Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
by
The General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 provides railroad companies “right[s] of way through the public lands of the United States,” 43 U.S.C. 934. One such right of way, created in 1908, crosses land that the government conveyed to the Brandt family in a 1976 land patent. That patent stated that the land was granted subject to the right of way, but it did not specify what would occur if the railroad relinquished those rights. A successor railroad abandoned the right of way with federal approval. The government sought a declaration of abandonment and an order quieting its title to the abandoned right of way, including the stretch across the Brandt patent. Brandt argued that the right of way was a mere easement that was extinguished upon abandonment. The district court quieted title in the government. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. The right of way was an easement that was terminated by abandonment, leaving Brandt’s land unburdened. The Court noted that that the government had argued the opposite position in an earlier case. In that case, the Court found the 1875 Act’s text “wholly inconsistent” with the grant of a fee interest. An easement disappears when abandoned by its beneficiary. View "Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The General Railroad Right-of-Way Act of 1875 provides railroad companies “right[s] of way through the public lands of the United States,” 43 U.S.C. 934. One such right of way, created in 1908, crosses land that the government conveyed to the Brandt family in a 1976 land patent. That patent stated that the land was granted subject to the right of way, but it did not specify what would occur if the railroad relinquished those rights. A successor railroad abandoned the right of way with federal approval. The government sought a declaration of abandonment and an order quieting its title to the abandoned right of way, including the stretch across the Brandt patent. Brandt argued that the right of way was a mere easement that was extinguished upon abandonment. The district court quieted title in the government. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed. The right of way was an easement that was terminated by abandonment, leaving Brandt’s land unburdened. The Court noted that that the government had argued the opposite position in an earlier case. In that case, the Court found the 1875 Act’s text “wholly inconsistent” with the grant of a fee interest. An easement disappears when abandoned by its beneficiary. View "Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs owned land in the Chaparral railroad corridor, converted for trail use by the ICC under the National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d) and filed a class action compensation claim against the government. After the government stipulated to takings liability on certain claims, the parties cooperated to determine compensation. The district court approved a settlement of $1,241,385.36, including pre-judgment interest. Plaintiffs sought attorneys' fees of $832,674 under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act, 42 U.S.C. 4654(c) for 2,119.69 hours of work at market rates for the District of Columbia, where counsel practiced, rather than rates for the Texas forum where the case was filed. The district court determined that 18.2 hours were unreasonable, that the relevant market was the District of Columbia and calculated a lodestar figure of $826,044.19, but considering the results obtained, reduced by 50% and awarded $413,022.10. The Federal Circuit vacated. While a court may reduce the lodestar figure to account for the amount involved and results obtained, those factors should be considered in calculating the lodestar figure, rather after that calculation. The district court should have used forum rates in determining the reasonable hourly rate. View "Bywaters v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff, a terminal and switching railroad operating in the City, brought a declaratory judgment against the City alleging that a federal statute preempted all City ordinances that affected its transloading operations. The railroad wanted to expand its operations and the City opposed the expansion, claiming it violated several municipal ordinances. The court reversed the district court's holding of no preemption as to the standard construction details and road grading ordinance, resting its decision on express preemption under the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C. 10101 et seq. The court's express preemption holding only pertained to the road and paving areas used in connection with the TCB-MAALT-Halliburton transloading operation. This preemption rendered the City's appeal from the denial of its request for civil penalties for ordinance violations moot. The court reversed what the court concluded was likely a holding by the district court that there was express preemption as to the older, 20-acre transloading center and remanded for further proceedings. The court affirmed the district court's remaining rulings. View "Texas Central Business Lines v. City of Midlothian" on Justia Law

by
This case arose when the Port of Los Angeles prohibited motor carriers from operating drayage trucks on port property unless the motor carriers entered into concession agreements with the port. The concession agreements set forth fourteen specific requirements covering, among other things, truck driver employment, truck maintenance, parking, and port security. The agreements were adopted as part of the port's "Clean Truck Program," adopted in response to community opposition that had successfully stymied port growth. Plaintiff challenged the concession agreements, arguing that they were preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAA Act), 49 U.S.C. 14501 et seq. The court held that the district court meticulously identified and applied the governing law. The court affirmed the district court's holding that the financial capability, maintenance, off-street parking, and placard provisions were not preempted. The court reversed the district court's conclusion that the employee-driver provision was saved from preemption by the market participant doctrine, and remanded for further proceedings. View "American Trucking Ass'n v. The City of Los Angeles, et al." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff, a freight railroad, owned a spur line connecting to a plastics plant, the only shipper located on the spur. Defendant, another railroad, bought the lines, including the spur. The sales contract allowed plaintiff to continue to run trains on the lines being sold and granted plaintiff an exclusive easement to use the spur to serve the plant. Several years later, the plant entered receivership. The receiver sold all assets, including the plant. The buyer continues to manufacture plastics in the plant. Contending that the change in ownership voided the exclusive easement, defendant contracted with the buyer to ship products over the spur, leaving plaintiff with diminished use of the spur. The district court ruled in favor of defendant, reasoning that the contract referred specifically to the plastics company in business at that time. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, based on the language of the contract in light of extrinsic evidence, and rejected a trespass claim. View "Dakota, MN & E. R.R. v. WI & S. R.R." on Justia Law

by
The Commission of Transportation requested a condemnation order for a portion of appellant Richard Lepak's land for the improvement and widening of a highway. After a condemnation hearing, the district court concluded that improving and widening the highway was a legitimate public purpose and that the state Department of Transportation had established a reasonable necessity. Therefore, the district court rejected the challenged to the proposed taking, and the court of appeals affirmed. At issue on review was whether the State had a valid public purpose for the taking because part of Lepak's land would be used to build a private road to mitigate damages to a neighboring parcel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the purpose of the taking in this case met the definition of "public use" or "public purpose" as set forth in Minn. Stat. 117.025.

by
The Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act prevents states and their subdivisions from imposing discriminatory taxes against railroads. 49 U.S.C. 11501. In 2008, the drainage district, a subdivision of Illinois, changed its method for calculating assessments. All other owners are assessed on a per-acre formula, but railroad, pipeline, and utility land were to be assessed on the basis of "benefit," apparently based on the difference in value between land within the district and land outside the levees; annual crop rentals being paid; and agricultural production of lands within the district. Two rail carriers brought suit under a section of the Act, which prevents imposition of "another tax that discriminates against a rail carrier." The district court held that the assessment was prohibited by the Act, but concluded that it was powerless to enjoin the tax. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the court has authority to enjoin the tax, but, under principles of comity, should eliminate only the discriminatory aspects, not the entire scheme. The assessment is a tax that, raises general revenues; its ultimate use is for the whole district. It imposes a proportionately heavier tax on railroading than other activities. View "Kansas City S. Ry. v. Koeller" on Justia Law

by
The railroad owns a 2.8-mile right-of-way that it has leased to the Chicago Transit Authority for almost 50 years. When the lease became too costly, the CTA sought to condemn a perpetual easement. The district court enjoined the condemnation as preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, 49 U.S.C. 10501(b). The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The railroad and its right-of-way fall under the Act; the proposed state condemnation would be a regulation of railroad transportation preempted by the Act. The court employed an "as applied" analysis and concluded that the condemnation would prevent or unreasonably interfere with rail transportation by changing the relationship between the parties. Under the proposed easement, the CTA's rights would not be subject to termination for any reason. The railroad would lose property rights to reclaim the property if the CTA ceases passenger transportation operations on the Right of Way or violates any term of the lease and to oust the CTA from the Right of Way if the CTA fails to meet its lease obligations. View "Union Pacific R.R. Co. v. Chicago Transit Auth." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs' predecessors bought their Wisconsin land from the federal government in 1882-1884 and the railroad obtained an easement to cross the land by condemnation. The railroad abandoned the easement in 1980 by obtaining ICC permission and removing tracks. More than 20 years later, the county, wanting to construct a snowmobile trail, claimed that the land reverted to county ownership by virtue of a law enacted in 1852. The district court ruled in favor of the county. The Seventh Circuit reversed, first rejecting the county's claim that only the federal government had standing to challenge non-compliance with conditions of the 1852 law. When an easement is abandoned, rights ordinarily revert to the fee owner and, under the applicable laws, plaintiffs acquired any right-of-way a year and a day after the abandonment. The county was aware of the abandonment and considered buying the easement from the railroad at that time, but "waited a quarter of a century and then claimed a right to obtain the right of way for nothing." View "Johnson v. Bayfield County" on Justia Law