Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Transportation Law
Rebecca Lancaster v. BNSF Railway Company
A former BNSF Railway Company employee died from lung cancer in 2018. Plaintiff, on behalf of her late husband’s estate, brought this wrongful death action against BNSF under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), alleging that her husband’s cancer was caused by his exposure to toxins at work. The district court excluded Plaintiff’s expert witness testimony and granted summary judgment to BNSF. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that there is no direct evidence that Plaintiff’s husband was exposed to asbestos or diesel combustion fumes. Even if a jury could infer that Plaintiff’s husband had been exposed, there is no evidence of the level of exposure. The court explained that while a quantifiable amount of exposure is not required to find causation between toxic exposure and injury, there must be, at a minimum, “evidence from which the factfinder can conclude that the plaintiff was exposed to levels of that agent that are known to cause the kind of harm that the plaintiff claims to have suffered,” There is no such evidence here. Moreover, the court explained that the district court did not abuse its considerable discretion by determining that the expert’s opinion lacked a sufficient foundation and that, in turn, his methodology for proving causation was unreliable. View "Rebecca Lancaster v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law
City of Carthage, Missouri v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
The City of Carthage sued Union Pacific Railroad Co. for breach of contract, claiming UP failed to maintain several bridges. On summary judgment, the district court ruled that the City’s breach-of-contract claim was barred by the five-year statute of limitations. The City argues that the ten-year statute of limitations applies here because its claim seeks an equitable remedy. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the City’s claim accrued in February 2013, at the latest. On February 15, 2013, the City wrote UP demanding the repair of the bridges—establishing that the City was on notice of a potentially actionable injury. The City waited until 2019—over five years later—to sue UP. The City’s claim is barred by the five-year statute of limitations. Further, here, UP did not engage in any affirmative act during the limitations period. Without more, a failure to act does not justify the continuing wrong rule. View "City of Carthage, Missouri v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Edward Blackorby v. BNSF Railway Company
After Plaintiff prevailed at trial and was awarded $58,240 in damages, plus post-judgment interest, Plaintiff sought attorneys’ fees in the amount of $701,706, litigation costs in the amount of $43,089.48, and additional filing and transcript-preparation fees in the amount of $1,620.45. The district court ultimately awarded attorneys’ fees in the amount of $570,771 and filing and transcript-preparation fees in the amount of $1,620.45 but denied the request for litigation costs. Defendant BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) appealed, asserting that the district court abused its discretion with respect to the award of attorneys’ fees. The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and reduced the award of fees by $103,642.50. BNSF first argued that the award of fees is unreasonable because Plaintiff only achieved limited success. The court reasoned that Plaintiff undisputedly prevailed at trial on his FRSA claim. As this claim was at the heart of Plaintiff’s case, his degree of success is significant, regardless of the fate of his FELA claim or another theory of liability underlying his FRSA claim. However, the court found that BNSF’s request for the reduction of fees related to the first trial, however, has merit. The court wrote that Plaintiff undisputedly offered the jury instruction that contained a legal error based on Eighth Circuit precedent, which required vacatur of the judgment. The court agreed with BNSF that Plaintiff is not entitled to fees that were unreasonably caused by his own legal error. View "Edward Blackorby v. BNSF Railway Company" on Justia Law
Intl Assn of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Trans v. Iowa Northern Railway Company
Iowa Northern Railway Company (“Iowa Northern”) and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (the “Union”) are both parties to a Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) that is subject to the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”). In 2019, Iowa Northern offered to increase the pay of unionized Train and Engine employees to $300 to recruit additional employees. The Union members rejected the pay increase. Subsequently, Iowa Northern served a Section 6 notice on the Union, proposing changes to the CBA. When the Union failed to respond, Iowa Northern provide notice it intended to resort to self-help, and then increased the pay rate to $300 per day.The Union then filed this case, claiming that Iowa Northern violated the RLA by unlawfully resorting to self-help and seeking a preliminary injunction to maintain the status quo prior to the pay-rate changes. The district court denied the Union's request, finding that it did not meet its burden of establishing the likelihood of success on the merits. The Union appealed.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a Union's requested preliminary injunction, finding that the Defendant railway operator did not violate the Railway Labor Act when it resorted to self-help. The court explained the Union's "prolonged foot-dragging and refusal to respond on an issue of vital importance to Iowa Northern (and to the Union’s members) raise substantial doubt that the Union’s status quo claim will survive." View "Intl Assn of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail & Trans v. Iowa Northern Railway Company" on Justia Law
Monohon v. BNSF Railway Co.
Plaintiff filed suit alleging that BNSF violated the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) when it discharged him for reporting, in good faith, a hazardous safety condition. After the case proceeded to trial, the jury found in favor of plaintiff and awarded back pay. The district court denied plaintiff's request for reinstatement and instead awarded three years of front pay, thereafter granting BNSF's motion for judgment as a matter of law.The Eighth Circuit concluded that BNSF's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law was timely and therefore fell within Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b)'s 28-day time period; there existed a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to support the jury's finding that plaintiff's report regarding the danger of wearing a seatbelt while hy-railing is a report of a hazardous safety condition; and the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that BNSF intentionally retaliated against plaintiff. Finally, the court concluded that the district court abused its discretion in granting BNSF's conditional motion for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment in favor of BNSF, reversed the order granting BNSF's motion for judgment as a matter of law, and remanded for the reinstatement of the jury verdict and for the entry of such further relief. View "Monohon v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law
Richardson v. BNSF Railway Co.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of BNSF in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging constructive discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) under Nebraska law. The court concluded that the Railway Labor Act (RLA) divested the district court of subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's constructive discharge claim and thus the claim was properly dismissed.However, the court concluded that the district court erred in dismissing the IIED claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) because that claim can be resolved interpreting the collective bargaining agreement. Therefore, the district court did have subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. Nevertheless, the court concluded that dismissal was appropriate under Rule 12(b)(6) because the complaint failed to state a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress under Nebraska law no matter what the collective bargaining agreement says. In this case, plaintiff alleged that BNSF or its employees disciplined and fired him without cause and berated him with expletive laced language and threats of physical violence. The court explained that it is unnecessary to interpret the collective bargaining agreement to conclude that these allegations do not support a reasonable inference of liability. Rather, plaintiff's allegations of discipline and termination without cause are insufficient to generate a reasonable inference of liability because discipline and termination without cause are not so outrageous that they give rise to a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Nebraska law. View "Richardson v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law
Iverson v. United States
The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) removed sovereign immunity from suits for “injury or loss of property, or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission” of a federal employee acting within the scope of his employment, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1)). The FTCA generally exempts intentional torts, which remain barred by sovereign immunity. The “law-enforcement proviso” allows plaintiffs to file claims arising “out of assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, abuse of process, [and] malicious prosecution” that are the result of “acts or omissions of investigative or law enforcement officers of the United States Government” and defines investigative or law enforcement officer as “any officer of the United States who is empowered by law to execute searches, to seize evidence, or to make arrests for violations of Federal law.”Iverson went through security at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, walking with the aid of crutches. Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) performed a pat-down search; Iverson was allowed to place his hands on his crutches but had to stand on his own power. Iverson alleges that a TSO pulled him forward and then abruptly let go, causing Iverson to fall and be injured. The TSA denied an administrative claim. Iverson sued, asserting battery and negligence. The Eighth Circuit reversed the dismissal of the case, finding that TSOs satisfy the FTCA’s definition of an investigative or law enforcement officer. View "Iverson v. United States" on Justia Law
Miller v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
After plaintiff was injured while serving as an engineer for UP when the train he was operating partially derailed because of a misaligned switch, he filed suit under the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), alleging claims of FELA negligence per se and negligence.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment and grant of UP's motion for summary judgment. In regard to plaintiff's negligence per se claim, the court held that plaintiff failed to present any evidence that would raise a genuine issue of material fact that UP "played any part, even the slightest" to cause the switch to be moved from its designated position. Rather, the evidence showed the switch was misaligned by a criminal act of a third party. Furthermore, there is no evidence in the record that any act of a UP employee contributed to the misalignment. Therefore, UP committed no act violating the regulation requiring switches to be aligned per the railroad's written policy.In regard to the negligence claim, the court held that UP cannot be liable under a negligence theory for failing to properly align the switch unless it knew or had reason to know it was misaligned. In this case, there was no evidence that UP was aware the switch was not properly aligned. Likewise, plaintiff presented no evidence that UP failed to reasonably protect its keys or had reason to know that the security of its keys or locks were compromised; plaintiff proffered no evidence of an industry standard or other evidence that could lead a jury to find UP negligent for failing to remove the switch or track; and plaintiff failed to point to any evidence that would establish that UP was negligent if it failed to install additional or different devices to prevent someone from tampering with the switch. View "Miller v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Neylon v. BNSF Railway Co.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of BNSF in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging a claim of retaliation for engaging in protected activity under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA).The court held that, in order to make a prima facie case of unlawful retaliation under the FRSA, an employee must show, by a preponderance of the evidence: (i) he engaged in a protected activity; (ii) the rail carrier knew or suspected, actually or constructively, that he engaged in the protected activity; (iii) he suffered an adverse action; and (iv) the circumstances raise an inference that the protected activity was a contributing factor in the adverse action. Furthermore, the contributing factor that an employee must prove is intentional retaliation prompted by the employee engaging in protected activity. In this case, the court held that the record as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find that plaintiff's injury report prompted BNSF to intentionally retaliate against him. View "Neylon v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law
Fergin v. Magnum LTL, Inc.
Plaintiff filed suit against Westrock in state court after a stack of cardboard boxes fell out of a truck and caused him to fall to the ground, injuring his shoulder. After removal to federal court, plaintiff brought a negligence claim against defendants for damages related to his bodily injury. Magnum moved for summary judgment, alleging that the Carmack Amendment preempted plaintiff's state law claim.The Eighth Circuit held that the Carmack Amendment, which requires a carrier under the jurisdiction of the Transportation Act to issue a bill of lading for property it receives for transport and makes the carrier liable for damages resulting from its transportation or service, did not preempt plaintiff's state law claim for personal injury, because he was not a party to the bill of lading between his employer and the common carrier. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's holding to the contrary. View "Fergin v. Magnum LTL, Inc." on Justia Law