Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

by
Terry Schulenberg, a train engineer for BNSF Railway Company, was injured when the train he was riding “bottomed out.” Schulenberg filed suit against BNSF, alleging liability for negligence under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). BNSF filed motions to exclude Schulenberg’s expert witness and for summary judgment, both of which the district court granted. Schulenberg appealed, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the expert witness because there was no discernable methodology offered for his opinions. And the Court concluded the district court was correct in granting summary judgment to BNSF because Schulenberg failed to present a dispute of material fact on his sole theory of liability on appeal, negligence per se. View "Schulenberg v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law

by
Defendant-Appellee Ollisha Easley was onboard a Greyhound bus from Claremont, California, to her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, when the bus made a scheduled stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Greyhound passenger list showed that Easley’s reservation included a second woman identified as “Denise Moore” - both Easley and Denise Moore had one checked bag and both tickets were purchased with cash. No one named Denise Moore boarded the bus in California, but her suitcase was stowed in the luggage hold of the Greyhound and was identified with the same reservation number and telephone number as Easley’s luggage. While the bus was stopped in Albuquerque, Special Agent Jarrell Perry of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and his partner that day, Special Agent Scott Godier, observed the luggage in the bus’s cargo hold. Agent Perry later testified that the use of a so-called “phantom passenger” is a common method of narcotics trafficking. Ultimately, the agents identified the bags traveling with Easley, searched them and found small bags of methamphetamine in the Denise Moore bag. Easley denied ownership of the bag, denied knowing the bag's owner, and denied ever having seen the bag before. She would be indicted for possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Easley moved to suppress the evidence seized from the bag, and to exclude a confession she made to Agent Perry. The district court granted Easley’s motion holding that : (1) Easley had not established her bags were illegally searched while the bus was in the wash bay; (2) nor had she established that the bus was subject to an unreasonable investigatory detention; however, (3) under the totality of the circumstances, Easley had been illegally seized. The court found that Easley’s abandonment of the Denise Moore suitcase was the product of a Fourth Amendment violation, so it suppressed the evidence seized from the suitcase. The court also determined the earlier Fourth Amendment violation tainted Easley’s subsequent confession and suppressed her inculpatory statements. In reversing the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit concluded the agents’ search of the Denise Moore suitcase was a valid search of abandoned property; and there was preceding constitutional violation to taint Easley’s confession, suppression of her inculpatory statements. The parties did not brief or argue any other ground to support the district court’s decision on appeal, so the case was remanded to the district court to resolve the admissibility of Easley’s confession in the first instance. View "United States v. Easley" on Justia Law

by
George Straub, an employee of BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”), injured his back and neck when, in the course and scope of his duties, he attempted to adjust the engineer’s chair of Locomotive #6295. Straub brought suit, asserting BNSF was (among other things) strictly liable for his injuries under the provisions of the Federal Locomotive Inspection Act (“LIA”). BNSF moved to dismiss; the district court concluded Straub’s injuries did not implicate LIA. The district court ruled the adjustment mechanism of the engineer’s seat was not an “integral or essential part of a completed locomotive.” Instead, according to the district court, the seat adjustment mechanism was a non-essential comfort device. In reaching this conclusion, the district court relied on the Tenth Circuit’s decision in King v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co., 855 F.2d 1485 (10th Cir. 1988). Straub appealed, arguing the district court’s reliance on King was misplaced. The Tenth Circuit held that the allegations set out in Straub’s complaint (i.e., that the engineer’s chair failed when moved initially and stopped abruptly as Straub was attempting to adjust it) stated a violation of LIA: “Once BNSF installed an engineer’s chair with a seat adjustment mechanism, 49 U.S.C. 20701(1) mandated that BNSF maintain the chair so that the seat adjustment device be ‘in proper condition and safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal injury’ and 49 C.F.R. 229.7 mandated that BNSF maintain the chair so that the seat adjustment mechanism was ‘in proper condition and safe to operate in service . . . without unnecessary peril to life or limb.’” The Court reversed the district court’s grant of BNSF’s motion to dismiss Straub’s claim to the extent it depended on LIA-based strict liability, and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "Straub v. BNSF" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Enable Oklahoma Intrastate Transmission, LLC (“Enable”), appealed the district court’s dismissal of its case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to join an indispensable party. Enable also challenged the amount of attorney fees the court awarded to the landowner defendants. Because the Tenth Circuit’s decision in Public Service Company of New Mexico v. Barboan, 857 F.3d 1101 (10th Cir. 2017), was dispositive of the subject matter jurisdiction issue, the Court affirmed the district court’s order dismissing the action. View "Enable Oklahoma Intrastate v. 25 Foot Wide Easement" on Justia Law

by
Several years after a tank car spill accident, appellants Larry Lincoln and Brad Mosbrucker told their employer BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”) that medical conditions attributable to the accident rendered them partially, permanently disabled and prevented them from working outdoors. BNSF removed appellants from service as Maintenance of Way (“MOW”) workers purportedly due to safety concerns and because MOW work entailed outdoor work. With some assistance from BNSF’s Medical and Environmental Health Department (“MEH”), Appellants each applied for more than twenty jobs within BNSF during the four years following their removal from service. After not being selected for several positions, Appellants filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), accommodation request letters with BNSF, and complaints with the Occupational Safety Health Administration (“OSHA”). Following BNSF’s rejection of their applications for additional positions, Appellants filed a complaint raising claims for: (1) discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”); (2) failure to accommodate under the ADA; (3) retaliation under the ADA; and (4) retaliation under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”). Relying on nearly forty years of Tenth Circuit precedent, the district court concluded that filing an EEOC charge was a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit and it dismissed several parts of Appellants’ ADA claims for lack of jurisdiction. Appellants also challenged the vast majority of the district court’s summary judgment determinations on the merits of their claims that survived the court’s exhaustion rulings. After polling the full court, the Tenth Circuit overturn its precedent that filing an EEOC charge was a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit, thus reversing the district court’s jurisdictional rulings. Appellants’ ADA discrimination and ADA failure to accommodate claims relative to some of the positions over which the district court determined it lacked jurisdiction were remanded for further proceedings. With respect to the district court’s summary judgment determinations on the merits of appellants’ claims that survived the exhaustion rulings, the Tenth Circuit was unable to reach a firm conclusion on the position-based ADA discrimination and failure to accommodate claims. The Court concluded the district court’s dismissal of the FRSA claims were appropriate. Therefore, the Court reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Lincoln v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law