Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Transportation Law

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Heniff, hired to transport chemicals, filed suit against Trimac, the company Heniff hired to clean the tanker prior to the trip, for damages after the cleaning was performed incorrectly and chemicals became contaminated. The district court dismissed Heniff's state law claims. The Carmack Amendment, 49 U.S.C. 14706 et seq., establishes a federal liability regime for claims concerning goods damaged or lost during transportation in interstate commerce. The court affirmed the judgment and agreed with the district court that Heniff’s claims are preempted by the Carmack Amendment because the service that Trimac provided, a tanker wash, was a service related to the movement of property in interstate commerce. View "Heniff Transportation Systems v. Trimac Transportation Services" on Justia Law
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This case arose from a dispute between Franks and Union Pacific over whether Franks has the right to cross Union Pacific's train tracks on certain property in Caddo Parish originally owned by the Levy family at the turn of the 20th Century. On appeal, Franks challenged the district court's final judgment granting summary judgment for defendant and dismissing Franks's claims with prejudice. Franks argued that the district court erred in denying the existence of a predial servitude in the three crossings at issue. The court concluded that, under the law applicable to the interpretation of the 1923 deed, the contract is unambiguous; it does not establish a predial servitude with respect to Texas and Pacific Railway Company's obligation to provide three crossings across what was then its property; but, rather, it is merely a personal obligation which does not bind the railway's successors-in-interest. View "Franks Investment Co, L.L.C. v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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BNSF filed suit seeking refunds of certain taxes that it, and its predecessor companies, paid under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA), 26 U.S.C. 3201 et seq. The court concluded that, at least as applied to Non-Qualified Stock Options (NQSOs), the term "compensation", as used and defined by the RRTA, was inherently ambiguous; the IRS's definition was reasonable as applied to the NQSOs; although RRTA "compensation" may exclude certain in-kind benefits such as free rail passes that would otherwise be compensation under section 3121, the court concluded that NQSOs were properly included as "compensation" under the RRTA as interpreted by Treasury Regulation 31.3231(e)-1; the court's conclusion found firm support in the purpose, structure, and legislative history of the RRTA; and therefore, NQSOs were properly taxed as compensation under the RRTA. The court also concluded that, although the informal claims that BNSF filed for the employee tax paid on moving-expense benefits in 1996 and 1997 may satisfy the informal clams doctrine, it was undisputed that BNSF failed to perfect those claims prior to filing the present suit. Accordingly, BNSF's refund claims for those years must be dismissed. The court further concluded that a more reasonable interpretation of section 3231(e)(1)(iii) permitted exclusion of payments to employees for traveling expenses and bona fide and reasonable expenses related to travel, an interpretation harmonizing section 3231(e)(1)(iii) and section 3231(e)(5) as required by the specific-general canon and the rule against superfluities. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed a judgment giving collateral-estoppel effect, in his Federal Railway Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. 20109, suit, to a finding of fact made by a Public Law Board in the course of plaintiff's pursuit of his rights under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with BNSF. The court concluded that, because it was the railroad that conducted the investigation and hearing and terminated plaintiff, and because the Board only reviewed a close record, the procedures were not adequate for collateral estoppel to apply. The court rejected BNSF's election-of-remedies argument where plaintiff sought protection under the CBA for his contractual claims and the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. 153, was not itself the source of law under which plaintiff sought protection. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Grimes v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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ATO challenged the City's enactment of an ordinance offering taxicabs certified to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) a "head-of-the-line" privilege at a municipally-owned airport. At issue was whether the ordinance was preempted by the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. 7543(a). The court concluded that the ordinance, enacted using traditional police powers, was not superseded by any clear and manifest purpose of Congress, above all where Congress's term "standard" had been identified as one "susceptible" to a mandate/incentive distinction. The court also concluded that the ordinance could have its intended effect and substitute CNG cabs for traditional cabs at the airport but it did not show that the City's cab drivers faced such acute, albeit indirect, economic effects as to force them to switch vehicles. Accordingly, the ordinance was not preempted by section 209(a) of the Act and the court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the City. View "Ass'n of Taxicab Operators USA v. City of Dallas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, struck by an Amtrak train across railroad tracks owned and maintained by Illinois Central, claimed that Illinois Central failed to signalize the crossing properly. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding an expert's testimony under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. The court also held that Illinois Central demonstrated that the crossing at issue was not "unusually dangerous" as a matter of Mississippi law. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Illinois Central. View "Brown v. Illinois Central Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a terminal and switching railroad operating in the City, brought a declaratory judgment against the City alleging that a federal statute preempted all City ordinances that affected its transloading operations. The railroad wanted to expand its operations and the City opposed the expansion, claiming it violated several municipal ordinances. The court reversed the district court's holding of no preemption as to the standard construction details and road grading ordinance, resting its decision on express preemption under the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C. 10101 et seq. The court's express preemption holding only pertained to the road and paving areas used in connection with the TCB-MAALT-Halliburton transloading operation. This preemption rendered the City's appeal from the denial of its request for civil penalties for ordinance violations moot. The court reversed what the court concluded was likely a holding by the district court that there was express preemption as to the older, 20-acre transloading center and remanded for further proceedings. The court affirmed the district court's remaining rulings.

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In 2008, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act No. 530, Louisiana Revised Statutes Section 48:394, which required that all railroad companies obtain permission from the Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC) before closing or removing private railroad crossings. During the pendency of this litigation, in 2010, the Louisiana Legislature adopted Act 858, amending Section 48:394 in light of the court's decision in Franks Investment Co. v. Union Pacific Railroad Co. Plaintiff filed the instant action against LPSC and its commissioners in their official capacity, seeking a declaration that Section 48:394 was preempted by federal law, and both preliminary and permanent injunctions against the enforcement of that section. The court held that Louisiana had not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity. The court also held that, because the parties agreed that if the State was entitled to immunity the case would be dismissed, the court dismissed the appeal and remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss the action.

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This case arose when an ocean-going tanker collided with a barge that was being towed on the Mississippi River, which resulted in the barge splitting in half and spilling its cargo of oil into the river. Following the filing of numerous lawsuits, including personal injury claims by the crew members and class actions by fishermen, the primary insurer filed an interpleader action, depositing its policy limits with the court. At issue was the allocations of the interpleader funds as well as the district court's finding that the maritime insurance policy's liability limit included defense costs. The court affirmed the district court's decision that defense costs eroded policy limits but was persuaded that its orders allocating court-held funds among claimants were tentative and produced no appealable order.

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This case arose from an oil spill in the Mississippi River when an ocean-going tanker struck a barge that was being towed. Appellants (Excess Insurers) appealed the district court's decision requiring them to pay prejudgment interest on the funds deposited into the court's registry in an interpleader action. The Excess Insurers argued that the district court erred by: (1) finding that coverage under the excess policy was triggered by the primary insurer's filing of an interpleader complaint; (2) holding that a marine insurer that filed an interpleader action and deposited the policy limits with the court was obligated to pay legal interest in excess of the policy limits; and (3) applying the incorrect interest rate and awarding interest from the incorrect date. The court held that because the Excess Insurers' liability had not been triggered at the time the Excess Insurers filed their interpleader complaint, the district court erred in finding that they unreasonably delayed in depositing the policy limit into the court's registry and holding them liable for prejudgment interest. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment and did not reach the remaining issues.