allege both that the company acted with an impermissible purpose and that the company made a knowing disclosure. The court concluded that plaintiffs have not alleged a disclosure within the meaning of the DPPA, and thus the court need not reach the issue of whether plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that Vertafore acted knowingly and with an impermissible purpose. View "Allen v. Vertafore, Inc." on Justia Law

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After plaintiff, who was employed by Hulcher Services, lost several fingers at work in an accident at the railyard, he filed suit against Norfolk, the railyard owner, under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA).The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Norfolk, concluding that plaintiff failed to show that he was an employee of Norfolk and thus he could not recover under FELA. The court explained that plaintiff failed to show that Norfolk controlled the performance of his work or retained the right to do so. View "Wheeler v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Union Pacific in an action alleging that the company negligently contributed to a fatal railroad collision. In this case, the trucks in front of a caravan had left insufficient room for the last truck to clear the Oil & Gas Crossing. The last truck stopped on the tracks where, seconds later, a Union Pacific train collided with it, killing all three individuals inside.The court found plaintiffs' claim that Union Pacific breached a duty to provide adequate visual warning devices at the Oil & Gas Crossing unpersuasive; the Crossing was not a "dangerous trap;" and, although a jury could reasonably conclude that Union Pacific had a duty to plaintiffs to protect against the unique hazard presented by the Crossing, plaintiffs have failed to show why the signs Union Pacific installed were insufficient to fulfill this duty. The court also held that plaintiffs' claims that Union Pacific was negligent in operating the locomotive horn was either preempted by federal law or otherwise unsupported by sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment. View "Ryder v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law