Justia Transportation Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Ziparo v. CSX Transportation, Inc.
Plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, CSX, for unlawful retaliation under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), alleging that he was terminated because he engaged in protected activity by "reporting, in good faith, a hazardous safety or security condition."The Second Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of CSX, concluding that the district court erred in determining that plaintiff's belief that the subject of his report – pressure from supervisors to make false entries in work reports causing employees undue stress and distraction from their duties – concerned a "hazardous safety or security condition" was objectively unreasonable. Rather, the court concluded that the FRSA's protection of reports made "in good faith" requires only that the reporting employee subjectively believe that the matter being reported constitutes a hazardous safety or security condition, regardless of whether that belief is objectively reasonable. The district court also erred in determining that, in any event, only physical conditions subject to the railroad's control could constitute such a condition. The court explained that the statutory text suggests no reason to confine the meaning of "hazardous safety or security condition" to encompass only physical conditions. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Ziparo v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law
Tompkins v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co.
Plaintiff, a carman for Metro-North, filed suit under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, alleging unlawful retaliation for his refusal to walk outdoors to another building in the railyard in allegedly unsafe winter conditions or, in the alternative, for his reporting those unsafe conditions to a foreman.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of Metro-North's motion for summary judgment, holding that the district court did not commit reversible error. The court adopted the "reasonableness" definition in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act context, which means that a "reasonable belief contains both subjective and objective components," and applied it in the FRSA context. The court agreed with Metro-North and the district court that plaintiff has not identified a genuine dispute of material fact over whether the walkways were safe or over the reasonableness of his own assessment. In this case, plaintiff did not submit any specific evidence to support his generalized contention that the walkways at the railyard were unsafe, other than to assert that other employees slipped as they walked. The court concluded that plaintiff's subjective assessment alone cannot create a genuine issue of material fact.The court agreed with the Seventh and Eighth Circuits and held that some evidence of retaliatory intent is a necessary component of an FRSA claim. The court considered the Eighth Circuit's Gunderson factors and concluded that plaintiff's protected activity was not a contributing factor in his discharge. Finally, the court considered plaintiff's remaining arguments and found them to be without merit. View "Tompkins v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co." on Justia Law
New York v. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The Second Circuit granted a petition for review of the NHTSA's final rule, which reversed the agency's 2016 increase to the base rate of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) penalty. The court held that the CAFE penalty is a civil monetary penalty under the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act. Consequently, NHTSA did not act in accordance with law when it reached the contrary conclusion in its 2019 Final Rule and reversed its initial catch-up inflation adjustment.The court also held that the NHTSA's reconsideration of the economic effects of its initial rule was untimely and therefore unauthorized. In this case, the Improvements Act provided a limited window of time for NHTSA to reduce the initial catch-up inflation adjustment to the CAFE penalty based on a conclusion that the increase would have a negative economic impact. However, by 2019, that window had closed and the agency acted in excess of its authority when it reconsidered and reversed its prior increase of the CAFE penalty based on an assessment of economic consequences. Accordingly, the court vacated the rule. View "New York v. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration" on Justia Law
Lockhart v. MTA Long Island Railroad
The Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) does not prevent employers from requesting reasonable documentation to assure themselves that employees' absences are legitimate. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of MTA's motion for summary judgment and dismissal of plaintiff's claims for failure to establish a prima facie case of retaliation under the FRSA. Plaintiff, a locomotive engineer, alleged that MTA was liable for disciplinary action against him when he failed to report to work while under the influence of a prescribed narcotic.The court held that there was no reason to conclude that the FRSA precludes employers from implementing standard policies reasonably designed to verify employees' appropriate use of medical leave. In this case, plaintiff failed to demonstrate that his absences, when unaccompanied by SLA-28 forms, were protected activity, as directly required by element (i), and indirectly by (ii) and (iv). View "Lockhart v. MTA Long Island Railroad" on Justia Law
Vugo, Inc. v. City of New York
The Second Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the City's motion for summary judgment in an action challenging the City's rules banning advertisements in for-hire vehicles (FHVs) absent authorization from the Taxi and Limousine Commission. The district court concluded that the City's rules banning advertisements in for‐hire passenger vehicles, such as Ubers and Lyfts, violate the First Amendment, primarily because the City permits certain advertising in taxicabs.The court held that the City's prohibition on advertising in FHVs did not violate the First Amendment under the Central Hudson test. In this case, the City's asserted interest in improving the overall passenger experience is substantial, the prohibition "directly advances" that interest, and the prohibition was no more extensive than necessary to serve that interest. The court held that the City's determination that banning ads altogether is the most effective approach was reasonable. View "Vugo, Inc. v. City of New York" on Justia Law
Vermont Railway, Inc. v. Town of Shelburne
The town appealed the district court's grant of a permanent injunction barring it from enforcing an ordinance regulating hazardous substances and certain zoning bylaws against Vermont Railway in connection with the railway's road salt transloading facility.The Second Circuit affirmed and held that the ordinance did not meet the "police powers" exception to preemption by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), because the ordinance imposed on rail activity restrictions that did not meaningfully protect public health and safety. Therefore, the ordinance was preempted by the ICCTA. The court held that, to the extent the town challenged the district court's ruling that the railway's activities did not constitute "transportation by rail carrier," the challenge was dismissed based on lack of jurisdiction. View "Vermont Railway, Inc. v. Town of Shelburne" on Justia Law
Natural Resources Defense Council v. National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.
The Second Circuit granted consolidated petitions for review of a final rule published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indefinitely delaying a previously published rule increasing civil penalties for noncompliance with Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. The court held that the agency lacked statutory authority to indefinitely delay the effective date of the rule. Furthermore, the agency, in promulgating the rule, failed to comply with the requirements of notice and comment rulemaking pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act. Accordingly, the court vacated the rule. View "Natural Resources Defense Council v. National Highway Traffic Safety Admin." on Justia Law
American Trucking Ass’ns, Inc. v. N.Y. State Thruway Authority
The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a claim alleging that the New York State Thruway Authority violated the Dormant Commerce Clause when it used surplus revenue from highway tolls to fund the State of New York's canal system. The court held that Congress evinced an "unmistakably clear" intent to authorize the Thruway Authority to depart from the strictures of the Dormant Commerce Clause by allocating surplus highway toll revenues to New York's Canal System. The court explained that Congress placed no limits on the amount of such surplus highway toll revenue that the Thruway Authority could allocate to the Canal System. Finally, the court held that the district court had discretion to reach the merits of the Thruway Authority's defense that Congress had authorized it to devote surplus highway toll revenues to the Canal System. View "American Trucking Ass'ns, Inc. v. N.Y. State Thruway Authority" on Justia Law