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Supreme Court Rules That Stopped Trains Are Not “In Use”

On Behalf of | Jun 22, 2022 | Transportation

This April, in an evenly split decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the Seventh District’s opinion in the case of LeDure v. Union Pacific. At the crux of this argument was the question whether a stopped train could be “in use” per federal labor law. With this ruling, the highest court in the United States has now declared that stopped trains are not in use.

The Supreme Court’s decision was only one sentence:

“The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

Only eight justices were available for the case because Justice Amy Coney Barrett recused herself. She had been with the Seventh District when it previously ruled on the matter.

More than one issue at stake

In LeDure v. Union Pacific, the claimant stepped on a “slick” spot, slipped and fell while inspecting locomotives stopped in a rail yard in Salem, Illinois. He argued that the locomotive had been in use because he was preparing it for transit. Furthermore, he argued the slick spot was a reasonably foreseeable hazard. Union Pacific argued that the locomotive was not in use because it was stopped. It also claimed it had been previously unaware of the spot.

With its simple affirmation, the Supreme Court returns us to the Seventh District’s opinion for a complete understanding of the legal concerns and logic. As the Seventh District viewed the case, there were two key questions:

  • Whether the train was “in use” per the Locomotive Inspection Act (49 U.S.C. § 20701)
  • Whether the claimant could establish negligence on the part of Union Pacific per the Federal Employers’ Liability Act

The Seventh District pointed out that Locomotive Inspection Act supplements the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. Railroad workers who can prove violations under the Locomotive Inspection Act automatically establish negligence. However, they must still show that their injuries resulted directly or in part from that negligence.

The Seventh District turned to the case of Lyle v. Atchison T. & S.F. Ry. Co. to determine whether the locomotive had been in use. That case established that when workers were preparing engines for use, those engines had to be out of use. In fact, it argued that preparing an engine for use was “the antithesis of using it.” In the case of LeDure, specifically, the Seventh District noted the locomotive was out of use because it was:

  • Stopped
  • Off the main track
  • Part of a train that was not yet fully assembled

This determination meant that LeDure could not argue Union Pacific failed to comply with regulations. Accordingly, he needed some other means of proving that Union Pacific had acted negligently. In short, he needed to show the slick spot had been reasonably foreseeable, but he did not claim that Union Pacific had prior knowledge of the oil that slicked the walkway. Instead, LeDure’s own testimony acknowledged that the spot was:

  • Small
  • Isolated
  • Unexplained

Thus, the Seventh District found that Union Pacific had not failed to care for a locomotive “in use” and had no reasonable means to foresee the danger to its employee. It summarily dismissed the case against Union Pacific. The Supreme Court’s affirmation supports the logic and arguments behind the summary dismissal.