Justia Transportation Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
JOHEL VALIENTE, ET AL V. SWIFT TRANSP. CO. OF ARIZ.
In 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) decided to preempt California’s MRB rules with respect to truck drivers subject to federal regulations. Swift Transportation (Plaintiffs) argued that the presumption against retroactive application of laws operates here to allow their lawsuit to proceed despite the FMSCA’s preemption of California’s meal and rest break (MRB) rules. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Swift Transportation Co. of Arizona, LLC in a class action brought by former hourly truck drivers for (“Plaintiffs”) alleging violations of California’s MRB rules and derivative state-law claims. The panel applied the retroactivity test set forth in Landgraf v. USI FilmProducts, 511 U.S. 244, 263-64, 280 (1994). Under step one of the twostep test, the panel held that because Congress clearly intended for the FMSCA to have the power to halt enforcement of state laws, and because the FMSCA intended for this particular preemption determination to apply to pending lawsuits, the FMSCA’s decision prohibits present enforcement of California’s MRB rules regardless of when the underlying conduct occurred. The panel held that it need not reach the second step of the Landgraf analysis. View "JOHEL VALIENTE, ET AL V. SWIFT TRANSP. CO. OF ARIZ." on Justia Law
USA V. FOREST KIRST
Defendant crashed his plane when he attempted to fly over Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range in Alaska. During both the investigation and Defendant’s appeal of the revocation of his airman certificate, Defendant claimed that the plane was climbing through 5,500 to 5,700 feet with a target altitude of 6,000 feet as it approached the pass. GPS data showed that the plane was flying at an altitude more than 1,000 feet lower than what Defendant claimed. The proceeding in Count One was the NTSB investigation. The proceeding in Count Two was the appeal before the NTSB of the FAA’s revocation of his airman certificate. Challenging his conviction on Count One, Defendant argued that the NTSB’s accident investigation was not a pending “proceeding” within the meaning of Section 1505. The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction on two counts of obstructing a pending proceeding and affirmed the district court’s assessment of a $5,000 fine. The panel wrote that even if it were not reviewing for plain error, it would affirm, holding that the NTSB’s investigation of Defendant’s plane crash was a “proceeding” within the meaning of Section 1505. The panel held that the district court did not err in instructing the jury on the materiality element. The panel held that the district court did not commit clear error in finding Defendant able to pay the $5,000 fine, as there was no evidence before the district court showing that Defendant was unable to pay the fine, or was likely become unable to pay it. View "USA V. FOREST KIRST" on Justia Law
BNSF Railway Co. v. Friends of the Columbia River Gorge
BNSF Railway sought a declaration that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (ICCTA) preempts Clark County, Washington’s permitting process. Clark County asserted that BNSF needed to obtain a permit for a project to upgrade an existing track and construct a second track in the Columbia River Gorge.The Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of BNSF. Under the ICCTA, the Surface Transportation Board has exclusive jurisdiction over rail carriers and track construction. If an apparent conflict exists between the ICCTA and a federal statute, then the courts must strive to harmonize the two laws, giving effect to both if possible. The court rejected an argument that the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act is such a federal statute. The Gorge Act does not establish national environmental standards but provides a framework for a commission of state-appointed officials to adopt a management plan and implement it through county land use ordinances. The Columbia River Gorge Commission retains final say over the approval and enforcement of the management plan and local county ordinances; enforcement actions may be brought in state court. The Gorge Act is not comparable to federal environmental laws and nothing in the Gorge Act indicates that the local ordinances otherwise have the force and effect of federal law. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. Friends of the Columbia River Gorge" on Justia Law
Romero v. Watkins & Shepard Trucking, Inc.
Romero, a truck driver employed by Watkins, an interstate trucking business, made deliveries only to retail stores in California. To complete paperwork and training, Romero periodically logged in to an online portal that required a unique employee identification number and password. Romero’s unique user account completed a set of “Associate Acknowledgements,” through which he clicked “I Agree,” signifying that he read and agreed to the Arbitration Policy, a stand-alone agreement that purports to waive any right to bring or participate in a class action; it states that the agreement is “governed by the Federal Arbitration Act,” and purports to waive "any provision of the FAA which would otherwise exclude [the agreement] from its coverage.” However, if "this [agreement] and/or its Waiver Provisions are not subject to and governed by the FAA, then the laws of the State of Nevada . . . will be the applicable state law.” The Arbitration Policy was not a condition of employment. Romero did not opt-out. In August 2019, Watkins announced it would cease operations. Romero and other employees were laid off.Romero filed a putative class action under the California and federal WARN Acts, 29 U.S.C. 2101, which require advance notice to employees before being laid off. The district court granted a motion to compel arbitration. The NInth Circuit affirmed, while noting that the Federal FAA exemption of employment contracts for transportation workers applies and cannot be waived by private contract. View "Romero v. Watkins & Shepard Trucking, Inc." on Justia Law
BNSF Railway Co. v. County of Alameda
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's preliminary injunction in favor of BNSF in an action brought by BNSF, alleging that several California counties are taxing railroad property at a higher rate than the rate applicable to commercial and industrial property in the same assessment jurisdiction, in violation of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976, 49 U.S.C. 11501(b)(3).As a preliminary matter, the panel held that the district court had jurisdiction over the action under section 11501(c), and the panel has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1292(a). The panel concluded that the district court applied the correct preliminary injunction standard under section 11501, which does not require courts to consider traditional equitable factors. Rather, binding circuit precedent establishes that a railroad is entitled to a preliminary injunction if its evidence demonstrates reasonable cause to believe that a violation of section 11501 has been, or is about to be committed. The panel also concluded that the district court properly analyzed BNSF's tax rate under the Trailer Train framework, and concluded that the counties were overtaxing BNSF's property in violation of section 11501(b)(3). The court suggested, as proceedings continue, that the district court consider in the first instance whether the State or the county is the proper assessment jurisdiction. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. County of Alameda" on Justia Law
Estate of Finnigan v. United States
In 1958, the Northern Pacific Railroad physically abandoned the 20-mile segment outside of Noxon, Montana. Part of that segment runs through the Finnigan property, which is entirely within the boundaries of the Kanisku National Forest. Several landowners along the right of way sought a judicial decree of abandonment and ultimately gained title to their respective segments of the abandoned railway. The Finnigan property’s then-owner did not seek a judicial decree of abandonment. In 2018, the Finnigan Estate brought suit to quiet its title to the right of way across its property. The district court rejected the action on summary judgment.The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Northern Pacific stopped using the segment in 1958, but the railway was not formally declared abandoned before the 1988 enactment of the Rails-to-Trails Act, 6 U.S.C. 1248(c), so the United States retained its reversionary interest in the land. The Act provides that title “shall remain” with the U.S. for railroad rights-of-way abandoned after October 4, 1988, except to the extent that the right of way was converted to a public highway. To transfer rights-of-way to neighboring landowners, abandonment requires both physical abandonment and a judicial decree of abandonment. The judicial-decree requirement was not met when another parcel in the segment obtained a judicial decree of abandonment that did not cover the Finnigan property. View "Estate of Finnigan v. United States" on Justia Law
Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers v. Federal Railroad Administration
In 2016, the FRA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing a national minimum requirement of two crew members for trains. In 2019, the FRA issued an order purporting to adopt a nationwide maximum one-person crew rule and to preempt "any state laws concerning that subject matter." Two Unions and three states petitioned for review of the Order under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).As a preliminary matter, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the Unions' petition because venue was not proper under 28 U.S.C. 2343. The panel explained that the Unions' principal officers were not in the Ninth Circuit. The panel concluded that it had jurisdiction over the States' petitions because they were sufficiently aggrieved to invoke jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 2344. On the merits, the panel held that the FRA's Order does not implicitly preempt state safety rules, that the FRA failed to comply with the APA's notice-and-comment provisions in issuing the Order, and that the order is arbitrary and capricious. The panel explained that the Order's basis for its action did not withstand scrutiny, and the FRA's contemporaneous explanation was lacking. In this case, the States met their burden of showing that the issuance of the Order violated the APA. Accordingly, the panel dismissed the petition for review but granted the States' petitions, vacating the Order. View "Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers v. Federal Railroad Administration" on Justia Law
International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
The Ninth Circuit denied petitions for review of the FMCSA's determination that federal law preempted California’s meal and rest break rules (MRB rules), as applied to drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles who are subject to the FMCSA's own rest break regulations.The panel held that the agency's decision reflects a permissible interpretation of the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 and is not arbitrary or capricious. Applying Chevron deference to the agency's interpretation of the statute and the phrase "on commercial motor vehicle safety," the panel held that even assuming petitioners identified a potential ambiguity in the statute, the agency's reading was a permissible one. In this case, the FMCSA reasonably determined that a State law "on commercial motor vehicle safety" is one that "imposes requirements in an area of regulation that is already addressed by a regulation promulgated under [section] 31136." Furthermore, the FMCSA's 2018 preemption decision also reasonably relied on Congress's stated interest in uniformity of regulation.The panel concluded that the FMCSA permissibly determined that California's MRB rules were State regulations "on commercial motor vehicle safety," so that they were within the agency's preemption authority. The panel also concluded that the FMCSA faithfully interpreted California law in finding that California's rules were "additional to or more stringent than" federal regulations. Finally, the panel concluded that the agency did not act arbitrarily or capriciously in finding that enforcement of the MRB rules "would cause an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce." View "International Brotherhood of Teamsters v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration" on Justia Law
Miller v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.
After plaintiff suffered serious injuries when he was struck by a semi-tractor trailer, he filed suit against C.H. Robinson, the freight broker that arranged for the trailer to transport goods for Costco. Plaintiff alleged that C.H. Robinson negligently selected an unsafe motor carrier.The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that plaintiff's claim is "related to" C.H. Robinson's services, but held that the district court erred in determining that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994's (FAAAA) safety exception does not apply. The panel explained that, in enacting that exception, Congress intended to preserve the States’ broad power over safety, a power that includes the ability to regulate conduct not only through legislative and administrative enactments, but also though common-law damages awards. The panel also held that plaintiff's claim has the requisite "connection with" motor vehicles because it arises out of a motor vehicle accident. Therefore, the negligence claims against brokers, to the extent that they arise out of motor vehicle accidents, have the requisite "connection with" motor vehicles, and thus the safety exception applies to plaintiff's claims against C.H. Robinson. The panel reversed and remanded. View "Miller v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc." on Justia Law
Grice v. United States District Court for the Central District of California
Uber’s smartphone application connects riders needing transportation with available local drivers. Rideshare fares are charged automatically via the Uber App, with Uber withholding a percentage as a “service fee.” Grice, an Alabama Uber driver, has used the Uber App since 2016 to provide rideshare services to and from Huntsville International Airport and Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Uber had agreements with these airports to allow Uber drivers to pick up arriving passengers. Grice, in the course of his work, never crosses state lines. Grice filed a putative class action lawsuit, alleging that Uber failed to safeguard drivers’ and riders’ personal information and mishandled a data security breach in which that information was stolen by online hackers. Uber moved to compel arbitration, citing the Technology Services Agreement that Grice and other drivers signed, requiring arbitration of “any disputes . . . arising out of or related to [the driver’s] relationship” with Uber and prohibiting arbitration “on a class, collective action, or representative basis.” Grice responded that he drives passengers who are engaged in interstate travel to and from airports and qualified for the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 1 exemption for workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.The district court compelled arbitration. The Ninth Circuit denied a petition for a writ of mandamus seeking to vacate the order The district court’s decision was not clearly erroneous as a matter of law, as required for granting a writ of mandamus. View "Grice v. United States District Court for the Central District of California" on Justia Law