Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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In 2020 Union Pacific Railroad announced a change to its employee attendance policy. Several regional branches of the union opposed the change and sought an order under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 151a (RLA), requiring Union Pacific to submit the change to collective bargaining. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction; the claim belonged in arbitration before the National Railroad Adjustment Board.The Seventh Circuit affirmed and granted Union Pacific’s motion for sanctions under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38 for the frivolous appeal. For the second time in three years, the Brotherhood has pressed a position squarely foreclosed by settled law. The union’s challenge to the revised policy amounted to a “minor dispute” subject to mandatory arbitration under the RLA. Given the parties’ course of dealing over workplace attendance requirements, there was a clear pattern and practice of Union Pacific modifying its policies many times over many years without subjecting changes to collective bargaining, which provided the railroad with a nonfrivolous justification to unilaterally modify its attendance policy. That reality made this dispute a minor one subject to resolution through mandatory arbitration. View "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen GCA UP v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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In 2006, Mlsna was hired by Union Pacific, as a conductor. Union Pacific was aware of Mlsna’s hearing impairment. In 2012 the Federal Railroad Administration implemented regulations to ensure that train conductors possessed hearing acuity, and to confirm that railroads appropriately protected their employees’ hearing, 49 C.F.R. 242.105(c). Union Pacific had Mlsna’s hearing tested several different ways. Mlsna passed the hearing acuity test only when he relied on his hearing aids with no additional hearing protection. Later Mlsna was retested with the same results. Union Pacific decided it could not recertify Mlsna to work as a conductor. When he wore hearing aids and passed the hearing acuity requirement he was in violation of Union Pacific’s hearing conservation policy, which required additional hearing protection; when he complied with that policy by wearing the protection, he could not pass the hearing acuity test. Mlsna proposed he use specific custom‐made hearing protection. Union Pacific rejected his proposal because that device did not have a factory‐issued or laboratory‐tested noise reduction rating, as required by the regulation. Mlsna’s employment was terminated.Mlsna sued, alleging discrimination based on his hearing disability. The district court granted the railroad summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Issues of fact exist as to whether wearing hearing protection is an essential function of Mlsna’s work as a conductor, as well as whether reasonable accommodations for the conductor were properly considered. View "Mlsna v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Truck drivers brought individual, collective, and class action claims against CTS, their former employer, for failing to provide overtime pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires overtime pay for any employee who works more than 40 hours in a workweek. 29 U.S.C. 207(a)(1). The statute exempts employees who are subject to the Secretary of Transportation’s jurisdiction under the Motor Carrier Act: It is dangerous for drivers to spend too many hours behind the wheel, and “a requirement of pay that is higher for overtime service than for regular service tends to … encourage employees to seek” overtime work. Under 49 U.S.C. 13501(1)(A), drivers need not actually drive in interstate commerce to fall within the Secretary’s jurisdiction if they are employed by a carrier that “has engaged in interstate commerce and that the driver could reasonably have been expected to make one of the carrier’s interstate runs.”The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of CTS, finding that the plaintiffs could be expected to drive any of the CTS routes. While some of the plaintiffs’ runs may have been purely local, the sheer volume of the interstate commerce through these facilities, combined with the fact that the plaintiffs were assigned to their duties indiscriminately, demonstrates that the plaintiffs had a reasonable chance of being called upon to make some drives that were part of a continuous interstate journey. View "Burlaka v. Contract Transport Services LLC" on Justia Law

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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