Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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Ward injured his shoulder and back when his seat collapsed in the train he was operating. Ward is a U.S. resident who is employed by a U.S. railroad, normally covered by the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51. Because Ward’s seat collapsed across the border in Ontario, the FELA does not apply. Instead, Ward pursued his tort claims under state common law. The district court rejected Ward’s claims by holding that another federal law, the Locomotive Boiler Inspection Act (LIA), 49 U.S.C. 20701, preempted all state tort law remedies for injuries caused by locomotive equipment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The federal railroad-safety statutes left plaintiff one path that is viable and not preempted: He could assert state-law tort claims against the defendants that borrow the applicable standards of care from the federal LIA and its regulations governing the safety of locomotive equipment. Plaintiff pursued that viable theory in the district court, but, on appeal, waived any claim based on this theory. View "Ward v. Soo Line Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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United Airlines pilot instructors sued their union, ALPA, alleging that ALPA had breached its duty of fair representation in its allocation of a retroactive pay settlement among different groups of pilots. The district court dismissed the case. The Seventh Circuit reversed. A claim of discrimination or bad faith must rest on more than a showing that a union’s actions treat different groups of employees differently and must be based on more than the discriminatory impact of the union’s otherwise rational decision to compromise. The Instructors sufficiently and plausibly pleaded that ALPA acted in bad faith in its allocation of retroactive pay between the line pilots and pilot instructors. A union may not make decisions “solely for the benefit of a stronger, more politically favored group over a minority group.” The plaintiffs have alleged that pilot instructors make up a minority of ALPA’s membership and that ALPA acted with the intent to appease its majority membership, the line pilots, after a lengthy and contentious CBA negotiation. View "Bishop v. Air Line Pilots Association, International" on Justia Law

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Allied contracted to ship railroad ties with Wisconsin Central’s parent company, Canadian National, providing that demurrage would begin to accrue after two days of unloading time. Rail carriers are statutorily required to impose demurrage charges when rail cars are detained beyond the time the tariff allows for loading or unloading. Wisconsin Central also entered into an agreement with TiEnergy, which would receive the ties at its Wisconsin facility; grind them for sale to Xcel, which would burn them to generate power; and provide Allied with proof that the ties had been incinerated in an environmentally safe manner. Allied listed TiEnergy as the consignee on all bills of lading. After receiving the ties, TiEnergy unloaded, ground, and sold them. Approximately 100 rail cars used to ship the ties remained on the sidetrack beyond the two-day unloading period. Canadian National billed TiEnergy for demurrage. TiEnergy said that it had not agreed to be identified as the consignee and could not be held responsible. Wisconsin Central sued TiEnergy, seeking to recover approximately $100,000 in demurrage. TiEnergy sought indemnification or contribution from Allied. The district court granted Wisconsin Central and Allied summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The only conclusion a juror could reasonably draw from the undisputed facts is that TiEnergy had both control of and an interest in the ties. View "Wisconsin Central Limited v. Tienergy, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Canadian National Railway (CN) sought approval from the Surface Transportation Board of its acquisition of the EJ & E rail line near Chicago. The Board considered the impact of the acquisition on 112 railroad crossings throughout the area, including the intersection at U.S. Highway 14 in Barrington. Crossings projected to be “substantially affected” were eligible for mitigation measures imposed by the Board as a condition to its approval, up to and including grade separation between the roadway and rail line. The Board approved CN’s acquisition, finding that U.S. 14 would neither be substantially affected nor warrant a grade separation. Barrington unsuccessfully petitioned the Board to reopen its decision three times. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review. Barrington did not present new evidence or substantially changed circumstances that mandate a different result, 49 U.S.C. 1322(c). The Board conducted an environmental review (National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321–4370m‐12) and concluded that U.S. 14 did not exceed any of the three congestion thresholds for substantially affected crossings because “the major source of congestion” at U.S. 14 is “excess vehicle demand at existing major thoroughfare intersections” and “existing traffic signals in proximity to one another,” not CN’s acquisition of the EJ & E line. View "Village of Barrington v. Surface Transportation Board" on Justia Law

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Atlas, an authorized interstate transporter of household goods, contracts with agents to perform its shipments. One of its agents, Ace, leases trucks and driving services from owner-operators. In 2009, owner-operator Mervyn entered into a lease agreement with Ace to haul shipments for Atlas. In 2013, Mervyn sued Atlas and Ace in a purported class action, alleging breach of contract and violations of the federal Truth-In-Leasing regulations under 49 C.F.R. 376.12(d). The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Atlas and Ace. Mervyn advanced claims that are necessarily inconsistent: that he was not paid according to the plain terms of the lease and that the lease violated the Truth-In-Leasing regulations because the terms were not “clearly stated.” Mervyn never disputed the financial entries he complained of until he filed this lawsuit, in violation of a contract provision allowing a 30-day window to dispute financial entries. Mervyn was compensated according to the plain and ordinary terms of the lease. View "Mervyn v. Atlas Van Lines, Inc." on Justia Law

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Thompson pulled his JBS tractor/trailer onto the shoulder, activated his four‐way flashers, and fixed a malfunctioning light. With the flashers still on, he had just reentered the highway and was traveling 15-18 miles an hour when Hasib came around a curve and crashed into the back of his trailer. The impact killed Hasib instantly and set his E.J.A. truck on fire. Hasib’s son, Edin, who also drove for E.J.A., saw that his father’s truck on fire, parked, and attempted to pull his father from the cab. Edin suffered burns. On hearing of her husband’s death, Esma had to be taken to a hospital. As a result of Major Depressive Disorder, Esma never returned to work. Edin suffered PTSD. Hasib's daughter attempted suicide at her father’s grave. Hasib’s estate brought claims under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act and the Illinois rescue doctrine. The companies asserted counterclaims under the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act. On the wrongful death claim, a jury attributed 55 percent of the fault to Thompson and JBS and reduced its $5,000,000 damage award by 45 percent; it awarded Edin $625,000 on his rescue claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the court’s refusal to give a jury instruction on the duty to mitigate damages, instead giving instructions related to “careful habits” and “exigent circumstances.” The court rejected arguments that the court should have apportioned Edin’s award and that the court erred in allowing an award for Esma’s lost earnings. View "Karahodzic v. JBS Carriers, Inc." on Justia Law

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Armstrong, a BNSF train conductor, was not wearing the proper uniform for the third time in two weeks. Armstrong’s supervisor, Motley, noticed and called him into the “Glasshouse” office. Nelson left the Glasshouse as Armstrong arrived. Armstrong claims that Motley began yelling and that he tried to leave because he felt threatened; Motley pushed the door shut, striking Armstrong’s knee and foot. This is not seen on a video recording. Nelson testified that, outside the Glasshouse, he could hear Armstrong curse at Motley. The video showed Motley standing away from the door as Armstrong exited. Motley, who claims he did not close the door on Armstrong, called his supervisor, Johanson. After speaking to Armstrong, Johanson took Armstrong to an on-site clinic, where he was provided a soft walking shoe. Human Resources took statements and secured the video. BNSF issued a notice of investigation for insubordination, dishonesty, and misrepresentation. A hearing officer concluded that Armstrong had lied. BNSF terminated Armstrong’s employment. Armstrong sued, alleging that BNSF dismissed him for reporting a work‐related injury, (Federal Rail Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20109(a)(4)). The Seventh Circuit affirmed a jury verdict for BNSF, upholding a jury instruction that “Defendant cannot be held liable under the FRSA if you conclude that Defendant terminated Plainiff’s employment based on its honestly held belief that Plaintiff did not engage in protected activity under the FRSA in good faith.” While a FRSA plaintiff need not show that retaliation was the sole motivating factor in the adverse decision, the statute requires a showing that retaliation was a motivating factor. View "Armstrong v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Unions represent engineers employed by the Railroad, which is an amalgamation of several carriers. As a result, the Railroad is a party to multiple collective bargaining Agreements (CBAs). The Railroad modified disciplinary rules; the new policy was set forth in “MAPS," and supplanted UPGRADE. The Railroad had previously made changes to UPGRADE over the Union’s objections. When it shifted from UPGRADE to MAPS it did not consult the Union. The Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 151–88 allows employers to change “rates of pay, rules, or working conditions of ... employees” in any way permitted by an existing CBA or by going through the bargaining and negotiation procedure prescribed in section 156. MAPS falls within the scope of “rules” and “working conditions.” The Railroad argued that the change was permitted under the CBA. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Union’s suit. If a disagreement arises over the formation or amendment of a CBA, it is considered a “major” dispute under the Act, and it must be decided by a court. If it relates only to the interpretation or application of an existing agreement, it is labeled “minor” and must go to arbitration. In this case, there is at least a non-frivolous argument that interpretation of the agreement between the parties, not change, is at stake. View "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Chessie is a railroad authorized to operate one mile of track in Melrose Park, Illinois. It has apparently been many years since trains have run on that track. Krinos owns and operates an adjacent industrial facility. A spur and side track run over Krinos’s property; Chessie says it has easements to use those tracks. Chessie alleges that Krinos constructed a sewer line and did drainage work, burying parts of its tracks and creating a slope directing runoff that damaged other parts. After Chessie notified Krinos, Krinos removed the dirt from one track and did additional damage. Chessie filed suit, alleging trespass, negligence, and violation of 49 U.S.C. 10903. Section 10903 requires rail carriers to receive permission from the Surface Transportation Board before abandoning parts of their lines. Krinos counterclaimed, alleging that Chessie did not have easements to use the spur and side tracks and seeking a declaratory judgment, quiet title, and ejectment. The district court agreed that section 10903 did not create a private right of action and granted Krinos summary judgment. Chessie did not show that it had easements over Krinos’s property, and an independent contractor, not Krinos, caused the alleged intrusion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Section 10903 does not create an implied right of action. Chessie was not entitled to change its negligence theory after discovery. View "Chessie Logistics Co., LLC v. Krinos Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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National manufactures battery packs, including the lithium battery packs at issue (Batteries), which were regulated as hazardous materials. A Federal Aviation Administration agent inspected National’s Chicago facility and discovered that National made 11 air shipments of the Batteries to customers in California and Canada that did not comply with multiple hazardous material regulations (HMRs). The FAA filed a complaint. National’s vice president testified that he believed, without supporting evidence, the Batteries were exempt from testing because they were similar to previously tested batteries. The shipping papers indicated that each shipments conformed tp the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods. National’s office manager, certified each shipment, but her hazardous materials training was Department of Transportation specific and did not include training on the ICAO Technical Instructions. Because the Batteries were untested lithium batteries, they should have been packed according to the more stringent standards. An ALJ found that National knowingly violated the HMRs. The FAA assessed a civil penalty of $66,000 based on 49 U.S.C. 5123(c). The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review. A reasonable person in National’s position would have been aware of its violations; the penalty was within statutory limits, and rationally related to National’s multiple offenses View "National Power Corp. v. Federal Aviation Administration" on Justia Law