This guest post was authored by James E. Oldendorph Jr.
In October 2009, Metrolink installed two inward-facing cameras in all of its locomotive cabs. While one of the inward-facing cameras records the control panel and gauges, the other is located seven to eight feet from where the locomotive engineer is seated inside the cab and captures a 270 degree span of the interior of the cab, including a view of the engineer. There is also a forward-facing camera which does not capture any activities or sounds in the locomotive cab, but records video images of the rail right of way, tracks, and train signals. Metrolink installed cameras and microphones in its locomotive cabs in the wake of the tragic Chatsworth railroad collision of September 12, 2008, involving a Metrolink train in which 25 people were killed and over 100 injured. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the collision was caused in part by an engineer using a cell phone to send text messages while operating the train.
On October 20, 2009, the union for a class of Metrolink locomotive engineers, and one individual engineer, sued seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against Metrolink and the removal of the cameras from the locomotive cabs. The plaintiffs contended that the engineers had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the locomotive cabs, and that Metrolink’s audio and video monitoring system violated the engineers’ procedural and substantive due process rights. Plaintiffs also asserted that Metrolink’s actions were preempted by state law.
On June 1, 2011, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin granted Metrolink’s motion for summary judgment on all causes of action, finding that there were no issues of material fact warranting trial. This ruling resulted in a victory for Metrolink on all claims and judgment in its favor.
Judge Lavin found that Metrolink’s camera policy and system did not violate the engineers’ constitutional right to procedural due process because they failed to establish that they were deprived of any life, liberty or property interest or of any statutorily conferred benefit, and failed to establish that the camera policy undermined their collective bargaining agreement with their employer, Amtrak. Plaintiffs further could not show that Metrolink’s policy and system violated their substantive due process rights in that they failed to show any form of outrageous or egregious conduct constituting a true abuse of power on the part of Metrolink. Additionally, Judge Lavin determined that Metrolink’s implementation of the camera policy reasonably related to a proper legislative goal of promoting safety on the railways.
In regard to the claim of privacy right violations, the Court noted that, “under the undisputed facts, no reasonable trier of fact could find in Plaintiffs’ favor and impose liability for invasion of privacy as a result of the audio and video surveillance system.” The Court further found that the engineers did not establish that Metrolink’s audio/video camera policy or its recording system was highly offensive or constituted an egregious violation of prevailing social norms. Rather, the surveillance system in the locomotive cabs was narrowly tailored in place, time, and scope, and was prompted by the legitimate concerns of protecting the public.
Further, plaintiffs cited no law which holds that Metrolink may not enforce laws relating to public safety through an audio and video surveillance system. Metrolink’s actions were, therefore, not preempted by state law.
The state court’s ruling mirrors that of the United States District Court, which recently dismissed a similar lawsuit filed against Metrolink by the same parties. Plaintiffs have appealed the federal court ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The state court and federal court rulings allow Metrolink’s audio and video surveillance system, the first of its kind in this country, to move forward and continue to improve the safe operation of its trains.