Articles Posted in Transportation Law

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Clyde Carter, Jr. injured his shoulder and neck while working as a carman at BNSF Railway Company’s yard in Kansas City, Kansas. Carter immediately reported the injury to BNSF. The following year, he filed a Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) damage action, alleging that BNSF’s negligence caused his injury. BNSF’s discovery in defending the FELA lawsuit included a July 2009 deposition of Carter. In January 2012, as trial approached, a BNSF manager reviewed discovery materials provided by BNSF’s attorneys. He discovered discrepancies between Carter’s deposition testimony and information provided on his employment application and medical questionnaire submitted to BNSF in 2005. Thompson initiated a disciplinary investigation into potentially dishonest statements. Later, BNSF opened a second disciplinary investigation to determine if Carter signed a false statement that he arrived at work on time on February 5, 2012. The investigations culminated in two "on-property" evidentiary hearings, the conclusions of which found Carter committed dishonesty violations and recommended discipline in accordance with BNSF’s Policy for Employee Performance Accountability (PEPA). It was recommended Carter be terminated for dishonesty, a "stand alone" violation that could result in dismissal without regard to an employee's prior disciplinary history. Following termination, Carter filed an FRSA complaint with the Department of Labor, alleging that BNSF initiated the investigations leading to his dismissal in retaliation for Carter reporting the August 2007 work-related injury. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration dismissed Carter’s complaint, finding he committed the violations, and BNSF proved by clear and convincing evidence that "other employees who had not engaged in protected activity have been dismissed from service for dishonesty." Carter filed objections. After an evidentiary hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that BNSF violated 49 U.S.C. 20109(a)(4) and awarded reinstatement, back pay, attorneys’ fees, and $50,000 punitive damages. BNSF filed an administrative appeal. The Secretary’s Administrative Review Board (ARB) affirmed the ALJ. BNSF appealed. The Eighth Circuit found the ALJ's reasoning was based on a flawed interpretation of the FRSA; though the Administrative Review Board did not rely on the ALJ's chain-of-events causation theory, it affirmed based on findings which were either non-existent or insufficient to support the Board's contributing factor and affirmative defense rulings. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded with instructions. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. LABR" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against BNSF, alleging retaliation claims under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20109(a)(1)(C). The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of certain claims for failure to exhaust administrative remedies and conclusion that claims that were properly exhausted failed on the merits. The court held that the district court properly concluded that claims asserting additional adverse actions were unrelated to the claims in plaintiffs' OSHA complaint and unexhausted, and plaintiffs failed to exhaust their claims asserting retaliation for alleged protected activity in their statements to a claims representative. In regard to properly exhausted claims, the court held that, assuming that providing information about an injury caused by the carrier's negligence could give rise to liability, plaintiffs first alleged protected activity -- handwritten statements to the trainmaster -- fell short of satisfying section 20109(a)(1). Furthermore, plaintiffs' testimony at the investigative hearing could not have contributed to earlier adverse actions, and plaintiffs failed to prove that the discipline imposed by the company for rule violations was made with retaliatory motive. View "Foster v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Paris Limousine filed suit against Executive Coach, alleging that limousines it purchased from Executive Coach were in breach of warranty. The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, holding that Paris Limousine brought its express warranty claim under Missouri law, which authorizes private enforcement actions for breaches of express warranties. The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 (Safety Act), 15 U.S.C. 1381 et seq., and the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards did not affect Executive Coach’s potential liability under Missouri law for breach of its express warranty. The court also held that Executive Coach had not met its burden to demonstrate that conflict preemption applied, and that Paris Limousine had alleged legally cognizable damages. View "Paris Limousine of OK, LLC v. Executive Coach Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against BNSF, alleging a retaliation claim under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) and a negligence claim under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the FRSA claim, holding that the evidence did not raise a genuine dispute that retaliatory motive prompted by protected activity contributed to plaintiff's dismissal and thus plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case. The court also held that the RRTA was unambiguous and did not include damages for lost wages within the definition of "compensation." Therefore, the regulations providing to the contrary received no deference under Chevron and the court affirmed the district court's decision on this alternate basis. The court need not consider whether it was correct that 26 U.S.C. 104(a)(2) applied to the RRTA. Accordingly, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment as to this issue. View "Loos v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit granted consolidated petitions for review of the Board's Final Rule, holding that the Board exceeded its authority by promulgating a rule defining "on-time performance" under the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-432, 122 Stat. 4907, after the Act's delegation to another agency was invalidated. In this case, the Final Rule expressly bases its authority on the need to fill the vacuum created by the invalidation of the on-time performance rule announced by the FRA and Amtrak under section 207 of the Act; the gap-filling rationale does not allow one agency to assume the authority expressly delegated to another; Congress likely did not give the FRA/Amtrak and the Board separate authority to develop two potentially conflicting on-time performance rules; and on-time performance in section 213(a) means on-time performance as developed by the FRA and Amtrak under section 207(a). View "Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. STB" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that BNSF violated the Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. 20109, when it terminated his employment for harassing a co-worker and threatening a supervisor. The district court ultimately granted BNSF summary judgment on the merits and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff's retaliation claim because he failed to submit evidence that would permit a reasonable jury to infer that his FRSA-protected activities were a contributing factor in BNSF's decision to discharge him for harassing and intimidating a co-worker. Because BNSF did not sufficiently develop its alternative waiver argument, did not raise a laches or estoppel defense in the district court or on appeal, and presented insufficient proof (if any) on these fact intensive issues, the court left these questions for another day. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Gunderson v. BNSF Railway" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought review of the Board's decision and order affirming the ALJ in petitioner's Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. 20109, retaliatory termination action. The court concluded that the ALJ correctly applied the background evidence rule enunciated by the Supreme Court in National Railroad Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, which held that an employee can use prior acts as background evidence for a timely claim even when those same acts are time-barred; the court rejected petitioner's argument that hearsay evidence at the hearing undermines the ALJ's ultimate conclusions where the evidence was not offered to prove the truth of the matters asserted, but instead, to show the effect of the assertions on the decision maker; and the ALJ's determination that petitioner's protected acts were not a contributing factor in his termination was supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the court denied the petition and affirmed the final decision and order. View "Mercier v. U.S. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was seriously injured on the job, BNSF disciplined him for violations of BNSF rules that led to his injury. Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that BNSF's discipline violated the employee-protections provision of the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20109(a)(4). The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for BNSF, concluding that plaintiff failed to establish that his supervisors intentionally retaliated against him for filing his injury report. In this case, without more specific evidence of an improper retaliatory motive, the court found that plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case. View "Heim v. BNSF Railway" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was disciplined by his employer, BNSF, for not promptly reporting a workplace injury, he filed suit claiming that BNSF's discipline violated the employee-protections provision of the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. 20109(a)(4). The jury awarded plaintiff damages for emotion distress. The court concluded, however, that its decision in Kuduk v. BNSF Railway Co. required plaintiff to establish intentional retaliation and that the jury instructions did not compel such a finding. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Blackorby v. BNSF Railway" on Justia Law

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The City filed suit against Union Pacific in state court, seeking an order requiring Union Pacific to restore a public at-grade rail crossing or, alternatively, allowing the City to condemn Union Pacific’s land across that public crossing. The district court granted the City summary judgment and a permanent injunction, rejecting Union Pacific’s contention that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C. 10501(b), grants the Surface Transportation Board (STB) exclusive jurisdiction over the City’s claims. The court concluded that ICCTA’s express preemption provision applies to this dispute; Union Pacific has made a strong showing that the remedy the City seeks would “impede rail operations or pose undue safety risks,” the STB’s governing preemption standard; and therefore the court remanded with instructions for the district court to rule on Union Pacific’s motion to dismiss the City’s amended complaint for lack of jurisdiction unless the City obtains a ruling from the STB that it lacks or declines exclusive jurisdiction over this dispute. View "City of Ozark, AR v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Transportation Law