Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Canadian Pacific filed a federal suit, alleging state-law claims under the court’s diversity jurisdiction. Its suit centered on a trackage rights agreement—a contract governing one railroad’s use of another’s tracks—that the Indiana Harbor had signed with its majority shareholders at a price that Canadian Pacific, which owns 49% of Indiana Harbor, alleged was detrimental to Indiana Harbor’s profitability.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Surface Transportation Board (STB) has exclusive authority to regulate trackage rights agreements, or to exempt such agreements from its approval process, and had exempted Indiana Harbor’s agreement; 49 U.S.C. 11321(a) provides that “[a] rail carrier, corporation, or person participating in … [an] exempted transaction is exempt from the antitrust laws and all other law, including State and municipal law, as necessary to let that rail carrier, corporation, or person carry out the transaction.” Canadian Pacific did not contest that section 11321(a) preempted the claims. View "Soo Line Railroad Co. v. Consolidated Rail Corp." on Justia Law

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At about 2:10 a.m., LeDure reported to a Salem, Illinois rail yard to assemble a train for a trip. While on the exterior walkway of a locomotive in order to tag it, LeDure slipped and fell down its steps. LeDure got up and proceeded to power down and tag the locomotive. He returned to where he fell and, using a flashlight, bent down to identify a “slick” substance. LeDure reported the incident to his supervisor. He gave a written statement. Union Pacific conducted an inspection and reported cleaning a “small amount of oil” on the walkway. LeDure sued Union Pacific for negligence. He alleged violations of the Locomotive Inspection Act and the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, arguing that Union Pacific failed to maintain the walkway free of hazards. The district court dismissed LeDure’s claims with prejudice. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Locomotive Inspection Act is inapplicable since the locomotive was not “in use” during the incident. LeDure’s injuries were not reasonably foreseeable because they resulted from a small “slick spot” unknown to Union Pacific. There is no evidence that an earlier inspection would have cured the hazard. View "LeDure v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Hughes bought a ticket from Southwest to fly to Chicago. Just before the flight was to board, Southwest canceled it. Hughes, who chose an alternate flight through Omaha, claims that the cancellation was because Southwest ran out of de-icer and that no other airlines had a similar problem. He claims he incurred additional costs for lodging and similar expenses. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his breach of contract claim. There was no breach; the contract allows the airline to cancel and either reschedule the passenger or refund the fare. There is no implied duty to avoid cancellation. View "Brian Hughes v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law

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The Uber ride-sharing service does not own or select its drivers’ vehicles; its app presents riders with options, including sedans, premium cars, or SUVs. Customers restricted to motorized wheelchairs need wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) equipped with ramps and lifts. Uber’s app offers that option. Access Living is a Chicago‐based nonprofit organization that advances the civil rights of people with disabilities; 14 percent of the organization’s staff and 20 percent of its board members are motorized wheelchair users. The district court dismissed claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12181(7)(F), alleging that Uber, as a travel service/public accommodation, discriminates against people with disabilities by failing to ensure equal access to WAVs because Uber fails to ensure the availability of enough drivers with WAVs, but outsources most requests for wheelchair accessible rides to local taxi companies. As a result, plaintiffs claimed, motorized wheelchair users experience longer wait times and higher prices than other Uber customers.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The alleged harm to the Access Living organization comes only indirectly in the form of increased reimbursement costs. An individual plaintiff has never downloaded Uber’s app, attempted to request a ride, or learned about the response times he would personally experience. View "Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Stampley, the owner-operator of a tractor-trailer, provided hauling services for Altom. Altom agreed to pay Stampley 70% of the gross revenues that it collected for each load he hauled and to give Stampley a copy of the “rated freight bill” or a “computer-generated document with the same information” to prove that it had properly paid Stampley. The contract granted Stampley the right to examine any underlying documents used to create a computer-generated document and required him to bring any dispute regarding his pay within 30 days. Years after he hauled his last Altom load, Stampley filed a putative class action, alleging that Altom had shortchanged him and similarly situated drivers. The district court certified a class and held that Altom’s withholdings had violated the contract. Stampley had moved for summary judgment on the 30-day provision before the class received notice. The court subsequently denied Stampley’s motion for summary judgment, decertified the class, granted Altom summary judgment, and held that Stampley’s individual claims were barred.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion in finding Stampley an inadequate class representative and decertifying the class. The court found that the 30-day period began to run as soon as Stampley received any computer-generated document purporting to have the same information as the rated freight bill, necessarily including those that lacked the same information as the rated freight bill. View "Stampley v. Altom Transport, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Railroad sent Abernathy and Probus to repair a railroad crossing, which required them to transport ties several miles. The Railroad had a “tie crane,” which runs on the railroad tracks but it had been inoperable for years. The employees had two options: a backhoe or a pickup truck, traveling on public roads. Abernathy drove the backhoe. Probus drove the pickup, with the tools. Two ties fell out of the backhoe’s bucket. Abernathy stopped to lift the ties back into the bucket, injuring his back and smashing a finger. Despite the accident, the men finished the job. The following morning, Abernathy reported the injury. Abernathy worked through the pain on lighter duty for a year but was unable to return to his regular work. The Railroad terminated his employment. He had physical therapy, epidural injections, and surgery but continued to experience pain. At the time of trial, his surgeon had not cleared him for any type of work. Abernathy sued under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C 51. A jury found that Abernathy was 30 percent at fault and awarded a net amount, $525,000. The court awarded Abernathy prevailing party costs but declined to award witness fees above the statutory amount. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The jury could reasonably find that the Railroad did not provide Abernathy with appropriate equipment and that his working environment was not reasonably safe; a reasonable person in the Railroad’s position could have foreseen that transporting ties in a backhoe or pickup could lead to injury. There was sufficient evidence that the Railroad’s negligence played a part in causing Abernathy’s injury. View "Abernathy v. Eastern Illinois Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Chapter 70 of the Wisconsin Tax Code governs the taxation of manufacturing and commercial companies aside from railroads and utilities. Chapter 76 governs the taxation of railroads and utilities, including air carriers, pipeline companies, and water conservation and regulation companies. The Code contains exemptions from the general property tax, including an exemption for “all intangible personal property,” which covers custom computer software. Manufacturing and commercial taxpayers generally qualify for the intangible personal property exemption; railroads and utilities do not and are the only taxpayers that Wisconsin requires to pay taxes on intangible property, including custom software. Union Pacific claimed the value of its custom software as exempt. The Department of Revenue audited Union Pacific and concluded that for the years 2014 and 2015, it owed $2,631,104.77 in back taxes and interest after disallowing that deduction. Union Pacific filed suit, arguing that the tax singles out railroads as part of an isolated and targeted group in violation of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976, 49 U.S.C. 11501(b)(4). The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Union Pacific. The intangible property tax exempts everyone except for an isolated and targeted group of which railroads are a part. View "Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Wisconsin Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, before obtaining any fingerprint, a “private entity” must provide the subject or “the subject’s legally authorized representative” with certain written information and obtain the consent of the subject or authorized representative, 740 ILCS 14/15(b). The private entity must make available to the public a protocol for retaining and handling biometric data and follow rules regarding the destruction of the data. Private entities must protect biometric information from disclosure. Both Southwest and United Airlines maintain timekeeping systems that require workers to clock in and out with their fingerprints. Plaintiffs contend that the airlines implemented these systems in violation of the Act. The airlines contend that the plaintiffs’ unions consented. Plaintiffs argued that a judge should resolve their contentions. The airlines claimed that resolution belongs to an adjustment board under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. 151–88, which applies to air carriers. The Seventh Circuit held that dispute about the interpretation or administration of a collective bargaining agreement must be resolved by an adjustment board under the RLA. Unions in the air transportation business are the workers’ exclusive bargaining agents. Illinois cannot and did not remove a topic from the union’s purview. Its statute provides that a worker or an authorized agent may receive necessary notices and provide consent. Whether the unions did consent or grant authority through a management-rights clause, is a question for an adjustment board. View "Miller v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law

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Williams, age 17, was struck by a train while he and his friends were running away from a police officer. He sued the railway. The district court held, on summary judgment, that Williams was barred from recovery by Indiana law because he was more than 50% at fault for the accident. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Indiana Comparative Fault Act bars recovery in actions based on fault if the claimant’s fault exceeds 50% of the total fault, IND. CODE 34-51-2. No fact-finder could reasonably conclude that Williams bore 50% or less of the relative fault. Video evidence plainly shows that the train’s horn and bells were sounding and that its lights were on. The gate was down, with lights that faced the young men, and those lights were flashing. View "Williams v. Norfolk Southern Corp." on Justia Law

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Ruark was working for Union Pacific, using a hydraulic rail drill. Ruark was involved connecting the drill to the hydraulic lines and used the machine to drill several holes without noticing any leaking fluid or other malfunction. As he drilled the last hole, Ruark reached down to turn the drill off. Hot fluid sprayed over him, including in his eyes. Ruark declined medical attention. The supervisor sent him home to clean up. Ruark returned the following day, but did not do much work, because, he claims, “it hurt too bad.” Ruark saw his regular nurse practitioner the next day, for “sinus and stomach problems.” Ruark did not return to work because he was convicted of a felony unrelated to the accident. Ruark sued under the Federal Employers Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51-60. Ruark’s prison sentence interrupted his trial preparation. The judge denied a motion for a continuance because the case had been pending for almost three years, Ruark had been well represented by his initial counsel, and Ruark's incarceration did not justify reopening exhausted deadlines and allowing Ruark to begin discovery anew. The judge allowed Ruark’s trial testimony by video deposition and deposition of Ruark’s treating physician. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of Ruark’s theory of negligence based on res ipsa loquitur. That doctrine requires that the defendant was in control of the instrumentality that caused the injury and that the plaintiff was not also negligent; those conditions were not met. A jury could not assume that “the matter spoke for itself.” The court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to grant a continuance. View "Ruark v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law