Justia Transportation Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen GCA UP v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
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
Mlsna v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
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
Burlaka v. Contract Transport Services LLC
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
Soo Line Railroad Co. v. Consolidated Rail Corp.
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
LeDure v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
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
Brian Hughes v. Southwest Airlines Co.
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
Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago v. Uber Technologies, Inc.
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
Stampley v. Altom Transport, Inc.
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
Abernathy v. Eastern Illinois Railroad Co.
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
Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Wisconsin Department of Revenue
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