Articles Posted in Transportation Law

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Atlas, an authorized interstate transporter of household goods, contracts with agents to perform its shipments. One of its agents, Ace, leases trucks and driving services from owner-operators. In 2009, owner-operator Mervyn entered into a lease agreement with Ace to haul shipments for Atlas. In 2013, Mervyn sued Atlas and Ace in a purported class action, alleging breach of contract and violations of the federal Truth-In-Leasing regulations under 49 C.F.R. 376.12(d). The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Atlas and Ace. Mervyn advanced claims that are necessarily inconsistent: that he was not paid according to the plain terms of the lease and that the lease violated the Truth-In-Leasing regulations because the terms were not “clearly stated.” Mervyn never disputed the financial entries he complained of until he filed this lawsuit, in violation of a contract provision allowing a 30-day window to dispute financial entries. Mervyn was compensated according to the plain and ordinary terms of the lease. View "Mervyn v. Atlas Van Lines, Inc." on Justia Law

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Thompson pulled his JBS tractor/trailer onto the shoulder, activated his four‐way flashers, and fixed a malfunctioning light. With the flashers still on, he had just reentered the highway and was traveling 15-18 miles an hour when Hasib came around a curve and crashed into the back of his trailer. The impact killed Hasib instantly and set his E.J.A. truck on fire. Hasib’s son, Edin, who also drove for E.J.A., saw that his father’s truck on fire, parked, and attempted to pull his father from the cab. Edin suffered burns. On hearing of her husband’s death, Esma had to be taken to a hospital. As a result of Major Depressive Disorder, Esma never returned to work. Edin suffered PTSD. Hasib's daughter attempted suicide at her father’s grave. Hasib’s estate brought claims under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act and the Illinois rescue doctrine. The companies asserted counterclaims under the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act. On the wrongful death claim, a jury attributed 55 percent of the fault to Thompson and JBS and reduced its $5,000,000 damage award by 45 percent; it awarded Edin $625,000 on his rescue claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the court’s refusal to give a jury instruction on the duty to mitigate damages, instead giving instructions related to “careful habits” and “exigent circumstances.” The court rejected arguments that the court should have apportioned Edin’s award and that the court erred in allowing an award for Esma’s lost earnings. View "Karahodzic v. JBS Carriers, Inc." on Justia Law

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Armstrong, a BNSF train conductor, was not wearing the proper uniform for the third time in two weeks. Armstrong’s supervisor, Motley, noticed and called him into the “Glasshouse” office. Nelson left the Glasshouse as Armstrong arrived. Armstrong claims that Motley began yelling and that he tried to leave because he felt threatened; Motley pushed the door shut, striking Armstrong’s knee and foot. This is not seen on a video recording. Nelson testified that, outside the Glasshouse, he could hear Armstrong curse at Motley. The video showed Motley standing away from the door as Armstrong exited. Motley, who claims he did not close the door on Armstrong, called his supervisor, Johanson. After speaking to Armstrong, Johanson took Armstrong to an on-site clinic, where he was provided a soft walking shoe. Human Resources took statements and secured the video. BNSF issued a notice of investigation for insubordination, dishonesty, and misrepresentation. A hearing officer concluded that Armstrong had lied. BNSF terminated Armstrong’s employment. Armstrong sued, alleging that BNSF dismissed him for reporting a work‐related injury, (Federal Rail Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20109(a)(4)). The Seventh Circuit affirmed a jury verdict for BNSF, upholding a jury instruction that “Defendant cannot be held liable under the FRSA if you conclude that Defendant terminated Plainiff’s employment based on its honestly held belief that Plaintiff did not engage in protected activity under the FRSA in good faith.” While a FRSA plaintiff need not show that retaliation was the sole motivating factor in the adverse decision, the statute requires a showing that retaliation was a motivating factor. View "Armstrong v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Unions represent engineers employed by the Railroad, which is an amalgamation of several carriers. As a result, the Railroad is a party to multiple collective bargaining Agreements (CBAs). The Railroad modified disciplinary rules; the new policy was set forth in “MAPS," and supplanted UPGRADE. The Railroad had previously made changes to UPGRADE over the Union’s objections. When it shifted from UPGRADE to MAPS it did not consult the Union. The Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 151–88 allows employers to change “rates of pay, rules, or working conditions of ... employees” in any way permitted by an existing CBA or by going through the bargaining and negotiation procedure prescribed in section 156. MAPS falls within the scope of “rules” and “working conditions.” The Railroad argued that the change was permitted under the CBA. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Union’s suit. If a disagreement arises over the formation or amendment of a CBA, it is considered a “major” dispute under the Act, and it must be decided by a court. If it relates only to the interpretation or application of an existing agreement, it is labeled “minor” and must go to arbitration. In this case, there is at least a non-frivolous argument that interpretation of the agreement between the parties, not change, is at stake. View "Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Chessie is a railroad authorized to operate one mile of track in Melrose Park, Illinois. It has apparently been many years since trains have run on that track. Krinos owns and operates an adjacent industrial facility. A spur and side track run over Krinos’s property; Chessie says it has easements to use those tracks. Chessie alleges that Krinos constructed a sewer line and did drainage work, burying parts of its tracks and creating a slope directing runoff that damaged other parts. After Chessie notified Krinos, Krinos removed the dirt from one track and did additional damage. Chessie filed suit, alleging trespass, negligence, and violation of 49 U.S.C. 10903. Section 10903 requires rail carriers to receive permission from the Surface Transportation Board before abandoning parts of their lines. Krinos counterclaimed, alleging that Chessie did not have easements to use the spur and side tracks and seeking a declaratory judgment, quiet title, and ejectment. The district court agreed that section 10903 did not create a private right of action and granted Krinos summary judgment. Chessie did not show that it had easements over Krinos’s property, and an independent contractor, not Krinos, caused the alleged intrusion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Section 10903 does not create an implied right of action. Chessie was not entitled to change its negligence theory after discovery. View "Chessie Logistics Co., LLC v. Krinos Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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National manufactures battery packs, including the lithium battery packs at issue (Batteries), which were regulated as hazardous materials. A Federal Aviation Administration agent inspected National’s Chicago facility and discovered that National made 11 air shipments of the Batteries to customers in California and Canada that did not comply with multiple hazardous material regulations (HMRs). The FAA filed a complaint. National’s vice president testified that he believed, without supporting evidence, the Batteries were exempt from testing because they were similar to previously tested batteries. The shipping papers indicated that each shipments conformed tp the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Technical Instructions for the Safe Transport of Dangerous Goods. National’s office manager, certified each shipment, but her hazardous materials training was Department of Transportation specific and did not include training on the ICAO Technical Instructions. Because the Batteries were untested lithium batteries, they should have been packed according to the more stringent standards. An ALJ found that National knowingly violated the HMRs. The FAA assessed a civil penalty of $66,000 based on 49 U.S.C. 5123(c). The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review. A reasonable person in National’s position would have been aware of its violations; the penalty was within statutory limits, and rationally related to National’s multiple offenses View "National Power Corp. v. Federal Aviation Administration" on Justia Law

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A year after CSX successfully petitioned the ICC to end CSX's obligation to provide common-carrier rail service on a portion of track in Putnam County, Indiana, CSX notified ICC that it had abandoned that segment. CSX then leased a portion of its track, including the abandoned segment, for use by a grain-shipping company. Plaintiffs, owners of property adjoining the abandoned track segment, filed suit seeking removal of the tracks and possession of the real property underlying the rail line. The district court granted CSX's motion for summary judgment. The court affirmed the district court's finding that plaintiffs' claims were preempted under the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C. 10501(b). In this case, plaintiffs seek to eject CSX from land with active, ongoing rail operations, and thus preemption applied to their claims. View "Wedemeyer v. CSX Transportation" on Justia Law

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