Articles Posted in Transportation Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Plaintiffs, three independent truckers representing themselves and a class of similarly situated truck drivers, contended that Defendants TransAm Trucking, Inc. and TransAm Leasing, Inc. (collectively “TransAm”) violated the Department of Transportation’s truth-in-leasing regulations by requiring the truckers to pay TransAm $15 per week to use TransAm’s satellite communications system. This $15 usage fee violated 49 C.F.R. 376.12(i), which precluded a motor carrier like TransAm from requiring a trucker “to purchase or rent any products, equipment, or services from the authorized carrier as a condition of entering into the lease arrangement.” To that end, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed partial summary judgment granted in favor of the truckers. However, the truckers also asserted a claim for damages, which the district court certified as a class action. Because the truckers failed to present any evidence of their damages resulting from the unlawful usage fee, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court should have entered summary judgment for TransAm on that damages claim. View "Fox v. Transam Leasing" on Justia Law

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Alphonse Maddin worked as a truck driver by Petitioner TransAm Trucking (“TransAm”). In January 2009, Maddin was transporting cargo through Illinois when the brakes on his trailer froze because of subzero temperatures. After reporting the problem to TransAm and waiting several hours for a repair truck to arrive, Maddin unhitched his truck from the trailer and drove away, leaving the trailer unattended. He was terminated for abandoning the trailer. Both an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) and Respondent, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) Administrative Review Board (“ARB”), concluded Maddin was terminated in violation of the whistleblower provisions of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (“STAA”). He was ordered reinstated with backpay. TransAm filed a Petition for Review of the ARB’s Final Decision and Order to the Tenth Circuit which concluded that there was no reversible error in the ARB's decision, and affirmed. View "Transam Trucking v. Administrative Review Bd." on Justia Law

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Decker Truck Lines, Inc. was a for-hire motor carrier, regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Secretary of Transportation, with its principal office in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Decker signed a transportation contract with New Belgium Brewing Company (New Belgium) to make two classes of shipments: (1) outbound shipments of beer from New Belgium’s brewery to its warehouse (known as the “Rez”), and (2) backhaul shipments of empty kegs, pallets, hops, and other materials from the Rez to the brewery. These two facilities are located approximately five miles apart in Fort Collins, Colorado. And Decker employed Plaintiffs (all of whom are commercial truck drivers) to transport both categories of shipments. This case involved a dispute over the scope of the Motor Carrier Act exemption from the overtime pay requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Colorado Minimum Wage Order (Wage Order). Joe Deherrera and several other complainants (Plaintiffs), who were commercial truck drivers for Decker, claimed Decker failed to pay them proper overtime wages. Decker contended Plaintiffs were exempt employees under both the FLSA and the Wage Order. The district court granted summary judgment to Decker, and after review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed: "By driving an intrastate leg of shipments in interstate commerce, Plaintiffs became subject to the authority of the Secretary of Transportation and were thus exempt from the overtime pay requirements of the FLSA and the Wage Order." View "Deherrera v. Decker Truck Line" on Justia Law

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In 2012, O.K. Farms, Inc. hired J.B. Hunt Transportation, Inc. to deliver chickens to Roger Gentry, a poultry grower with a farm near Wister, Oklahoma. Hunt, in turn, hired truck driver Troy Ford to deliver the chickens. In 2012, friends and relatives of Gentry were present to help him receive the delivery, among them, Jimmy Hill. As Ford drove into the chicken house on a Moffett (a vehicle similar to a forklift), he hit Jimmy’s leg and injured his ankle. Jimmy’s ankle became infected, and he died. Michael Hill, Jimmy’s son and the special administrator of his estate, brought a wrongful death action in Oklahoma state court against Hunt, alleging it was vicariously liable for Ford’s negligent driving. Hunt then filed a notice of removal based on diversity of citizenship, and the case was removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. Hill subsequently amended his complaint, adding O.K. Farms as a defendant. A few days before trial, Hunt’s counsel discovered Ford was unwilling to appear at trial, despite having been subpoenaed. On the second day of trial, Hunt moved the court to compel Ford to appear, or alternatively, to admit his video deposition testimony. The district court denied Hunt’s motion. The jury returned a $3.332 million verdict against Hunt. Hunt moved for a new trial or, alternatively, remittitur under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) and (e), arguing: (1) the court’s decision not to compel Ford’s appearance and its exclusion of his deposition testimony prejudiced Hunt; and (2) the jury award was excessive and unsupported by the evidence. The district court denied Hunt’s motion. Hunt appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Hill v. J.B. Hunt Transport" on Justia Law

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In this case, TransAm Trucking, Inc. petitioned the Tenth Circuit for review of an email it received from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) counsel expressing the agency’s refusal to issue TransAm a third amended compliance review report pursuant to the parties’ settlement agreement. After granting review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that email was not a "final order" within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. 2342(3)(A), and dismissed TransAm’s petition for lack of jurisdiction. View "Transam Trucking v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety" on Justia Law