Supreme Court Split Keeps Union Pacific Railroad Safety Ruling Intact

On April 28, 2022, a deadlocked U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a Seventh Circuit ruling in a case former railroad worker Bradley LeDure brought against Taft client Union Pacific. The justices, who issued a per curiam decision in their 4-4 ruling, heard oral arguments in March 2022 on the scope of the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA). Taft partner Jonathan Amarilio served as second chair for Union Pacific in oral arguments.

LeDure asked the Supreme Court to adopt a rule that locomotives are always “in use” unless they are stopped in a dedicated place of repair, which would trigger strict liability against the railroad under the LIA. Union Pacific countered that this is an overly-expansive view of what constitutes “use,” and is contrary to the plain and ordinary meaning of the term, as well as the LIA’s history, purpose, and structure.

LeDure brought claims against Union Pacific Railroad under the LIA and the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), following an injury he allegedly sustained in 2016 while working on a locomotive. LeDure was an engineer tasked on the day of his alleged injury with assembling a train, which would include a powered-down locomotive not used to pull the train. The inactive locomotive was to be pulled to another railyard for maintenance and repair. LeDure alleged that he slipped and fell on an oil slick on that locomotive while performing this work, and that Union Pacific was strictly liable for his resulting injury under the LIA, or at least liable under the FELA for negligence. The district court entered summary judgment for Union Pacific, finding the locomotive was not “in use” and therefore not subject to the LIA, and LeDure’s injuries were not reasonably foreseeable. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

Amarilio represented Union Pacific alongside Scott Ballenger, director of the Appellate Litigation Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Amarilio is a co-chair of Taft’s firm-wide Appellate practice and represents individuals, businesses, and state and local governments before state and federal appellate courts. 

The case is Bradley LeDure v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., case number 20-807.

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