Articles Posted in Transportation Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Michigan Flyer provides public transportation services to the Detroit Metro area and provides services on behalf of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. In 2014, two disabled individuals sued the Wayne County Airport to prevent it from moving the public transportation bus stop from the curbside at the terminal. Michigan Flyer provided support to the disabled individuals in the lawsuit. Michigan Flyer alleges that after the lawsuit settled, the Airport retaliated against it by extending preferential access to all other transportation providers. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of its suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act Title V provisions, 42 U.S.C. 12203(a); the district court’s refusal to reopen the case pursuant to FRCP 59; and denial of the Airport’s motion for attorney’s fees. The statute’s use of the term “individual” is unambiguous and does not include corporations, such as Michigan Flyer. View "Michigan Flyer, LLC v. Wayne County Airport Authority" on Justia Law

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East of Youngstown’s Center Street Bridge, Allied owns land containing the “LTV tracks.” Mahoning Railroad Company has an easement to use those tracks. Mahoning began parking rail cars on the tracks, which Allied considered a violation of the easement. A state court referred the matter to the Surface Transportation Board. Allied challenged the Board’s jurisdiction, arguing that the tracks were “spur, side, or industrial tracks,” excepted tracks under 49 U.S.C. 10906. The Board concluded (erroneously) that it had previously authorized Mahoning to provide common-carrier service using the LTV tracks; that Mahoning, therefore, was a “railroad carrier”; and that the easement did not forbid the use. Allied introduced an affidavit from a former Mahoning employee, asserting that the LTV tracks had been built as part of a strictly in-plant system and were never subject to Board control, then argued that the LTV tracks were private tracks outside the Board’s jurisdiction, rather than excepted tracks. The Board agreed that it had not authorized Mahoning to use the tracks, but concluded that the LTV tracks were mainline tracks, over which it had jurisdiction. Because Allied waited five years to clarify its position, the Board did not consider the “new evidence” and reaffirmed. Mahoning alleges that it owns lot 62188, west of the bridge; Allied alleges that it bought the lot and sought to evict Mahoning. The Board concluded that the 62188 tracks are either excepted or mainline tracks, within its jurisdiction, and remanded to state court for determination of land title. The Sixth Circuit denied an appeal. Mahoning’s use of the tracks fits the statutory definition of “transportation by rail carrier . . . by railroad” and is within the Board’s jurisdiction View "Allied Erecting & Dismantling Co., Inc. v. Surface Transp. Bd." on Justia Law

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APU holds 5.2 million shares of Amtrak common stock pursuant to the Rail Passenger Service Act, 84 Stat. 1327. The 1997 Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act, 49 U.S.C. 24304 mandated that “Amtrak shall, before October 1, 2002, redeem all common stock previously issued, for the fair market value.” In 2000, Amtrak proposed to redeem APU’s common stock for three cents per share. APU rejected Amtrak’s offer in November 2000. The statutory deadline passed without Amtrak making any further offer to redeem the shares. APU and Amtrak negotiated until January 2008, when Amtrak declared that the shares were worthless and that further negotiations would be futile. The parties never reached a settlement. In May 2008, APU sued Amtrak. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit remanded one claim. On remand, the district court dismissed that claim as barred by the three-year statute of limitations. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that there is no disputed question of fact regarding the dates of the three key events: Amtrak valued APU’s shares at three cents each in 2000; the deadline for redeeming the shares lapsed in 2002; and Amtrak terminated negotiations in 2008. The court rejected an argument that the limitations period began to run in 2008. View "Am. Premier Underwriters v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp." on Justia Law

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Edwards worked as a CSX train engineer for 31 years. He arrived at work on May 28, 2012, with an upset stomach. The bathroom in the lead locomotive was “nasty,” Edwards saw and smelled:“[U]rine, human waste, . . . [and] blue chemical” splattered all over the toilet and floor. Edwards sprayed disinfectant, closed the door, and started the trip. During a stop, about 80 miles and six hours later, Edwards’ nausea escalated. Unwilling to use a foul bathroom, he sprinted to a catwalk, outside of the locomotive. He threw up over the side. Then he vomited a second time and, in the process, fell over the handrail onto the ground below. He broke two of his vertebrae and cracked a rib, ending his career with CSX. Edwards sought damages under Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51; its regulations required CSX to keep its locomotive bathroom sanitary. On remand, CSX again obtained summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. CSX complied with the rules the day before Edwards’ injury, when it inspected and cleaned the bathroom; the regulations do not require railroads to ensure that the toilets are clean at any given moment between inspections. Edwards had abandoned his other negligence claims. View "Edwards v. CSX Transp., Inc." on Justia Law

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An individual and a company filed a putative class action suit alleging that United Parcel Service (UPS) overcharges customers for liability coverage against loss or damage for packages with a declared value of $300 or more. The complaint alleged breach of contract; sought declaratory relief (28 U.S.C. 2201); claimed violation of 49 U.S.C. 13708(b) (regulating billing and collecting practices for motor carriers); and, in the alternative, alleged unjust enrichment. The district court dismissed, agreeing with UPS that the language of the shipping contract at issue unambiguously precluded the plaintiffs’ interpretation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed with respect to 49 U.S.C. 13708(b), but reversed the dismissal of the remaining claims. Reasonable minds could differ on the correct interpretation of UPS’s Service Guide provision; the provision is at least ambiguous, so its meaning is a question of fact that is not properly answered by the court at this early stage in the proceedings. An unjust enrichment claim—that a benefit was unjustly conferred on UPS when customers paid an extra charge on packages despite UPS’s representations that it provided a portion of this service for free—is not precluded by his breach of contract claim. View "Solo v. United Parcel Serv. Co." on Justia Law

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Haines operates a tour bus company. In 2000, he modified the luggage compartment in a bus to become a sleeper area, designed to comply with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations. In May, 2011, FMCSA informed Haines that he could use the luggage compartment as a sleeper area without additional approval if he complied with 49 C.F.R. 393.76. On May 29, 2011, Haines permitted family members to ride in the sleeper area while the bus was in motion. An unidentified individual notified authorities. On June 10, FMCSA placed all of Haines’ busses, including three without sleeper areas, out of service, and identified Haines Tours as an “imminent hazard” to public safety based on its finding that the “unauthorized transportation of passengers in the cargo area . . . substantially increase[d] the likelihood of serious injury or death.” The suspension lasted five days. Haines sued, alleging that the handling of the temporary suspension violated his due process and equal protection rights and gave rise to a claim under the Administrative Procedures Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal without leave to amend; “Bivens” claims were time-barred by Michigan’s three-year statute of limitations and a Bivens remedy was not available because Haines had an adequate, alternative remedy. View "Haines v. Fed. Motor Carrier Safety Admin." on Justia Law