Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Transportation Law

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On the night of January 27, 2014, DND’s driver, Velasquez, crashed his semi-truck into two emergency vehicles and another semi which were stopped on an unlit highway. An Illinois Toll Authority employee was killed and a police officer was seriously injured. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) immediately revoked Velasquez’s commercial-driving privileges and opened a company-wide investigation. After a very thorough, two-month investigation, FMCSA issued an imminent-hazard out-of-service order (IHOOSO) without warning, directing DND to immediately halt its trucking operations nationwide and freeze trucks in place within eight hours. During the investigation DND had been permitted to continue normal operations and there were two or three minor problems. An administrative law judge opened a hearing nine days after the order issued and rendered his decision after another six days, finding that the IHOOSO should not have been issued and was an effective “death penalty” to the small company. Apparently, the sudden halt to the company’s operations put the company out of business. The Seventh Circuit dismissed, for lack of Article III standing, a petition for review seeking to correct a decision of an assistant administrator that upheld the ALJ grant of relief to DND. The case is moot. View "DND International, Inc. v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration" on Justia Law

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Since 1935, federal law has regulated the hours of service of truck drivers operating in interstate commerce. Drivers must keep paper records showing their driving time and other on‐duty time. In 2012, Congress directed the Department of Transportation to issue regulations to require most interstate commercial motor vehicles to install electronic logging devices (ELDs) linked to vehicle engines to automatically record data relevant to hours of services: whether the engine is running, the time, and the vehicle’s approximate location. Congress instructed the Department to consider factors including driver privacy and preventing forms of harassment enabled by the ELDs, 49 U.S.C. 31137. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration promulgated the final rule: Electronic Logging Devices and Hours of Service Supporting Documents, 49 C.F.R. Pts. 385, 386, 390, 395 (2015). The Seventh Circuit rejected a challenge by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and drivers. The court rejected arguments that the rule permits ELDs that are not entirely automatic; uses a narrow definition of “harassment” that will not sufficiently protect drivers; that the agency’s cost‐benefit analysis was inadequate; that the agency did not sufficiently consider confidentiality protections for drivers; and that the ELD mandate imposed, in effect, an unconstitutional search or seizure on truck drivers. Even if the rule imposes a search or a seizure, inspection of ELD data recorded would fall within the “pervasively regulated industry” exception to the warrant requirement. View "Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. v. United States Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was supervising a BNSF crew, removing and reinstalling timber crossing planks. The crew had difficulty removing one plank, and with plaintiff’s approval, used a front‐end loader, which caused the plank to fly loose as plaintiff was walking on the track and to strike his leg. Days later he went to his doctor and learned that he had fractured his tibia. After first stating that he had been injured at home, on advice of his union, plaintiff told his supervisor, Veitz, about the injury. BNSF paid his medical bills and, pursuant to its policy, staged a reenactment and concluded that plaintiff had been careless. Later, a crew member told Veitz that he thought plaintiff was injured 10 days before the incident, while removing railroad ties from railroad property. Pursuant to its collective bargaining agreement, BNSF investigated. For his carelessness in the front-loader incident (which cost it medical expenses), BNSF imposed a 30-day suspension, but discharged plaintiff for the theft. Veitz testified that he had not given plaintiff permission to take ties, which are soaked in creosote. BNSF does not give or sell creosote products to employees or the public because of potential hazards The National Railroad Adjustment Board and OSHA denied plaintiff’s appeals. A jury awarded plaintiff damages under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, which forbids a railroad to discriminate against an employee for reporting a work-related injury, 49 U.S.C. 20109(a). The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding no evidence that the firing was related to the injury report. The company has a firm policy of firing employees discovered to have stolen company property. View "Koziara v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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From 1992-2013, a Milwaukee ordinance limited taxicab permits to those in existence on January 1, 1992 that were renewed. The ordinance lowered the ceiling over time by virtue of the nonrenewals. By 2013 the number of permits had diminished from 370 to 320. The price of permits on the open market soared as high as $150,000. In 2013, after a successful equal protection and substantive due process challenge, the city conducted a lottery, which attracted 1700 permit seekers. Milwaukee had only one taxicab per 1850 city residents, a much lower ratio than comparable cities. The city eliminated the cap in 2014. In the meantime, “ridesharing” companies such as Uber, had diminished the profitability of the existing taxi companies. Plaintiffs, cab companies, alleged that the increased number of permits has taken property without compensation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal. The taxi companies were aware that there was no guarantee that the ordinance would remain in force indefinitely, and that, were it repealed, they would be faced with new competition that would threaten their profits. The ordinance gave them no property right; its repeal invaded no right conferred by the Constitution. The court similarly rejected state-law claims of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and equitable estoppel. View "Joe Sanfelippo Cabs, Inc. v. City of Milwaukee" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs own and operate Chicago taxicabs or livery vehicles or provide services to such companies, such as loans and insurance. Taxi and livery companies are tightly regulated by the city regarding driver and vehicle qualifications, licensing, fares, and insurance. Ride-share services, such as Uber, are less heavily regulated and have a different business model. Chicago’s 2014 ride-share ordinance allows the companies to set their own fares. The plaintiffs challenged the ordinance on four Constitutional and three Illinois-law grounds. The district judge dismissed all but the two claims that accuse the city of denying the equal protection of the laws by allowing the ride-shares to compete with taxi and livery services without being subject to the same regulations. The Seventh Circuit ordered dismissal of all seven claims. There are enough differences between taxi service and ride-share service to justify different regulatory schemes. Chicago has legally chosen deregulation and competition over preserving the traditional taxicab monopolies. A legislature, having created a statutory entitlement, is not precluded from altering or even eliminating the entitlement by later legislation. View "Ill. Transp. Trade Ass'n v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Linda Phillips, an employee of Hoker Trucking, driving a semi‐truck in Indiana, struck a vehicle driven by Robbins, who died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident. The truck driven by Phillips was pulling a trailer Hoker borrowed from Lakeville. Lakeville had a Great West Casualty insurance policy covering the trailer. There was a separate suit concerning the liability of Phillips and Hoker. To preempt a possible claim against Lakeville’s policy, Great West sought a declaratory judgment against Hoker, Phillips, and Robbins’s estate, that it did not have to indemnify Hoker and Phillips for any liability in connection with the accident. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Great West. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that Great West’s policy was ambiguous as to whether Hoker and Phillips were excluded from coverage and should be construed against Great West; that even if the exclusions are not ambiguous, they do not exclude Hoker and Phillips from coverage; and regardless of whether the exclusions apply to Hoker and Phillips or not, such exclusions are invalid under Wisconsin law, the state where the trailer is registered. The court found the policy unambiguous. View "Great West Cas. Co. v. Robbins" on Justia Law

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Ohio tollways assess a toll only when a driver exits a highway. Illinois’ toll system assesses periodic tolls as a driver continues on the highway and allows drivers to use electronic transponders. At each toll plaza, Illinois has full‐speed lanes for transponder users and lanes for drivers who stop and pay cash. If a driver without a transponder uses a transponder lane, there is a seven‐day grace period for payment online or by mail, without incurring a fine, after which the car's owner incurs a $20 fine per violation. If an owner incurs three fines in two years, the tollway sends a notice, showing the date, time, and location of each violation, and explaining the right to contest the violations at a hearing. Toll evasion is a strict liability and vicarious liability offense. Transponder users are granted a second grace period: After notice is mailed, transponder users have until the due date on the notice to pay their missed tolls and update their account information to avoid fines. In December 2013, an Ohio resident drove to Chicago. He alleges that there was no signage informing him of how Illinoisʹ toll system worked, and that he did not understand the signage at the toll plazas. Plaintiff used the transponder lanes and missed three tolls before he realized his mistake. He called the tollway authority and was told that no violations appeared in the database. Weeks later, he received notice of the violations and his right to a hearing. Plaintiff paid $64.50, then filed a putative class action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging equal protection and due process violations. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, applying the rational basis test. View "Cochran v. Ill. State Toll Highway Auth." on Justia Law

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Trailer Transit contracts with shippers for the movement of cargo, then contracts with independent drivers, who provide the rigs that carry the cargo, promising those 71% “of the gross revenues derived from use of the equipment leased herein (less any insurance related surcharge and all items intended to reimburse [Trailer Transit] for special services, such as permits, escort service and other special administrative costs.” In a class action, about 1,000 drivers claimed that Trailer Transit made a profit on its “special services” and owes 71% of that profit to the drivers. The district court rejected that argument. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, explaining: “That just isn’t what the contract says. Drivers are entitled to 71% of the gross charge for “use of the equipment” (the rigs), but the contract does not provide for a share of Trailer Transit’s net profit on any other part of the bill.” View "Walker v. Trailer Transit, Inc." on Justia Law

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Stampley, an independent truck driver, sued Altom Transport, alleging that Altom had failed to pay him enough for driving his truck for it. Altom turned to its insurer, Westchester, for coverage in the suit. Westchester denied coverage; Altom handled its own defense; and the parties tried to settle. At that point, counsel for both Stampley and Altom tried to pull Westchester into the case, by making settlement offers within the limits of the Westchester policy and seeking Westchester’s approval. Westchester did not participate. Altom sought a declaratory judgment establishing that Westchester had a duty to defend, that it wrongfully had failed to do so, and that its handling of the matter had been unreasonable and vexatious. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the suit, finding that all of the claims in the underlying suit arise directly from Stampley’s lease agreement with Altom and fell within the policy’s contract claim exception. View "Stampley v. Westchester Fire Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Study of the I-69 extension between Evansville and Indianapolis began in 1944. The 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Act designated a new route from Indianapolis to Memphis,, via Evansville as a “high priority corridor” for development. As the project progressed, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) divided the project into two “tiers” for environmental analysis. After the plans were finalized, construction work on the six sections of Tier 2 began; 90 percent of the work on the extension is complete. The FHWA and Indiana Department of Transportation issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Tier 2, Section 4, in 2010. A Final Environmental Impact Statement and a Record of Decision issued in 2011. The agencies selected the final route and construction plan for Section 4 after reviewing 48 options and produced a record reflecting consideration of impact on historic sites, geological formations, and air-quality, among other factors. Pursuant to its obligations under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service engaged in consultation and issued a Biological Opinion regarding the possible impact of tree-clearing on the endangered Indiana bat. Opponents filed suit. After a lengthy period of inactivity by Plaintiffs, including several missed case management deadlines, the district court granted summary judgment upholding the approvals. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads v. Foxx" on Justia Law