This Report summarizes an opinion issued on December 10, 2021 (Part I); and cases granted review on December 10 and 15, 2021 (Part II).
Cases Granted Review: LeDure v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., 20-807
LeDure v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., 20-807. The Court limited its grant of certiorari to the first question presented, which asks “[w]hether a locomotive is in use on a railroad’s line and subject to the [Locomotive Inspection Act] and its safety regulations when its train makes a temporary stop in a railyard as part of its unitary journey in interstate commerce, or whether such use does not resume until the locomotive has left the yard as part of a fully assembled train[.]” The Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA) provides that a “railroad carrier may use or allow to be used a locomotive or tender on its railroad line only when the locomotive or tender and its parts and appurtenances [ ] are in proper condition and safe to operate” and have been inspected as required under “regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Transportation.” 49 U.S.C. §20701 (emphasis added). A violation of the LIA or its regulations is negligence per se for which the railroad is strictly liable.
Petitioner Bradley LeDure was a locomotive engineer employed by respondent Union Pacific Railroad when, on August 12, 2016, he was assigned to transport a freight train from Union Pacific’s Salem, Illinois railyard to Dexter, Missouri. The train had originated in Chicago the evening before and arrived in the Salem Yard around 2:00 a.m. with a different crew that was being relieved by LeDure and a conductor. Before the train could leave, LeDure had to determine how many of the train’s three locomotives would need to be powered on “to provide enough juice for” the next leg of the journey, turn off the power in the locomotives whose “juice” was not needed, and switch out some of the cars that the locomotives would pull. After determining that only one locomotive needed to be powered on, LeDure climbed aboard the train where he slipped on the locomotive’s exterior walkway and fell down, causing injuries to his shoulders, spine, back, neck, hands, fingers, and head. LeDure filed this action under the LIA and FELA, alleging—as relevant here—that the locomotive on which he fell was not “in proper condition and safe to operate” as required by the LIA. The district court granted Union Pacific’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed petitioner’s claims with prejudice. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. 962 F.3d 907.
The Seventh Circuit relied on its precedent Lyle v. Atchison, T. & S. F. Ry. Co., 177 F.2d 221 (1949), which held that a locomotive being serviced in a roundhouse was out of use and explained that “[t]o service an engine while it is out of use, to put it in readiness for use, is the antithesis of using it.” The court stated that a finding that the locomotive in this case was in use would “essentially” “limit [Lyle’s] holding to say a locomotive is not ‘in use’ only when it is being repaired.” The court viewed that reading of Lyle as “unduly narrow,” and affirmed the district court’s conclusion that the locomotive in this case was not “in use” because it “was stationary, on a sidetrack, and part of a train needing to be assembled before its use in interstate commerce.”
LeDure argues in his petition that “[t]he clear principle underlying” the Court’s decisions in Brady v. Terminal Assoc. of St. Louis, 303 U.S. 10 (1938), Delk v. St. Louis & S.F. R. Co., 220 U.S. 580 (1911), and similar cases “is an expansive application of in use on the railroad’s line to include everything other than injuries incurred by employees while repairing or servicing a known defect. Although these cases specifically addressed claims brought under the [Safety Appliance Act (SAA)], federal courts interchangeably apply case law arising under the SAA and LIA to interpret the phrase in use because it is used in both federal railroad safety statutes.” The United States, which filed an amicus brief at the invitation of the Court, agrees with LeDure. It maintains that the “Court’s precedents establish that a locomotive or railcar is in use while it is in service on a line, regardless of whether it is travelling to a destination or waiting for its next run.”
[Editor’s note: Some of the language in the background section of the summary above was taken from the petition for writ of certiorari and brief in opposition.]