Justia Transportation Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads v. Foxx
Study of the I-69 extension between Evansville and Indianapolis began in 1944. The 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Act designated a new route from Indianapolis to Memphis,, via Evansville as a “high priority corridor” for development. As the project progressed, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) divided the project into two “tiers” for environmental analysis. After the plans were finalized, construction work on the six sections of Tier 2 began; 90 percent of the work on the extension is complete. The FHWA and Indiana Department of Transportation issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Tier 2, Section 4, in 2010. A Final Environmental Impact Statement and a Record of Decision issued in 2011. The agencies selected the final route and construction plan for Section 4 after reviewing 48 options and produced a record reflecting consideration of impact on historic sites, geological formations, and air-quality, among other factors. Pursuant to its obligations under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service engaged in consultation and issued a Biological Opinion regarding the possible impact of tree-clearing on the endangered Indiana bat. Opponents filed suit. After a lengthy period of inactivity by Plaintiffs, including several missed case management deadlines, the district court granted summary judgment upholding the approvals. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads v. Foxx" on Justia Law
Rogers v. United States
Abutting landowners claimed that the United States effected a taking of their property without just compensation when it converted a former railroad corridor between Sarasota and Venice, Florida, into a recreational trail pursuant to the National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d), because deeds transferred by their predecessors-in-title to a railroad company granted only easements on their land for railroad purposes and, upon termination of the use of the land as a railroad, left the landowners unencumbered title and possession of their land. The Federal Circuit affirmed partial summary judgment in favor of the government, holding that the owners lacked a property right or interest in the land-at-issue because the railroad company, had obtained fee simple title to the land. The court noted that the state’s highest court has confirmed that, under Florida law, a railroad can acquire either an easement or fee simple title to a railroad right-of-way and that no statute, state policy, or factual considerations prevails over the language of the deeds when the language is clear; the language of the six deeds-at-issue clearly convey fee simple title on their face. View "Rogers v. United States" on Justia Law
Rasmuson v. United States
Plaintiffs own land adjacent to central Iowa railway corridors. Pursuant to the National Trail System Act Amendments of 1982, the Surface Transportation Board issued Notices of Interim Trail Use (NITUs) for the corridors. NITUs “preserve established railroad rights-of-way for future reactivation of rail service” and permit the railroad operator to cease operation without legally abandoning any “rights-of-way for railroad purposes,” 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The trial court found that but for issuance of the NITUs, the railway easements would have reverted to plaintiffs upon cessation of railroad operations, held that a taking occurred, and, focusing on parcels for which the highest and best use was farmland, used the “before and after” method to determine the value of the land subject to the easement. The court determined that the “before” state of the land should take into account the value of the land as it existed before the NITU easements, but ignore any physical remnants of the railway’s use, which would have remained if the railway easement had been permitted to lapse. The Federal Circuit vacated, holding that an appraiser must consider the value of a landowner’s property before the easement, which in this case includes the physical remnants of the railroad. View "Rasmuson v. United States" on Justia Law
Biery v. United States
About 100 years ago, the then-owners of land abutting a 2.88-mile stretch of rail corridor near the City of South Hutchinson, Kansas granted deeds covering that land to the predecessor of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF). The corridor was used by BNSF until 2004. It was then converted to a recreational trail pursuant to the National Trail Systems Act, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The current owners asserted that the conversion constituted a taking and sought compensation under the Fifth Amendment. The Court of Federal Claims entered summary judgment in favor of the government, finding that none of the plaintiffs possessed a fee-simple property interest in the land underlying the rail corridor that could be the subject of a taking because the land had been conveyed to the BNSF’s predecessor in fee simple and not by easements. The Federal Circuit affirmed in part, finding that some of the land was conveyed to the BNSF’s predecessor in fee simple, but that the railroad was only granted an easement over other land. With respect to others, the issue was clouded by chain-of-title questions. View "Biery v. United States" on Justia Law
Hoosier Envtl. Council, v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs
The Federal Highway Administration and the Indiana Department of Transportation decided to complete an Indiana segment of I-69, which will eventually run from Canada to Mexico. Environmentalists opposed the route and sued under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344, which authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to issue permits for discharge of dredged or fill material into navigable waters of the United States. A permit will be denied if there is “a practicable alternative to the proposed discharge which would have less adverse impact on the aquatic ecosystem,” 40 C.F.R. 230.10(a), or if the discharge “would be contrary to the public interest.” 33 C.F.R. 320.4(a)(1). The permit at issue allows six streams to be filled where the highway crosses them and permits destruction of wetlands. The environmentalists proposed, in the alternative, simply upgrading to federal interstate highway standards, and existing route. In an environmental impact statement, the Corps concluded that no less environmentally damaging alternative was practicable, that the project was not contrary to the public interest, that damage to wetlands would be modest and would be offset by creation of new wetlands. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the environmental analysis. View "Hoosier Envtl. Council, v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs" on Justia Law
High Rock Lake Partners, LLC v. Dep’t of Transp.
A property owner sought a driveway permit from the State Department of Transportation (DOT) to connect its proposed subdivision's system of roads to a state road by which the property was accessed. Two railroad companies opposed the permit, claiming that the rail traffic at a nearby crossing, located approximately one-quarter of a mile away from the proposed driveway connection, might pose a safety hazard to future residents. Consequently, a DOT engineer denied the permit. On appeal, a DOT division engineer granted the permit request subject to the conditions that the owner make improvements to the railroad crossing and obtain the owning and operating railroads' consent to the improvements. On judicial review, the trial court ruled in favor of DOT, finding the agency acted within the scope of its powers in issuing the driveway permit subject to these conditions. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the conditions imposed by DOT in this case were not statutorily authorized, and therefore, DOT exceeded its authority when it issued the conditional permit. View "High Rock Lake Partners, LLC v. Dep't of Transp." on Justia Law
Girard v. Youngstown Belt Ry. Co.
Youngstown Belt Railway Company entered into a purchase agreement with Total Waste Logistics of Girard for the purchase of Mosier Yard, which the railway owned. The sale was never consummated, and later the city of Girard commenced an appropriation action to appropriate a portion of Mosier Yard. The trial court held that the city's appropriation proceedings were preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA). On remand, the trial court held that it would be inappropriate to consider the railway's potential sale to Total Waste in the preemption analysis but determined that the railway's use of a portion of the appropriated land for storage caused the city's action to be preempted by the ICCTA. The appellate court affirmed, although on different grounds. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the city's proposed eminent-domain action against the undeveloped portion of the railway's property, which did not contain any tracks or rights-of-way and did not have any concrete projected use that would constitute rail transportation by a rail carrier, was not preempted under the ICCTA.View "Girard v. Youngstown Belt Ry. Co." on Justia Law
MD Mall Assocs. v. CSX Transp., Inc
The mall is bounded by a railroad track and drainage ditches owned by CSX. Houses beyond the track are higher than the track, which is higher than the mall. CSX’s predecessor installed a berm, straddling the property line, to prevent storm water from flowing onto the mall property. In 2010 storm water breached the berm. Runoff and debris from CSX’s property flowed down the slope and overwhelmed a private storm water inlet in the mall parking lot. CSX assured mall representatives that it planned a ditch to resolve the problem, but, instead, began constructing a spillway on the mall side of the berm to direct storm water into the mall’s drainage inlet. The mall manager discovered and immediately halted the work. The mall claimed negligence and continuing trespass. During discovery, the mall learned that CSX had refurbished the relevant portion of the track and argued that the modifications led to the discharge onto its property and that the discharge was evidence that CSX had violated, 49 C.F.R. 213.33, enacted under the Federal Railroad Safety Act. The district court granted CSX summary judgment, holding that the claims were blocked by the FRSA preemption provision. The Third Circuit vacated, noting the “constrained scope” of FRSA preemption. View "MD Mall Assocs. v. CSX Transp., Inc" on Justia Law
Commodities Exp. Co. v. Detroit Int’l Bridge Co.
In 2008 the Michigan Supreme Court held that the Detroit International Bridge Company was immune from the City of Detroit’s zoning ordinances because it was a federal instrumentality for the limited purpose of facilitating commerce over the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit to Ontario, Canada. The federal government was not a party to the suit. Commodities Export, which owned property near the Bridge, later filed suit against Detroit and the United States, claiming that the Bridge Company had unilaterally condemned roads around its property, cutting off the land and causing a regulatory taking. It claimed that Detroit was liable for failing to enforce its own ordinances and demanded that the United States take a position on the Bridge Company’s federal-instrumentality status and control the Company’s actions. The United States cross-claimed against Bridge Company, alleging that it had misappropriated the title of “federal instrumentality.” The district court granted summary judgment for the United States and dismissed the action. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that federal courts have jurisdiction over the government’s cross-claim and owe no deference to the Michigan Supreme Court’s interpretation of federal common law. Bridge Company is not a federal instrumentality. View "Commodities Exp. Co. v. Detroit Int'l Bridge Co." on Justia Law
Ladd v. United States
In 1903 the railroad acquired a right-of-way for a 100-foot wide, 76-mile long, strip across Arizona land near the Mexican border. After operating for about 100 years, the railroad initiated proceedings to abandon the railway with the Department of Transportation’s Surface Transportation Board, which issued a Notice of Interim Trail or Abandonment (NITU) in 2006 authorizing conversion to a public trail under the National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The landowners sued, alleging that issuance of the NITU constituted a compensable taking. The claims court dismissed, reasoning that the government had not physically invaded the property. The Federal Circuit reversed and held that the takings claim accrued when the 2006 NITU issued. During discovery on remand, the government produced a NITU affecting the property that had issued in 1998. There was no indication that the NITU was published; the landowners submitted declarations that they were not aware of the 1998 NITU. The claims court held that the limitations period began in 1998 and that the claims were time-barred. The Federal Circuit reversed. In these circumstances, the government’s interest in bright-line legal rules must yield to the landowners’ right to receive actual or constructive notice that their claims have accrued. View "Ladd v. United States" on Justia Law