Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Transportation Law
Skidmore v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co
Skidmore’s West Virginia home sits 70-80 feet west of Norfolk’s railroad track, across Loop Creek. In 2001, Norfolk installed a culvert to drain surface water from its tracks into Loop Creek near Skidmore’s home. According to Skidmore, the water streaming from the culvert caused soil erosion and threatened the foundation of her home. Skidmore sued Norfolk in state court, alleging negligence, private nuisance, and trespass.Norfolk obtained a survey and deeds revealing that, in 1903, Norfolk obtained a right of way extending across Loop Creek, over part of the land on the other side. Part of Skidmore’s house sits atop the land over which the right of way runs. Norfolk asserted an affirmative defense that Skidmore lacked standing because she had no right to exclude Norfolk from the land. Skidmore amended her complaint to add claims for adverse possession and prescriptive easement (quiet title claims). Norfolk removed the case to federal court, arguing that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act completely preempts the quiet title claims. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.The Fourth Circuit vacated. While 49 U.S.C. 10501(b) “entirely displaces” Skidmore’s quiet title claims, a conclusion that complete preemption applies means that the court has jurisdiction over ostensibly state-law claims. On remand, the court must convert Skidmore’s quiet title claims into claims under the Termination Act and may permit Skidmore to amend her complaint to clarify the scope of her Termination Act claims. View "Skidmore v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co" on Justia Law
Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. City of Roanoke
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to the City and the Foundation in an action alleging discriminatory taxation in violation of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976. The court applied the factors in San Juan Cellular Tel. Co. v. Pub. Serv. Comm'n, 967 F.2d 683, 685 (1st Cir. 1992), and held that the City's storm water management charge was a fee, rather than a tax, and therefore was not subject to the Act's requirements. In this case, the charge was imposed by the City's legislative body, and the charge was part of a comprehensive regulatory scheme. View "Norfolk Southern Railway Co. v. City of Roanoke" on Justia Law
Kerpen v. Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' constitutional and statutory challenges to Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority's (MWAA) ability to use toll revenues to fund projects enhancing access to Dulles airport. The court applied the standard from Lebron v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation, 513 U.S. 374 (1995), and held that MWAA was not a federal entity. The court held that MWAA's structure did not violate the non-delegation principle because MWAA exercises no power assigned elsewhere by the Constitution; MWAA did not violate the Guarantee Clause because it did not deny any state a republican form of government; and the court rejected plaintiff's claim that MWAA's use of toll road funds to build metro service to Dulles violates the command that funds only be spent on "capital and operating costs of the Metropolitan Washington Airports" and agreed with the Secretary of Transportation's interpretation of the Lease and Transfer Act. View "Kerpen v. Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority" on Justia Law
CSX Transportation, Inc. v. South Carolina Department of Revenue
This case involved the differences between how ad valorem taxes are determined in South Carolina for railroad property and how they are determined for most other commercial and industrial property. CSXT filed suit against the State, alleging that the property taxes imposed for the 2014 tax year will discriminate against CSXT. CSXT sought a judgment declaring that excluding CSXT from the benefit of the caps of the South Carolina Real Property Valuation Reform Act (SCVA), S.C. Code 12-37-3140(B), violates the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976, 49 U.S.C. 11501(b)(4), which prohibits the imposition of "another tax that discriminates against a rail carrier." CSXT also sought preliminary and permanent injunctions. The district court ultimately rejected CSXT's section 11501(b)(4) challenge. The court explained that Congress designed section 11501(b)(4) to prohibit taxes that discriminate against railroads. In this case, CSXT alleged that if it is not allowed to benefit from the SCVA cap, its 2014 property tax will be just such a tax. The court concluded that there was no basis for precluding CSXT from proving the claim it alleged – discrimination – and requiring CSXT instead to fit its challenge into a provision that does not even address discrimination and that required proof of facts CSXT has not even alleged. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings because the district court granted judgment against CSXT without ever reaching the question of whether the challenged tax was discriminatory. View "CSX Transportation, Inc. v. South Carolina Department of Revenue" on Justia Law
Conrad v. CSX Transp., Inc.
After CSX charged plaintiff, one of its employees, with "serious" violations of the company's safety policy, plaintiff filed suit under the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. 20109, alleging that he was disciplined in retaliation for his activities as local chairman of the transportation union. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of CSX, concluding that plaintiff had failed to show that any CSX employee involved in the disciplinary process had also known about his union activities. The court held that the “knowledge” relevant for a retaliation claim under the FRSA must be tied to the decision-maker involved in the unfavorable personnel action. The court concluded that, because plaintiff does not present sufficient evidence that the relevant CSX decision-makers knew of his protected activities, his claims fail as a matter of law at the prima facie stage. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Conrad v. CSX Transp., Inc." on Justia Law
Lee v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co.
Plaintiff filed suit against his employer, NS, alleging that NS suspended him on the basis of his race in violation of 42 U.S.C. 1981. The district court granted summary judgment to NS and then plaintiff filed a second suit, claiming that NS in fact suspended him for reporting rail safety offenses, in violation of the whistleblower protection provision of the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. 20109. The district court again granted summary judgment to NS. The court concluded, however, that the Election of Remedies provision in the FRSA does not bar plaintiff's second suit. The court explained that a suspension on the basis of race is not “the same allegedly unlawful act” as a suspension in retaliation for FRSA whistleblowing. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Lee v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co." on Justia Law
Defenders of Wildlife v. NC Dept. of Transp.
This dispute concerns the Bonner Bridge, which provides highway access between mainland North Carolina and the Outer Bank's Hatteras Island. Plaintiffs filed suit claiming that defendants violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321-4370f, and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. Defendants settled on a plan that essentially mirrors what currently exists: replacing the Bonner Bridge and maintaining NC 12 on Hatteras Island. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' NEPA challenge where defendants have not engaged in unlawful segmentation with respect to the five studied parallel bridge alternatives. The court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment regarding plaintiffs' Section 4(f) challenge because a Section 4(f) analysis is irrelevant if the joint planning exception applies. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Defenders of Wildlife v. NC Dept. of Transp." on Justia Law
ABB, Inc. v. CSX Transportation, Inc.
ABB filed a complaint against CSX alleging that the electrical transformer that CSX transported was damaged in transit and that CSX was liable for the full amount of the damage. CSX denied full liability, alternatively contending that the parties had agreed in the bill of lading to limit CSX's liability. The court vacated the portion of the district court's judgment limiting any liability on the part of CSX because it concluded that the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. 11706, subjected CSX to full liability for the shipment and that the parties did not modify CSX's level of liability by written agreement as permitted in that statute. View "ABB, Inc. v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law
Maracich v. Spear
This appeal arose from the dismissal of all claims alleged in a putative class action complaint filed pursuant to the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA), 18 U.S.C. 2721-2725. Appellees (Lawyers) were South Carolina attorneys who in 2006 and 2007 instituted several "group action" lawsuits in South Carolina state court against numerous car dealerships under the South Carolina Regulation of Manufacturers, Distributors, and Dealers Act (Dealers Act), S.C. Code Ann. 56-15-10 et seq. Appellants (Buyers) were car buyers who received mailings from Lawyers regarding the Dealers Act litigation. Buyers sued Lawyers in this action alleging that Lawyers violated the DPPA when they obtained and used Buyers' personal information without their consent in connection with the Dealers Act litigation. The court held that the district court erred in its determination that the conduct of Lawyers did not constitute solicitation within the contemplation of the applicable DPPA prohibition. Nevertheless, the district court correctly ruled that Lawyers' conduct in respect to Buyers' personal information was undertaken in anticipation and in connection with litigation, a use permitted by the DPPA. View "Maracich v. Spear" on Justia Law
Dominion Resources Serv. v. 5K Logistics, Inc.
This case involved the Carmack Amendment to the Interstate Commerce Act, 49 U.S.C. 14706, which set up a framework for the timely filing of claims against carriers for damaged cargo. In this case, it was undisputed that neither the shipper nor the shipping broker filed either a claim or a lawsuit within the prescribed time limitations. Therefore, were the court to create some exception to the statutorily authorized, contractually mandated requirements of prompt filing, the court would blow a hole in the balance struck by the Carmack Amendment and undermine Congress's intent to protect carriers against stale claims. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment of the district court in favor of the shipping broker and remanded with instructions to dismiss the lawsuit.