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

Articles Posted in Transportation Law
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Union Pacific in an action alleging that the company negligently contributed to a fatal railroad collision. In this case, the trucks in front of a caravan had left insufficient room for the last truck to clear the Oil & Gas Crossing. The last truck stopped on the tracks where, seconds later, a Union Pacific train collided with it, killing all three individuals inside.The court found plaintiffs' claim that Union Pacific breached a duty to provide adequate visual warning devices at the Oil & Gas Crossing unpersuasive; the Crossing was not a "dangerous trap;" and, although a jury could reasonably conclude that Union Pacific had a duty to plaintiffs to protect against the unique hazard presented by the Crossing, plaintiffs have failed to show why the signs Union Pacific installed were insufficient to fulfill this duty. The court also held that plaintiffs' claims that Union Pacific was negligent in operating the locomotive horn was either preempted by federal law or otherwise unsupported by sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment. View "Ryder v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Texas Secretary of State and the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, alleging that the DPS System violates the Equal Protection Clause and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment declaring defendants in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and the NVRA, holding that plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to pursue their claims. The court held that plaintiffs have not established a substantial risk that they will attempt to update their voter registrations using the DPS System and be injured by their inability to do so. Therefore, plaintiffs have not established an injury in fact sufficient to confer standing to pursue declaratory and injunctive relief. Furthermore, the capable-of-repetition-yet-evading-review doctrine was not implicated by plaintiffs' claims. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's injunction and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint. View "Stringer v. Whitley" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed and rendered judgment as a matter of law for Trinity, the manufacturers of the ET-Plus guardrail system under an exclusive licensing agreement with Texas A&M University. Relator filed suit under the False Claims Act, alleging that Trinity failed to disclose fabrication changes to the ET-Plus beyond the change from five- to four-inch guide channel. The district court denied Trinity's motion for judgment as a matter of law and entered final judgment for relator and the United States. However, the court held that it need not consider the issue of post-judgment relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) because Trinity was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of materiality. In this case, given FHWA's unwavering position that the ET-Plus was and remains eligible for federal reimbursement, Trinity's alleged misstatements were not material to its payment decisions. View "Harman v. Trinity Industries, Inc." on Justia Law

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After he drove his car into a stationary train that was blocking a traffic crossing, plaintiff filed suit against KCSR, alleging common law negligence claims based on his allegations that the train blocked the crossing for an impermissible amount of time and the train's crew failed to adequately warn approaching drivers of the obstructed crossing. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment, holding that plaintiff's Federal Railroad Safety Act argument was unavailing, and that both blocking claims were preempted by the ICC Termination Act. Furthermore, plaintiff's claim that KCSR failed to adequately warn motorists of the obstructed crossing was barred by Mississippi’s Occupied Crossing Rule. View "Ezell v. Kansas City Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The $25 fee assessed by the Authority is rationally related to the government's interest in recovering costs spent to collect unpaid tolls. Plaintiffs, drivers who were assessed fees after they repeatedly refused to pay tolls, contend that the $25 administrative fee violates their right to substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fifth Circuit held that, in addition to recovering costs, the fee is a mechanism that strongly encourages drivers to get a TollTag. The court explained that the nature of the Authority's interest in incentivizing TollTag usage is to sustain the Authority's financial health. In this case, the Authority's experiment sought to decrease congestion and increase access to the roads, two interests that often compete but could both be furthered by removing toll booths. View "Reyes v. North Texas Tollway Authority" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction the Association's appeal of the FMCSA's grant of permanent operating authority to two Mexico-domiciled motor carriers. The court held that the Association failed to file a timely appeal as required by statute. In this case, the orders rejecting and dismissing the Association's protest were final orders of the FMCSA, a fact that was unaffected by the Association's motion for reconsideration. View "Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Ass'n v. US DOT" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a national association of charter-bus companies, sought to enjoin regulations affecting their operations enacted by the City of Austin. At issue was whether federal law preempted the City's exercise of its regulatory authority over the intrastate operation of charter buses. The court affirmed the district court's holding that the regulations were not preempted. The arguments about preemption were based on a federal statute captioned "Federal authority over intrastate transportation." See 49 U.S.C. 14501. The court agreed with the district court's conclusion that section 14501(c)(2)(A) may appropriately be considered in interpreting and applying section 14501(a)(2), because both subsections use identical language. The court concluded that the distinctions between sections 14501(a) and (c) do not persuade it to construe "safety regulatory authority" more narrowly in the former than in the latter. The court applied a test that was similar to the Ninth Circuit, concluding that, in light of the permitting regulation's expressed purpose and effect, there was a safety motivation for the ordinance, and there was a nexus between the permitting regulations and the safety concern. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United Motorcoach Association, Inc. v. City of Austin" on Justia 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