Justia Transportation Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
American Premier Underwriters, Inc. v. General Electric Co.
In the 1930s and 1940s GE designed and manufactured self-propelled, electric passenger railcars that included liquid-cooled transformers. The transformers, which generated a great deal of heat, used a coolant called Pyranol that contains toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). GE sold some railcars to government entities whose trains operated on Penn Central lines. Pyranol from the transformers escaped and contaminated four Penn Central rail yards. APU, Penn Central’s successor, had to pay for the costly environmental cleanup and sued GE under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which makes four classes of “[c]overed persons” strictly liable for environmental contamination, 42 U.S.C. 9607(a). APU argued that GE “arranged for disposal” of hazardous PCB because it designed and manufactured transformers with pressure-release valves whose “natural function” was to discharge Pyranol when conditions required, it knew that “[t]he frequency of minor spills [was] large,” it took affirmative steps to direct spills onto the roadbed; and it implemented a fail-and-fix policy for defective transformers rather than recall them.The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment. GE is neither an arranger nor an operator under CERCLA. APU assigned away its contractual right to indemnification; any claims based on reassigned indemnity rights are time-barred. View "American Premier Underwriters, Inc. v. General Electric Co." on Justia Law
Ingram Barge Co., LLC v. Zen-Noh Grain Corp.
Zen-Noh purchased grain shipments. Sellers were required to prepay barge freight and deliver the product to Zen-Noh’s terminal but were not required to use any specific delivery company. Ingram, a carrier, issued the sellers negotiable bills of lading, defining the relationships of the consignor (company arranging shipment), the consignee (to receive delivery), and the carrier. Printed on each bill was an agreement to "Terms” and a link to the Terms on Ingram’s website. Those Terms purport to bind any entity that has an ownership interest in the goods and included a forum selection provision selecting the Middle District of Tennessee.Ingram updated its Terms and alleges that it notified Zen-Noh through an email to CGB, which it believed was “closely connected with Zen-Noh,” often acting on Zen-Noh's behalf in dealings related to grain transportation. Weeks after the email, Zen-Noh sent Ingram an email complaining about invoices for which it did not believe it was liable. Ingram replied with a link to the Terms. Zen-Noh answered that it was “not party to the barge affreightment contract as received in your previous email.” The grains had been received by Zen-Noh, which has paid Ingram penalties related to delayed loading or unloading but has declined to pay Ingram's expenses involving ‘fleeting,’ ‘wharfage,’ and ‘shifting.’” Ingram filed suit in the Middle District of Tennessee. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Zen-Noh was neither a party to nor consented to Ingram’s contract and is not bound to the contract’s forum selection clause; the district court did not have jurisdiction over Zen-Noh. View "Ingram Barge Co., LLC v. Zen-Noh Grain Corp." on Justia Law
Progressive Rail Inc. v. CSX Transportation, Inc.
Siemens shipped two electrical transformers from Germany to Kentucky. K+N arranged the shipping, retaining Blue Anchor Line. Blue Anchor issued a bill of lading, in which Siemens agreed not to sue downstream Blue Anchor subcontractors for any problems arising out of the transport from Germany to Kentucky. K+N subcontracted with K-Line to complete the ocean leg of the transportation. Siemens contracted with another K+N entity, K+N Inc., to complete the land leg of the trip from Baltimore to Ghent. K+N Inc. contacted Progressive, a rail logistics coordinator, to identify a rail carrier. They settled on CSX. During the rail leg from Maryland to Kentucky, one transformer was damaged, allegedly costing Siemens $1,500,000 to fix.Progressive sued CSX, seeking to limit its liability for these costs. Siemens sued CSX, seeking recovery for the damage to the transformer. The actions were consolidated in the Kentucky federal district court, which granted CSX summary judgment because the rail carrier qualified as a subcontractor under the Blue Anchor bill and could invoke its liability-shielding provisions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A maritime contract, like the Blue Anchor bill of lading, may set the liability rules for an entire trip, including any land-leg part of the trip, and it may exempt downstream subcontractors, regardless of the method of payment. The Blue Anchor contract states that it covers “Multimodal Transport.” It makes no difference that the downstream carrier was not in privity of contract with Siemens. View "Progressive Rail Inc. v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law
Allman v. Walmart, Inc.
Federal regulations require commercial truck drivers to undergo annual physicals to be “medically certified as physically qualified." A driver is not physically qualified if he has a clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with his ability to drive a commercial motor vehicle safely. Respiratory dysfunction includes sleep apnea.Allman was diagnosed with apnea after a sleep study and was instructed to wear a CPAP machine when sleeping in his truck. Allman complained about the device, which was remotely monitored. Allman was suspended twice for noncompliance. Allman independently completed a second sleep study, which showed that Allman did not have sleep apnea. Allman stopped wearing the CPAP and obtained a new DOT certification card without another examination. Walmart instructed Allman to participate in another sleep study because the doctor who performed Allman’s independent study was not board certified. A third study resulted in a second diagnosis of sleep apnea. Allman refused to wear the CPAP machine. Rather than taking the conflicting sleep studies to a DOT medical examiner, Allman resigned and filed suit, asserting discrimination based on perceived disability and retaliation under Ohio law.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of both claims. Walmart offered a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its CPAP requirement; Allman failed to rebut that reason as pretextual. Walmart’s CPAP requirement was not an unsafe working condition but was a disability accommodation meant to promote public safety and to ensure compliance with federal law. View "Allman v. Walmart, Inc." on Justia Law
Frye v. CSX Transportation, Inc.
Shyan Frye, age 13, was struck by a train while walking her bicycle over a rail crossing in Huron Township, Michigan. At the time of the accident, the train was traveling below the applicable speed limit and its horn sounded for approximately 20 seconds before it reached the crossing—more than required by federal law. The collision proved fatal. Shyan’s mother sued CSX, the train’s owner, Gallacher, the train’s conductor; and Conrail, the owner of the track. The claims against Gallacher were resolved in his favor at summary judgment. A jury returned a verdict in favor of CSX and Conrail. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, upholding the district court’s entry of summary judgment for Gallacher. The court also upheld the district court’s refusal to strike a potential juror for cause during voir dire; evidentiary rulings admitting evidence of the potential side effects of an anti-depressant Shyan was taking at the time of her death, and excluding photographs of the railroad crossing after it was resurfaced; and the court’s refusal to give a jury instruction regarding the heightened duty of care imposed on tortfeasors when children are present. View "Frye v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law
CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Sebree
In 1966, Sebree Kentucky enacted an ordinance requiring CSX Transportation’s predecessor to obtain approval from the city before commencing any maintenance or construction project that would result in any change in grade at any of the six railroad crossings in Sebree. After a 1979 dispute concerning the ordinance, the predecessor railroad and the city entered into a settlement agreement. The company agreed not to raise the height of one crossing by more than 0.4 feet and not to raise the height of another crossing at all. In 2017, CSX notified Sebring of its intent to perform maintenance that would raise four crossings. CSX obtained a permanent injunction prohibiting enforcement of the ordinance or settlement agreement. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding both the ordinance and settlement agreement preempted by the 1995 Termination Act, which established the Surface Transportation Board and gave it exclusive jurisdiction over certain aspects of railroad transportation, 49 U.S.C. 1301, 10501(b). The ordinance, as applied, is not settled and definite enough to avoid open-ended delays, and could easily be used as a pretext for interfering with rail service; it “amount[s] to impermissible [local] regulation of [CSX’s] operations by interfering with the railroad’s ability to uniformly design, construct, maintain, and repair its railroad line.” View "CSX Transportation, Inc. v. Sebree" on Justia Law
Exel, Inc. v. Southern Refrigerated Transport, Inc.
Exel, a shipping broker, sued SRT, an interstate motor carrier, after SRT lost a load of pharmaceuticals owned by Exel’s customer, Sandoz, that was being transported from Pennsylvania to Tennessee. After nearly seven years of litigation, including a prior appeal, the district court entered judgment for Exel and awarded it the replacement cost of the lost pharmaceuticals, approximately $5.9 million. SRT argued that the district court erred in discounting bills of lading that ostensibly limited SRT’s liability to a small fraction of the shipment’s value. Exel argued that the court erred in measuring damages by the replacement cost of the pharmaceuticals rather than by their higher market value. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Exel and SRT had a Master Transportation Services Agreement (MTSA), which stated that any bill of lading “shall be subject to and subordinate to” the MTSA; that SRT “shall be liable” to Exel for any “loss” to commodities shipped pursuant to the agreement; and that the “measurement of the loss . . . shall be the Shipper’s replacement value.” The Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. 14706 “puts the burden on the carrier to demonstrate that the parties had a written agreement to limit the carrier’s liability, irrespective [of] whether the shipper drafted the bill of lading.” SRT did not carry its burden to show that it effectively limited its liability. View "Exel, Inc. v. Southern Refrigerated Transport, Inc." on Justia Law
SPA Rental, LLC v. Somerset-Pulaski County Airport Board
Airports, including Lake Cumberland Regional Airport, must make “standard grant assurances” (49 U.S.C. 47101) to receive federal funds. Assurance 22 requires an airport to “make the airport available . . . without unjust discrimination to all types ... of aeronautical activities.” Assurance 23 prohibits the airport from granting exclusivity to any aeronautical-services provider. Assurance 24 requires the airport to “maintain a fee and rental structure ... which will make the airport as self-sustaining as possible.” SPA’s director, Iverson, is an aircraft maintenance technician. SPA, at the Airport since 1986, leases hangars to store Iverson’s aircraft. SPA formerly provided maintenance services but now only refurbishes and re-sells aircraft. The Airport Board notified SPA of its intent to let SPA’s lease expire. Finding that there was an unmet need for maintenance services, it solicited bids. SPA did not bid. The Board picked Somerset and agreed to pay up to $8000 toward Somerset’s public liability insurance and forgo rent. The regional FAA office determined that the contract violated Assurance 24. The Board then conditioned the incentives on Somerset’s performing at least 10 aircraft inspections annually, making the contract more economically viable for the Airport, and agreed to terminate Somerset's agreement after one year to solicit new bids. The FAA approved. SPA asked to remain at the Airport “on fair and equal terms.” The Board sent SPA proposed agreements with the same terms, including provision of maintenance services, but refused to allow Iverson to personally lease a hangar. SPA refused to vacate. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in favor of the Board. The FAA standard for unjust discrimination is whether similarly situated parties have been treated differently. SPA is not situated similarly to Somerset. View "SPA Rental, LLC v. Somerset-Pulaski County Airport Board" on Justia Law
Grand Trunk Western Railroad Co. v. United States Department of Labor
Williams has a history of anxiety and depression, predating his employment with Grand Trunk Railroad, where Williams worked as an engineer beginning in 1995. In 2006, Williams consulted Dr. Bernick for hypertension, insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Dr. Bernick prescribed Xanax for Williams as a “stop-gap” measure it for his anxiety and depression, referred Williams to a psychiatrist, and advised Williams that he “shouldn’t work” during an anxiety episode if he would not feel safe. In December 2011, Williams missed eight days of work because of anxiety and depression. Grand Trunk deemed six days to be “unexcused absences” and terminated Williams in January 2012 for excessive absenteeism. Williams filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for wrongful retaliation and termination. OSHA dismissed because Williams’s absences for a “non-work-related illness” did not constitute qualifying “protected activity.” An ALJ held that Williams had engaged in protected activity because he was following his physician's treatment plan and the protected activity was a factor in the decision to terminate Williams’s employment. The Department of Labor’s Administrative Review Board affirmed, declining to apply Third Circuit precedent that the Federal Railroad Safety Act’s “Prompt medical attention” clause, 49 U.S.C. 20109(c) only applies to treatment plans for on-duty injuries. The Sixth Circuit disagreed. Subsection (c)(2), like subsection (c)(1), applies only to on-duty injuries. View "Grand Trunk Western Railroad Co. v. United States Department of Labor" on Justia Law
Doe v. Etihad Airways, P.J.S.C.
Doe and her daughter flew aboard Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi to Chicago. During the journey, Doe’s tray table remained open because a knob had fallen off. Doe’s daughter found the knob on the floor; Doe placed it in a seatback pocket. When a flight attendant reminded Doe to place her tray in the locked position for landing, Doe attempted to explain by reaching into the seatback pocket to retrieve the knob. She was pricked by a hypodermic needle that lay hidden within, which drew blood. Doe sought damages from Etihad for her physical injury and her “mental distress, shock, mortification, sickness and illness, outrage and embarrassment from natural sequela of possible exposure to” various diseases. Her husband claimed loss of consortium. The court granted Etihad partial summary judgment, citing the Montreal Convention of 1999, an international treaty, which imposes capped strict liability “for damage sustained in case of death or bodily injury of a passenger upon condition only that the accident which caused the death or injury took place on board the aircraft.” The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court erred in reading an additional “caused by” requirement into the treaty and concluding that Doe’s bodily injury did not cause her emotional and mental injuries. The Convention allows Doe to recover all her “damage sustained” from the incident. View "Doe v. Etihad Airways, P.J.S.C." on Justia Law