Articles Posted in Transportation Law

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Abutting landowners claimed that the United States effected a taking of their property without just compensation when it converted a former railroad corridor between Sarasota and Venice, Florida, into a recreational trail pursuant to the National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d), because deeds transferred by their predecessors-in-title to a railroad company granted only easements on their land for railroad purposes and, upon termination of the use of the land as a railroad, left the landowners unencumbered title and possession of their land. The Federal Circuit affirmed partial summary judgment in favor of the government, holding that the owners lacked a property right or interest in the land-at-issue because the railroad company, had obtained fee simple title to the land. The court noted that the state’s highest court has confirmed that, under Florida law, a railroad can acquire either an easement or fee simple title to a railroad right-of-way and that no statute, state policy, or factual considerations prevails over the language of the deeds when the language is clear; the language of the six deeds-at-issue clearly convey fee simple title on their face. View "Rogers v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs own land adjacent to central Iowa railway corridors. Pursuant to the National Trail System Act Amendments of 1982, the Surface Transportation Board issued Notices of Interim Trail Use (NITUs) for the corridors. NITUs “preserve established railroad rights-of-way for future reactivation of rail service” and permit the railroad operator to cease operation without legally abandoning any “rights-of-way for railroad purposes,” 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The trial court found that but for issuance of the NITUs, the railway easements would have reverted to plaintiffs upon cessation of railroad operations, held that a taking occurred, and, focusing on parcels for which the highest and best use was farmland, used the “before and after” method to determine the value of the land subject to the easement. The court determined that the “before” state of the land should take into account the value of the land as it existed before the NITU easements, but ignore any physical remnants of the railway’s use, which would have remained if the railway easement had been permitted to lapse. The Federal Circuit vacated, holding that an appraiser must consider the value of a landowner’s property before the easement, which in this case includes the physical remnants of the railroad. View "Rasmuson v. United States" on Justia Law

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About 100 years ago, the then-owners of land abutting a 2.88-mile stretch of rail corridor near the City of South Hutchinson, Kansas granted deeds covering that land to the predecessor of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF). The corridor was used by BNSF until 2004. It was then converted to a recreational trail pursuant to the National Trail Systems Act, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The current owners asserted that the conversion constituted a taking and sought compensation under the Fifth Amendment. The Court of Federal Claims entered summary judgment in favor of the government, finding that none of the plaintiffs possessed a fee-simple property interest in the land underlying the rail corridor that could be the subject of a taking because the land had been conveyed to the BNSF’s predecessor in fee simple and not by easements. The Federal Circuit affirmed in part, finding that some of the land was conveyed to the BNSF’s predecessor in fee simple, but that the railroad was only granted an easement over other land. With respect to others, the issue was clouded by chain-of-title questions. View "Biery v. United States" on Justia Law

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C.H. Robinson was the Customs-bonded carrier for three 2001 entries of wearing apparel from China, which entered the U.S. as Transportation & Exportation (T&E) entries, but were never exported and are “missing.” A Mexican company was the importer of record and consignee of the merchandise; the T&E entry documents indicated that the merchandise was to be delivered to Laredo, Texas, for exportation to Mexico. The merchandise left Los Angeles, but it is not clear what happened after that. Customs never inspected or took possession of the subject merchandise at the Port of Laredo. During an audit, Customs contacted Mexican Customs authorities and learned that stamped importation forms were false. Customs issued notices of liquidated damages claims against C.H. Robinson’s custodial bond, charging misdelivery. Based upon mitigation guidelines, Customs reduced the amount of liquidated damages from $75,000. C.H. Robinson paid $57,212 in 2004 and sought a refund. Customs also made a demand, under 19 U.S.C. 1553, for payment of $106,407.86, plus interest, for duties, taxes, and fees on the entries. C.H. Robinson did not protest the demand or pay the duties, and its challenge to Commerce’s assessment of liquidated damages remained stayed. The Court of International Trade held C.H. Robinson liable for duties, taxes, and fees. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. C.H. Robinson Co." on Justia Law

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Salem, under contract, coordinated Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) shipments around the country. Estes, a federal motor carrier, handled some shipments under its common carrier tariff, without a written contract. The Salem-MCCS contract provided that Salem would pay carriers directly and invoice MCCS. Salem agreed not to represent itself as a representative of MCCS. All bills of lading indicated that “third party freight charges” were to be billed to “Marine Corps Exchange C/O Salem Logistics.” Delivery receipts specified that charges should be billed to the “Marine Corps Exchange” and were signed by a representative of the MCCS or MCX delivery location. MCCS paid Salem for some of the shipments; Salem never paid Estes. After becoming aware that Salem was not paying carriers, MCCS began paying carriers directly, for shipments for which it had not yet paid Salem. Estes sued Salem and the government, seeking to recover $147,645.33. The Claims Court dismissed, finding that there was no privity of contract between Estes and the government and rejecting a claim under 49 U.S.C. 13706, which governs the liability of consignees for shipping charges incurred by a common carrier. The Federal Circuit reversed and remanded, concluding that the bills of lading were sufficient to establish privity. View "Estes Express Lines v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1903 the railroad acquired a right-of-way for a 100-foot wide, 76-mile long, strip across Arizona land near the Mexican border. After operating for about 100 years, the railroad initiated proceedings to abandon the railway with the Department of Transportation’s Surface Transportation Board, which issued a Notice of Interim Trail or Abandonment (NITU) in 2006 authorizing conversion to a public trail under the National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The landowners sued, alleging that issuance of the NITU constituted a compensable taking. The claims court dismissed, reasoning that the government had not physically invaded the property. The Federal Circuit reversed and held that the takings claim accrued when the 2006 NITU issued. During discovery on remand, the government produced a NITU affecting the property that had issued in 1998. There was no indication that the NITU was published; the landowners submitted declarations that they were not aware of the 1998 NITU. The claims court held that the limitations period began in 1998 and that the claims were time-barred. The Federal Circuit reversed. In these circumstances, the government’s interest in bright-line legal rules must yield to the landowners’ right to receive actual or constructive notice that their claims have accrued. View "Ladd v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1908, the United States granted the railroad right-of-way to Pacific Railroad Company for railroad purposes. In 1976, the government conveyed 83.32 acres of land partially burdened by the right-of-way to Brandt’s parents, in fee simple, subject to the right-of-way. In 1987, WYCO acquired the railroad right-of-way and operated the rail line. In 1996, WYCO filed a Notice of Intent to Abandon Rail Service with the Surface Transportation Board. The STB approved abandonment in 2003, and, in 2004, WYCO notified the STB that it had completed abandonment. In 2006, the government sought declaratory judgment that title to the abandoned right-of-way had vested in the government under the National Trails System Improvements Act of 1988, 16 U.S.C. 1248(c). Brandt sought quiet title and argued that, to the extent the government acquired some interest in land formerly occupied by the easement, that interest would constitute a taking for which just compensation is owed. The Claims Court dismissed the takings claim for lack of jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1500. The Federal Circuit reversed, holding that Brandt did not have claims “pending” for purposes of section 1500 when he filed his takings complaint. View "Brandt v. United States" on Justia Law

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R+L, owns a patent relating to the less-than-a-load trucking industry and uses the patented method in its business. Carriers in the industry pick up freight from several different customers, often destined for different locations around the country. Freight is taken to a terminal where it is unloaded from the truck and consolidated with other freight headed in the same direction, then reloaded. The patent claims a method that “automates the process of receiving transportation documentation and producing advance loading manifests therefrom to optimize load planning and dynamic product shipment and delivery control.” The patented method enables shipping documents to be sent directly from the truck driver to a common point, such as a terminal, so billing and load planning can occur while the driver is en route with the freight. In 2008, R+L sent cease-and-desist letters to defendants, suspecting infringement. Defendants sought declaratory judgments of invalidity and non-infringement; R+L counterclaimed. The district court ruled against R+L. The Federal Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. R+L failed to state a claim of contributory infringement, but adequately stated a claim of induced infringement View "R&L Carriers, Inc. v. Drivertech, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 1998, the Supreme Court held that the Harbor Maintenance Tax, 26 U.S.C. 4461-4462, was unconstitutional as applied to exports. U.S. Customs enacted procedures for refunds and established a separate HMT database with data from its ACS database, through which HMT payments had been processed. Customs discovered wide-spread inaccuracies in its HMT database, but was unable to make corrections related to payments made before July 1, 1990, because it no longer had original documents. Customs established different requirements for supporting documentation, depending on whether an exporter was seeking a refund of pre- or post-July 1, 1990 payments. Ford sought HMT refunds for both pre- and post-July 1, 1990, payments and has received more than $17 million, but claims that Customs still owes about $2.5 million. In addition to a FOIA Report of Ford’s pre-July 1, 1990 payments was drawn from information in the ACS database, Ford submitted an affidavit attesting that it was only claiming refunds of HMT paid on exports and declarations about the consistency and quality of its quarterly HMT payment records. Customs denied the claims. The Trade Court entered judgment in favor of the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The claims were insufficient because there still was high potential for error. View "Ford Motor Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs owned land in the Chaparral railroad corridor, converted for trail use by the ICC under the National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d) and filed a class action compensation claim against the government. After the government stipulated to takings liability on certain claims, the parties cooperated to determine compensation. The district court approved a settlement of $1,241,385.36, including pre-judgment interest. Plaintiffs sought attorneys' fees of $832,674 under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act, 42 U.S.C. 4654(c) for 2,119.69 hours of work at market rates for the District of Columbia, where counsel practiced, rather than rates for the Texas forum where the case was filed. The district court determined that 18.2 hours were unreasonable, that the relevant market was the District of Columbia and calculated a lodestar figure of $826,044.19, but considering the results obtained, reduced by 50% and awarded $413,022.10. The Federal Circuit vacated. While a court may reduce the lodestar figure to account for the amount involved and results obtained, those factors should be considered in calculating the lodestar figure, rather after that calculation. The district court should have used forum rates in determining the reasonable hourly rate. View "Bywaters v. United States" on Justia Law