Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Transportation Law
Serna v. Denver Police Department, et al.
Plaintiff-appellant Francisco Serna sued a police officer and local police department that allegedly prevented him from transporting hemp plants on a flight from Colorado to Texas. In the complaint, he asserted a single claim under § 10114(b) of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill), a statute that authorized states to legalize hemp and regulate its production within their borders, but generally precluded states from interfering with the interstate transportation of hemp. The district court dismissed Serna’s complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), concluding that Serna failed to state a viable claim because § 10114(b) did not create a private cause of action to sue state officials who allegedly violate that provision. Serna appealed, arguing that § 10114(b) impliedly authorized a private cause of action and that even if it didn't, the district court should have allowed him to amend the complaint to add other potentially viable claims rather than dismissing the case altogether. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that contrary to Serna’s view, the language in § 10114(b) did not suggest that Congress intended to grant hemp farmers a right to freely transport their product from one jurisdiction to another, with no interference from state officials. Because courts could not read a private cause of action into a statute that lacked such rights-creating language, the Court held the district court properly dismissed Serna’s § 10114(b) claim. The Court also concluded the trial court properly declined to allow Serna to amend his complaint. View "Serna v. Denver Police Department, et al." on Justia Law
Day v. SkyWest Airlines
Kelly Day appealed the district court’s dismissal of the diversity action she filed against SkyWest Airlines for personal injuries she allegedly sustained when a SkyWest flight attendant carelessly struck her with a beverage cart. The district court granted SkyWest’s motion to dismiss the action as preempted under the Airline Deregulation Act (“ADA”), which preempted state laws “related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier.” The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with sister circuits that personal-injury claims arising out of an airline employee’s failure to exercise due care were not “related to” a deregulated price, route, or service. Therefore, the Court reversed the district court’s dismissal of Day’s action and remanded for further proceedings. View "Day v. SkyWest Airlines" on Justia Law
Frey v. Town of Jackson, WY, et al.
As Plaintiff William Frey proceeded through the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) checkpoint at Jackson Hole Airport in Teton County, Wyoming, the body scanner alerted TSA screeners to a potentially suspicious area on Plaintiff’s person. When the security screeners informed Plaintiff that they would have to conduct a pat down, Plaintiff became agitated and repeatedly refused to cooperate. So the security screeners summoned a police officer, Defendant Nathan Karnes, who arrested Plaintiff. After being transported to the Teton County Jail for booking, Plaintiff continued his noncooperation, refusing to participate in the booking process and demanding that jail officials allow him to have an attorney present. Jail officials detained Plaintiff for about three hours before releasing him. Plaintiff sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law, alleging many violations of his rights. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s federal claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, denied leave to file a second amended complaint, declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims, awarded attorney’s fees to the Municipal Defendants, and sanctioned Plaintiff’s attorneys. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that some of his claims should have survived dismissal, that the district court should have permitted him to add some of his new proposed claims in a second amended complaint, and that the district court should not have awarded any attorney’s fees. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Frey v. Town of Jackson, WY, et al." on Justia Law
BNSF Railway v. City of Edmond, et al.
Municipal authorities in Oklahoma fined Plaintiff BNSF Railway Company for violating its Blocked Crossing Statute—setting up a preemption challenge between the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (“ICCTA”) and the Blocked Crossing Statute. Defendants argued the Federal Railroad Safety Act (“FRSA”), not the ICCTA, applied to Oklahoma’s statute and did not preempt it. The district court held that the ICCTA preempted Oklahoma’s Blocked Crossing Statute because it regulated railroad operations. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the federal district court and affirmed its decision. View "BNSF Railway v. City of Edmond, et al." on Justia Law
Southern Furniture Leasing v. YRC
Southern Furniture Leasing, Inc. filed a putative class action against a group of less-than-truckload (“LTL”) freight carriers, all predecessors to or current subsidiaries of YRC, Inc. Southern Furniture alleged YRC “carried out a widespread and systematic practice of overcharging its customers by intentionally using inflated shipment weights when determining shipment prices.” YRC asked the Tenth Circuit to affirm on the alternate ground that Southern Furniture failed to allege Article III standing. The district court rejected YRC’s standing argument, and the Tenth Circuit agreed with its analysis. The district court granted YRC’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that Southern Furniture had only 180 days to contest the alleged overcharges under 49 U.S.C. 13710(a)(3)(B). To this, the Tenth Circuit concurred and affirmed. View "Southern Furniture Leasing v. YRC" on Justia Law
Little v. Budd Company
Robert Rabe worked as a pipefitter in an Atchison Topeka & Sante Fe Railroad (“ATSF”) repair shop. In that capacity, he replaced pipe insulation on passenger cars manufactured by The Budd Company (“Budd”). Rabe died from malignant mesothelioma. Nancy Little, individually and as personal representative of Rabe’s estate, brought state common-law tort claims against Budd, claiming Rabe died from exposure to asbestos-containing insulation surrounding the pipes on Budd-manufactured railcars. A jury ruled in Little’s favor. On appeal, Budd contended Little’s state tort claims were preempted by the Locomotive Inspection Act (“LIA”), under a theory that all passenger railcars were “appurtenances” to a complete locomotive. The Tenth Circuit determined that because Budd did not raise this issue before the district court, and because Budd did not seek plain-error review, this particular assertion of error was waived. Alternatively, Budd contended Little’s tort claims were preempted by the Safety Appliance Act (“SAA”. The Tenth Circuit determined that assertion was foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co. v. Georgia, 234 U.S. 280 (1914). Therefore, finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Little v. Budd Company" on Justia Law
Ezell v. BNSF Railway Company
Petitioner George Ezell was a conductor for BNSF Railway Company. In 2014, the trainmaster directed Ezell to detach twenty ballast-loaded railcars from a train about to enter the Enid, Oklahoma train yard. To detach, Ezell had to climb railcar ladders to see which cars were more than half full of ballast. Ezell safely performed this method for five or six railcars, but while inspecting the next railcar, his left hand slipped from the flange after he had let go of the ladder rung with his right hand. He was unable to resecure a grip with either hand and fell several feet to the ground, fracturing his right leg, right ankle, and left foot. He sued BNSF under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA) for failing to provide him with a reasonably safe place to work. BNSF moved for summary judgment, arguing that its railcar complied with the governing safety regulations and that Ezell had offered no evidence of BNSF’s negligence. “Ezell’s proffering what he believes are safer alternatives does not show negligence.” The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined the evidence established that to do their jobs railroad conductors need to climb the ladders, and that this was a reasonably safe activity. For that reason, the Court agreed with the district court’s dismissal of this case. View "Ezell v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law
Schulenberg v. BNSF Railway Company
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
United States v. Easley
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
Straub v. BNSF
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