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SUPREME COURT DOCKET REPORT

Mayer Brown's Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Group distributes a Docket Report whenever the Supreme Court grants certiorari in a case of interest to the business community. We also email the Docket Report to our subscribed members and if you don't already subscribe to the Docket Report and would like to, please click here.

October Term 2010 - June 6, 2011

June 6, 2011

Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in one case of interest to the business community:


Locomotive Inspection Act—Preemption of State-Law Tort Claims

The Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA), 49 U.S.C. §§ 20701 et seq. provides that “[a] railroad carrier may use or allow to be used a locomotive . . . only when . . . its parts and appurtenances . . . are in proper condition and safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal injury.” In Napier v. Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co., 272 U.S. 605, 613 (1926), the Supreme Court held that the LIA “was intended to occupy the field” of locomotive design, construction, and material. Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Kurns v. Railroad Friction Products Corp., No. 10-879, to address whether the LIA preempts a state-law product-liability claim arising from the use of asbestos-containing products in the repair of locomotives.

The Court’s ultimate decision will be of obvious interest to companies that manufacture locomotives or locomotive parts. It will likely be of interest to railroads, too, inasmuch as the decision could affect the scope of their liability to employees under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. The decision could also be of interest far beyond the railroad industry if the Court accepts the petitioner’s invitation to use the case as a vehicle for abandoning the doctrine of implied field preemption, an outcome that could expose businesses and other entities to a wide range of state regulation in areas heretofore viewed as subject to federal regulation alone.

Respondents, the defendants below, manufactured locomotives and locomotive parts that contained asbestos. Petitioner, the plaintiff below, sued the respondents under state product-liability law, alleging that her husband had contracted mesothelioma as a result of being exposed to the respondents’ asbestos-containing products while repairing a railroad’s locomotives. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on the ground that the LIA occupied the field of locomotive design and therefore preempted the plaintiff’s state-law claim. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding that the LIA “preempts a broad field relating to the health and safety of railroad workers, including requirements governing the design and construction of locomotives, as well as equipment selection and installation.” Kurns v. A.W. Chesterton, Inc., 620 F.3d 392, 397 (2010).

Last month, in another case presenting the same issue (which is now apparently being held pending the Court’s decision in Kurns), the Solicitor General filed a brief on behalf of the United States arguing that, although the LIA does indeed preempt the field of locomotive design, it does not necessarily preempt claims arising from the repair of locomotives, because, on the government’s view, the LIA covers only locomotives that are “in use.” Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae, John Crane, Inc. v. Atwell, No. 10-272, at 15–18. In a responsive filing, the Kurns respondents argued that, because a locomotive’s design and construction remain constant, even when the locomotive is not in use, the LIA necessarily covers all locomotives, whether in use or under repair.

Absent extensions, which are likely, amicus briefs in support of the petitioners (or neither party) will be due on July 28, 2011, and amicus briefs in support of the respondents will be due on August 29, 2011. Any questions about this case should be directed to Andrew Tauber (+1 202 263 3324) in our Washington, DC office.


Last week the Supreme Court invited the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States in the following case of interest to the business community:

Farina v. Nokia, Inc., No. 10-1064. The question presented is whether regulations of the Federal Communications Commission setting forth the standard for radiofrequency emissions from mobile telephones preempt certain state-law claims concerning the safety of mobile telephones.


Mayer Brown's Supreme Court & Appellate practice distributes a Docket Report whenever the Supreme Court grants certiorari in a case of interest to the business community and distributes a Docket Report-Decision Alert whenever the Court decides such a case. We hope you find the Docket Reports and Decision Alerts useful, and welcome feedback on them (which should be addressed to Andrew Tauber, their general editor, at atauber@mayerbrown.com or +1 202 263 3324).

Feel free to forward this message to anyone who you believe might be interested in the Docket Report.

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Mayer Brown's Supreme Court & Appellate practice distributes a Docket Report whenever the Supreme Court grants certiorari in a case of interest to the business community and distributes a Docket Report-Decision Alert whenever the Court decides such a case. We hope you find the Docket Reports and Decision Alerts useful, and welcome feedback on them (which should be addressed to Andrew Tauber, their general editor, at atauber@mayerbrown.com or +1 202 263 3324).

Mayer Brown Supreme Court Docket Reports provide information and comments on legal issues and developments of interest to our clients and friends. They are not a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter covered and are not intended to provide legal advice. Readers should seek specific legal advice before taking any action with respect to the matters discussed. 



 
 
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