Justia Transportation Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
National Wildlife Federation v. United States Army Corps of Engineers
The Middle Mississippi is the 195-mile-long stretch from St. Louis, Missouri, where the Missouri River flows into the Mississippi, to Cairo, Illinois, where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi and doubles its flow. The 1910 Rivers and Harbors Act authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to construct permanent river training structures in the Middle Mississippi and perform supplemental dredging to maintain a channel sufficient for commercial traffic. The Corps has for decades built and maintained structures—dikes, jetties, and chevrons—along the Middle Mississippi to ensure that the channel is at least nine feet deep and 300 feet wide for commercial navigation. In 1976, under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Corps prepared an environmental impact statement (EIS) assessing the project's ecological impacts. In 2013, the Corps decided to supplement its 1976 EIS, based on newly designated threatened and endangered species, and new information on the effects of river training structures and dredging. In the final supplemental EIS and record of decision, the Corps chose the “Continue Construction Alternative.” Because the exact locations and types of future river training structures are unknown, the supplemental statement studied environmental impacts at a programmatic level and will perform site-specific environmental assessments before actually building additional river training structures.In a challenge brought by environmental groups, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the government, rejecting arguments that the supplemental EIS did not comply with the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, 121 Stat. 1041, or the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321. View "National Wildlife Federation v. United States Army Corps of Engineers" on Justia Law
Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Regional Transportation Authority
An Illinois state agency oversees Metra, a railroad with passenger service over lines radiating from Chicago. For three lines, Metra owns the rolling stock, while Union Pacific supplies the track, the workforce, and ticket sales. Ticket revenue goes to Metra, which pays UP for its services. UP notified Metra that it would discontinue its services. Metra replied that UP cannot drop the service unless relieved of its obligations by the Surface Transportation Board. Metra argued that UP is locked into its relationship with Metra because the 1995 ICC Termination Act repealed 49 U.S.C. 10908, 10909, the only statutes giving the Board authority over the discontinuation of passenger service. UP argued that the repeal deregulated passenger rail service so that railroads can end passenger service when business considerations dictate. Federal law requires the Board’s permission to abandon all service over a line of track but UP will continue freight service; the lines will not be abandoned.The district court declined to defer to the Board’s primary jurisdiction because the dispute does not require any findings of fact by an agency. The Board agreed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in favor of UP. The controlling contract has long expired. Any reduction in service, therefore, depends on “compliance with all applicable statutory and regulatory provisions.” To the extent that UP is a common carrier—rather than an independent contractor of Metra—it has unfettered authority to discontinue any service without the Board’s approval if it keeps the rails in place and continues running some trains. View "Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Regional Transportation Authority" on Justia Law
Ye v. GlobalTranz Enterprises, Inc.
Ye sought to recover against GlobalTranz, a freight broker, following the death of her husband in a highway accident. Ye claimed, under Illinois law, that GlobalTranz negligently hired the motor carrier (Sunrise) that employed the driver of the truck that caused the accident. Ye obtained a $10 million default judgment against Sunrise.The district court concluded that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act’s express preemption provision in 49 U.S.C. 14501(c)(1) bars Ye’s claim against GlobalTranz and that the Act’s safety exception in 14501(c)(2)(A) does not save the claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting the significant economic effects that would result from imposing state negligence standards on brokers. Congress broadly disallowed state laws that impede its deregulatory goals, with a specific carveout for laws within a state’s “safety regulatory authority." Ye’s negligent hiring claim against GlobalTranz falls within 14501(c)(1)’s express prohibition on the enforcement of state laws “related to a ... service of any ... broker ... with respect to the transportation of property.” Rejecting the "safety exception" claim, the court reasoned that a common law negligence claim enforced against a broker is not a law that is “with respect to motor vehicles." View "Ye v. GlobalTranz Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law
Jaranowski v. Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co.
Jaranowski worked as a conductor for the Railroad for 22 years. While operating a railroad switch in 2020, he seriously injured his neck. He sued the railroad under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51, alleging that he was injured because the railroad failed to maintain the switch properly. He accused the railroad of ordinary negligence and negligence per se based on alleged violations of Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Track Safety Standards, 49 C.F.R. 213. The district court concluded that Jaranowski had failed to present evidence that would support a finding that the railroad had actual or constructive notice of any defect in the switch before he was injured and granted the Railroad summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Actual or constructive notice is required to violate the federal Track Safety Standards, however, Jaranowski presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute as to whether the railroad at least should have known that the switch was defective before he was injured. A reasonable jury could accept Jaranowski’s account of the facts and the report of his expert, who examined the switch, to conclude that the Railroad’s prior inspection was performed without due care. View "Jaranowski v. Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Prime Insurance Co. v. Wright
Humphrey was a Riteway driver. His trips began in Illinois, often ending in another state. In 2013 Humphrey drove a truck to Indiana. After he delivered the freight, Riteway directed him to another site in Fort Wayne. While driving to the pickup site, Humphrey’s truck collided with Wright's car. After cooperating with the police, Humphrey picked up his load and delivered it to Illinois. Wright sued Riteway in Indiana state court and obtained a default judgment. Riteway's Prime Insurance policy contained an endorsement that provides payments to an injured party even when the insurer need not defend or indemnify its client. A federal court determined that Riteway had forfeited the benefit of Prime’s policy but reserved questions about whether Wright could recover under the endorsement. The Indiana judiciary declined to allow Prime to attack the default judgment.Prime sought a declaratory judgment that the endorsement did not apply. The endorsement applies to any judgment “resulting from negligence ... subject to the financial responsibility requirements of Sections 29 and 30 of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980.” Those statutes have been repealed but the parties stipulated that 49 U.S.C. 31139(b)(1) applies and provides that all motor freight transportation from a place in one state to a place in another is covered. The district court ordered Prime to pay. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Humphrey was engaged in interstate freight transportation under the statutory definition regardless of intent, whether a truck was carrying freight, or the “totality” of the circumstances. View "Prime Insurance Co. v. Wright" on Justia Law
Timothy Johnson v. Diakon Logistics, Inc.
Innovel hired Diakon to take furniture from warehouses to customers’ homes. Plaintiffs, two of Diakon's drivers, were citizens of Illinois who drove out of Innovel’s Illinois warehouses and made deliveries to customers in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. They signed “Service Agreements” that classify the drivers as independent contractors yet include detailed expectations for the drivers, covering uniforms, business cards, truck decals, and how to perform deliveries and installations. The Agreements select Virginia law to govern the parties’ relations and authorize Diakon to deduct fees and penalties from the drivers’ pay for truck rental fees, insurance, workers’ compensation coverage, damaged merchandise, and customers’ refused deliveries.Plaintiffs sued, alleging that Diakon misclassified them as independent contractors when they were employees under Illinois law. Illinois courts apply a three-part test to determine employee status, which is more likely to classify workers as employees than is Virginia law, which would treat the plaintiffs as contractors. The Illinois Wage Payment and Collections Act allows deductions from pay only if the employee consents in writing at the time of the deduction.The district judge certified a class but ruled in favor of Diakon. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The plaintiffs’ claims arise from their work in Illinois, not from their contracts. The Illinois Act governs payment for work in Illinois regardless of what state’s law governs other aspects of the parties' relations. View "Timothy Johnson v. Diakon Logistics, Inc." on Justia Law
Brousil v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Administrative Review Board
The Seventh Circuit denied Petitioner's petition for review of the judgment of the Department of Labor's Administrative Review Board (ARB) affirming an administrative law judge's (ALJ) determination that BNSF Railway Company had a valid same-action affirmative defense to Plaintiff's retaliation claim, holding that substantial evidence supported the decision.Plaintiff, a train engineer, brought an administrative complaint with the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) alleging that BNSF, his employer, violated the Federal Railroad Safety Act by retaliating against him for raising safety concerns and refusing to engage in unsafe practices. OSHA dismissed the complaint. A Department of Labor ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim based on the statutory same-action affirmative defense. The ARB affirmed. The Seventh Circuit denied review, holding that substantial evidence supported the ARB's decision that the same-action defense applied to BNSF's discipline of Plaintiff. View "Brousil v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, Administrative Review Board" on Justia Law
Wisconsin Central Ltd. v. Surface Transportation Board
Belt Railway, the largest switching and terminal railroad in the U.S., has more than 250 miles of track in its main yard south of Chicago’s Midway Airport. Jointly owned by six railroads—BNSF, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific—Belt dispatches more than 8,000 cars a day. Wisconsin Central (a Canadian National subsidiary) prefers to receive Soo Line (a Canadian Pacific subsidiary) traffic at Belt’s yard; Soo prefers the Spaulding yard, 25 miles to the west. The Surface Transportation Board ruled that Wisconsin Central cannot insist that Soo deliver to Belt because a carrier’s power to designate a place where it will receive traffic is limited to line that the designating carrier owns; Wisconsin Central does not wholly own Belt.The Seventh Circuit vacated. “A rail carrier ... shall provide reasonable, proper, and equal facilities that are within its power to provide for the interchange of traffic between … its respective line and a connecting line of another rail carrier, 49 U.S.C. 10742. The Board improperly read “that are within its power to provide” as “that it owns.” A rail carrier can have the “power to provide” facilities by ownership or under a contract. The Board also erred in assuming that the statute requires the two railroads have physically intersecting lines and in making an assumption about expenses. The word “reasonable” gives the Board interpretive leeway; the phrase “that are within its power to provide” does not. View "Wisconsin Central Ltd. v. Surface Transportation Board" on Justia Law
Saxon v. Southwest Airlines Co.
As a Chicago Midway International Airport ramp supervisor, Saxon supervises, trains, and assists a team of ramp agents—Southwest employees who physically load and unload planes. Ostensibly her job is purely supervisory but Saxon and other ramp supervisors frequently fill in as ramp agents. The ramp agents are covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Supervisors are excluded and agree annually as part of their contract of employment—not separately—to arbitrate wage disputes. Believing that Southwest failed to pay ramp supervisors for overtime work, Saxon filed a putative collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 201–219. Southwest moved to dismiss or stay the suit pending arbitration (Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 3).The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit, citing the FAA exemption for “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” The last category refers not to all contracts of employment, but only to those belonging to “transportation workers.” The act of loading cargo onto a vehicle to be transported interstate is commerce, as that term was understood at the time of the FAA’s 1925 enactment. Airplane cargo loaders, as a class, are engaged in that commerce, as seamen and railroad employees were; Saxon and the ramp supervisors are members of that class. View "Saxon v. Southwest Airlines Co." on Justia Law
Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. v. Holcomb
Owned by the Indiana Finance Authority, the Indiana Toll Road has been operated since 2006 by a lessee, ITR. What ITR can charge depends on state law. In 2018, ITR paid the state $1 billion in exchange for permission to raise by 35 percent the tolls on heavy trucks. The district court dismissed a suit under the Commerce Clause, reasoning that Indiana, as a market participant, was exempt from rules ordinarily applied under the Commerce Clause.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the increase is valid even if it discriminates against interstate commerce. The tolls are neutral with respect to the origins, destinations, and ownership of the trucks. The court also reasoned that when a state participates in, rather than just regulates, the market, it may discriminate in favor of its own citizens and declined to find that tollways “are different.” The court noted the history of private ownership of roads. View "Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. v. Holcomb" on Justia Law