Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

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Kevyn Menges suffered catastrophic injuries in a motor vehicle accident. Menges, through her guardian ad litem Susan Menges, sued the Department of Transportation (Caltrans) for its negligent construction of an interstate off-ramp. Caltrans moved for summary judgment, asserting design immunity. The trial court granted Caltrans’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, Menges argued: (1) design immunity should not have applied since the approved plans were unreasonable, and the construction of the interstate off-ramp did not match the previously approved design plans; (2) the trial court erred in denying her oral request for a continuance at the summary judgment hearing; and (3) Caltrans’s Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offer was unreasonable and invalid, and a portion of the cost award for expert witness fees should have been disallowed. The Court of Appeal determined none of Menges’s arguments had merit, and affirmed the judgment. View "Menges v. Dept. of Transportation" on Justia Law

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BNSF Railway Co. (“BNSF”) appealed a jury verdict and money judgment entered in favor of David Rentz. In July 2012, a tractor-trailer driven by Rentz was struck by a train operated by BNSF and train engineer, Reinaldo Guitian, Jr. The collision occurred at a public railroad grade crossing. In December 2015, Rentz sued BNSF and Guitian for personal injuries sustained during the vehicle/train collision. Guitian was subsequently dismissed as a named defendant in the action. Trial was held over eleven days in January 2019. Guitian was designated as BNSF’s party representative under N.D.R.Ev. 615 and was not sequestered from the courtroom. The jury returned a verdict finding Rentz 15% at fault and BNSF 85% at fault. A money judgment was entered in favor of Rentz. BNSF asserted it was denied a fair trial because: (1) BNSF’s designated representative at trial was allowed to be questioned beyond the scope of his knowledge; (2) video and audio clips taken from discovery depositions of BNSF’s designated representatives were improperly played during opening and closing arguments; (3) BNSF’s internal operating procedures were improperly used to modify the standard of care; and (4) opinion testimony of the investigating highway patrol trooper was excluded from evidence. Because the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the questioning of BNSF’s representative at trial exceeded his personal knowledge and affected a substantial right, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Rentz v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a carman for Metro-North, filed suit under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, alleging unlawful retaliation for his refusal to walk outdoors to another building in the railyard in allegedly unsafe winter conditions or, in the alternative, for his reporting those unsafe conditions to a foreman.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of Metro-North's motion for summary judgment, holding that the district court did not commit reversible error. The court adopted the "reasonableness" definition in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act context, which means that a "reasonable belief contains both subjective and objective components," and applied it in the FRSA context. The court agreed with Metro-North and the district court that plaintiff has not identified a genuine dispute of material fact over whether the walkways were safe or over the reasonableness of his own assessment. In this case, plaintiff did not submit any specific evidence to support his generalized contention that the walkways at the railyard were unsafe, other than to assert that other employees slipped as they walked. The court concluded that plaintiff's subjective assessment alone cannot create a genuine issue of material fact.The court agreed with the Seventh and Eighth Circuits and held that some evidence of retaliatory intent is a necessary component of an FRSA claim. The court considered the Eighth Circuit's Gunderson factors and concluded that plaintiff's protected activity was not a contributing factor in his discharge. Finally, the court considered plaintiff's remaining arguments and found them to be without merit. View "Tompkins v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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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

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A regulation promulgated under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 30101, requires a tire dealer to help customers register their new tires with the manufacturer. The regulation prescribes three methods for tire dealers to help register a buyer’s tires. According to Thorne, Pep Boys failed to pursue any of the three when, or after, it sold her the tires. She sued on behalf of a class of Pep Boys customers who similarly received no tire registration assistance.The district court dismissed her complaint without leave to amend, holding that a dealer’s failure to help register a buyer’s tires in one of the three prescribed ways does not, by itself, create an injury-in-fact for purposes of Article III standing. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded for dismissal without prejudice. A district court has no jurisdiction to rule on the merits when a plaintiff lacks standing. Thorne’s benefit-of-the-bargain allegations do not support a viable theory of economic injury, and her product-defect argument ignores the statute’s defined terms. Unregistered tires are not worth less than Thorne paid and are not defective. Congress did not intend to give private attorneys general standing to redress the “injury” of unregistered tires. View "Thorne v. Pep Boys Manny Moe & Jack" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal held that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA) does not preempt application of California's ABC test, originally set forth in Dynamex Operations W. v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 903, and eventually codified by Assembly Bill 2257 (AB 2257), to determine whether a federally licensed interstate motor carrier has correctly classified its truck drivers as independent contractors.The court held that defendants have not demonstrated, as they must under People ex rel. Harris v. Pac Anchor Transportation, Inc. (2014) 59 Cal.4th 772, 785-87, that application of the ABC test prohibits motor carriers from using independent contractors or otherwise directly affects motor carriers' prices, routes, or services. Furthermore, nothing in Pac Anchor nor the FAAAA's legislative history suggests Congress intended to preempt a worker-classification test applicable to all employers in the state. The court granted a peremptory writ of mandate directing respondent court to vacate its order granting in part defendants' motion in limine, and enter a new order denying that motion because the statutory amendments implemented by AB 2257 are not preempted by the FAAAA. View "People v. Superior Court (Cal Cartage Transportation Express, LLC)" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit denied Petitioner's petition for review of the final decision of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (the FMSCA) determining that Sorreda Transport, LLC's business safety rating was unsatisfactory, holding that the the FMSCA's findings and conclusions were supported by substantial evidence in the record and its decision denying Sorreda's petition for review was not arbitrary or capricious.After the FMSCA, an agency within the United States Department of Transportation that regulates the trucking industry, used a notice informing Sorreda of its proposed unsatisfactory rating, Sorreda appealed. The FMSCA issued a final order denying Sorreda's petition for administrative review. Sorreda then filed a timely petition for review in the First Circuit. The First Circuit denied the petition, holding that the FMSCA's findings were supported by substantial evidence and that its determination that Sorreda's business safety rating was unsatisfactory was neither arbitrary nor capricious under the applicable regulations. View "Sorreda Transport, LLC v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiffs' illegal exaction suit that sought to enjoin the expenditure of highway funds collected pursuant to Amendment 91 of the Arkansas Constitution for two highway projects, holding that the circuit court erred in finding that Amendment 91 funds were legally designated for the projects.The two projects at issue were intended to improve portions of Interstate 30 and Interstate 630 in Little Rock by widening portions of the interstate highways from six lanes to eight or more lanes. The Arkansas Department of Transportation selected the projects to be funded by Amendment 91 money. Plaintiffs, Arkansas citizens and taxpayers, filed an illegal exaction lawsuit praying to enjoin the expenditure of funds for the projects, arguing that the projects were not "four-lane highway improvements," as required by Amendment 91. The circuit court found that the projects were covered by Amendment 91. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the repeated reference to "four-lane highways" and the lack of a specific reference to six-lane interstate highways means the Amendment 91 funds cannot be used for six-lane interstate highways; and (2) therefore, the circuit court erred in dismissing the illegal exaction suit. View "Buonauito v. Gibson" on Justia Law

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Appellant SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority (the “JRA”) was a joint authority formed pursuant to the MAA, governed by a sixteen member Board, with each of the eight member counties appointing two members. In addition to the MAA, the Board’s operations were governed by the JRA’s bylaws and a code of conduct. Appellee Susquehanna Union Railroad Company (“SURC”) was a third-party rail line operator. The JRA began the process to award a new operating agreement. At an October 2014 Board meeting, the JRA’s counsel announced because the Board had sixteen members, a nine-vote majority was required for the Board to act. Carload Express received twenty-four points, SURC received twenty-three, and Northern Plains Railroad received thirteen. A roll call vote was taken on the motion to award the contract to Carload and, of the ten voting Board members, seven voted in favor and three against. When certain Board members questioned the nine vote requirement for action, the Board voted unanimously to table the decision to award the operating agreement to Carload pending further review of the JRA’s bylaws and the applicable law. After the meeting, Carload submitted its position to the JRA, arguing that it had been awarded the operating agreement based upon the seven-to-three vote. The JRA responded by filing an action requesting a declaration upholding its use of the nine vote requirement. The Supreme Court granted discretionary appeal to determine whether Section 5610(e) of the Pennsylvania Municipality Authorities Act's use of the phrase “members present” abrogated the common law rule that a simple majority (a majority vote of the voting members who make up the quorum of a municipal authority) carried a vote. Because the Court concluded that it did not, it affirmed the Commonwealth Court. View "Seda-Cog Joint Rail Auth v. Carload Express et al" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff suffered serious injuries when he was struck by a semi-tractor trailer, he filed suit against C.H. Robinson, the freight broker that arranged for the trailer to transport goods for Costco. Plaintiff alleged that C.H. Robinson negligently selected an unsafe motor carrier.The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that plaintiff's claim is "related to" C.H. Robinson's services, but held that the district court erred in determining that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994's (FAAAA) safety exception does not apply. The panel explained that, in enacting that exception, Congress intended to preserve the States’ broad power over safety, a power that includes the ability to regulate conduct not only through legislative and administrative enactments, but also though common-law damages awards. The panel also held that plaintiff's claim has the requisite "connection with" motor vehicles because it arises out of a motor vehicle accident. Therefore, the negligence claims against brokers, to the extent that they arise out of motor vehicle accidents, have the requisite "connection with" motor vehicles, and thus the safety exception applies to plaintiff's claims against C.H. Robinson. The panel reversed and remanded. View "Miller v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc." on Justia Law