CSX Transportation Inc. v. Williams
Order: The plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. 13 ) be, and the same hereby is, granted. Ohio's blocked-crossing statute, O.R.C. § 5589.21 is preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Ac t of 1995, 49 U.S.C. § 10101, et seq. The Law Director of the City of Defiance, Ohio, be, and the same hereby is, permanently enjoined from prosecuting CSX Transportation, Inc., for violations of O.R.C. § 5589.21. Judge James G. Carr on 4/29/17.(C,D)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
CSX Transportation, Inc.,
Case No. 3:16CV2242
David H. Williams, Director,
City of Defiance, Ohio, Law Department,
This is a railroad case.
Ohio law forbids any railroad company to “obstruct . . . a public street, road, or highway, by
permitting a railroad car, locomotive, or other obstruction to remain upon or across it for longer than
five minutes.” O.R.C. § 5589.21(A). The penalty for each violation, which state law classifies as a
first-degree misdemeanor, is $1,000. O.R.C. § 5589.99.
The plaintiff, CSX Transportation, Inc., faces at least $35,000 in fines for violating
§ 5589.21(A) in Defiance County, Ohio. The Sheriff of Defiance County has cited CSX for violating
the blocked-crossing law, and the City of Defiance, through its law director, pro se defendant David
Williams, is responsible for prosecuting those citations in Defiance Municipal Court.
Hoping to halt that process, CSX brought this suit alleging that two provisions of federal law
– the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, 49 U.S.C. § 10101, et seq. (ICCTA), and
the Federal Railroad Safety Act, 49 U.S.C. § 20101, et seq. – preempt the blocked-crossing law. The
railroad also contends that the statute violates the Commerce Clause, U.S. Const., Art. I, § 8.1 CSX
seeks a declaratory judgment that federal law preempts § 5589.21 and a permanent injunction barring
the City Law Director from enforcing that law against the company.
Jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. See Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 463 U.S.
85, 96 n.14 (1983).
Pending is CSX’s motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c).
(Doc. 13). For the following reasons, I grant the motion.
CSX is a “federally regulated carrier” that “conducts railroad operations and maintains track
in the State of Ohio, including Defiance County[.]” (Doc. 7 at ¶5).
The railroad provides “switching services” to General Motors’s Casting Operations plant near
State Route 281 and Hire Road in Defiance, Ohio. (Id. at ¶6). “In order to provide service to GM,
the railroad grade crossing located at Hire Road is necessarily blocked while CSX provides
switching services at the GM switching yard.” (Id. at ¶8).
It is these operations that ran afoul of O.R.C. § 5589.21(A), which, as already noted, puts a
five-minute cap on the amount of time that a railroad car may block a public street.
After the Defiance County Sheriff cited CSX for blocking the crossing, the City of Defiance
prosecuted the company in municipal court. CSX paid $2,000 in fines to resolve citations that the
Sheriff issued in 2015. (Doc. 12 at ¶5). According to Williams, moreover, if CSX were “convicted
of all citations presently pending before the Defiance Municipal Court, the aggregate amount of fines
CSX notified the Ohio Attorney General of its constitutional challenge to § 5589.21, as
Civil Rule 5.1(a)(1)(B) required, but the Attorney General Declined to intervene. (Docs. 8, 11).
to be imposed in accordance with mandatory sentencing provisions of . . . § 5589.21 [would]
exceed[ ] $35,000.” (Id.). Those prosecutions are on hold, however, after the parties requested a stay
from the municipal court and I entered an agreed preliminary injunction enjoining the City Law
Director from prosecuting CSX for violating the blocked-crossing statute. (Doc. 6).2
Standard of Review
“For purposes of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, all well-pleaded material
allegations of the pleadings of the opposing party must be take as true, and the motion may be
granted only if the moving party is nevertheless clearly entitled to judgment.” JPMorgan Chase
Bank, N.A. v. Winget, 510 F.3d 577, 581 (6th Cir. 2007).
By virtue of the Supremacy Clause, “Congress can define explicitly the extent to which its
enactments pre-empt state law. Pre-emption is fundamentally a question of congressional intent, and
when Congress has made its intent known through explicit statutory language, the courts’ task is an
easy one.” English v. Gen. Elec. Co., 496 U.S. 72, 78–79 (1990).
The ICCTA contains an express preemption provision that vests the Surface Transportation
Board with exclusive jurisdiction over transportation by rail carriers:
The jurisdiction of the Board over –
transportation by rail carriers, and the remedies provided in
this part with respect to rates, classifications, rules (including
During the pendency of this case, the Sheriff has issued at least fifty-five additional
blocked-crossing citations to CSX. (Doc. 14 at 6). In response, the Defiance Municipal Court has
“extended the stay of proceedings to each new case.” (Id.).
car service, interchange, and other operating rules), practices,
routes, services, and facilities of such carriers; and
the construction, acquisition, operation, abandonment, or
discontinuance of spur, industrial, team, switching, or side
tracks, or facilities, even if the tracks are located, or
intended to be located, entirely in one State, is exclusive.
Except as otherwise provided in this part, the remedies
provided under this part with respect to regulation of rail
transportation are exclusive and preempt the remedies
provided under Federal or State law.
49 U.S.C. § 10501.
The statute defines “transportation,” in turn, as:
a locomotive, car, vehicle, vessel, warehouse, wharf, pier, dock, yard,
property, facility, instrumentality, or equipment of any kind related to the
movement of passengers or property, or both, by rail, regardless of ownership
or an agreement concerning use; and
services related to that movement, including receipt, delivery, elevation,
transfer in transit, refrigeration, icing, ventilation, storage, handling, and
interchange of passengers and property.
49 U.S.C. § 10102(9).
“This broad, sweeping language shows Congress’s intent to preempt any state effort to
regulate rail transportation.” Girard v. Youngstown Belt Ry. Co., 134 Ohio St. 3d 79, 85 (2012).
Indeed, it expressly or categorically preempts any state or local laws that “have the effect of
managing or governing” rail transportation. Tex. Cent. Bus Lines Corp. v. City of Midlothian, 669
F.3d 525, 532 (5th Cir. 2012).
I find that the ICCTA categorically preempts § 5589.21 because it purports to regulate rail
transportation by dictating how railroads conduct their operations at crossings.
As CSX points out, the law on its face applies to “trains engaged in switching, loading, or
unloading operations.” O.R.C. § 5589. 21(C). But this kind of regulation falls within the Surface
Transportation Board’s exclusive jurisdiction. Ayling v. BNSF Ry. Co., 2014 WL 12605590, *4
(D.N.D.) (“The ICCTA gives the Surface Transportation Board exclusive jurisdiction over the
operation of switching, and therefore it preempts any attempt to regulate switching activities.”); see
also Rushing v. Kansas City S. Ry. Co., 194 F. Supp. 2d 493, 499 (S.D. Miss. 2001) (“to the extent
that these laws could provide local authorities with the power to regulate the periods of time in which
a railroad company was permitted to operate its switching activities, and the manner in which those
activities could otherwise be conducted, the state laws would impose an impermissible economic
regulation on the railroad industry”).
Because § 5589.21 purports to regulate rail transportation – namely, by limiting the amount
of time a train can block a crossing – the ICCTA categorically preempts that law. Burlington N. &
Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. Dep’t of Transp., 206 P.3d 261, 264 (Ore. App. 2009) (ICCTA categorically
preempted Oregon regulation forbidding trains to block crossings for more than ten minutes); see
also CSX Transp., Inc. v. City of Plymouth, 93 F. Supp. 2d 643, 663 (E.D. Mich. 2000) (“Under the
law, any limitation on the amount of time a train can block a crossing must come from the federal
I will therefore issue a declaratory judgment that federal law preempts Ohio’s blockedcrossing law.
Given my determination that the ICCTA preempts § 5589.21, I need not decide whether the
FSRA also preempts the statute or whether the statute violates the Commerce Clause.
B. Absence of a Necessary Party
Defendant Williams has not opposed CSX’s arguments that federal law preempts § 5589.21.
(In fact, his opposition brief recounts his longstanding view, and the advice he has long tendered to
municipal officials, that federal law indeed preempts the blocked-crossing law.).
But Williams argues that I cannot issue an injunction because: 1) he has no interest in the
subject matter or this suit and no authority to defend the constitutionality of § 5589.21, such
authority belonging exclusively to the Ohio Attorney General and the Prosecuting Attorneys of
Ohio’s eighty-eight counties; and 2) the Sheriff of Defiance County is a necessary party, such that
CSX cannot obtain complete relief unless I join the Sheriff as a defendant.
The first argument misconceives the nature of Williams’s appearance in the present case.
Williams appears here, not to defend the constitutionality of § 5589.21 on behalf of the State
of Ohio, but as a defendant whom Ohio law obligates to enforce an invalid (because preempted) law.
See O.R.C. § 1901.34(A) (“the . . . city director of law . . . of the municipal corporation in which a
municipal court is located shall prosecute all criminal cases brought before the court arising in the
unincorporated area within the territory of the municipal court”).
Having such enforcement power, Williams could have, had he wished to do so, raised
whatever argument he deemed proper to show that the law is constitutional and thus enforceable by
him – just as any litigant could argue that a given state law is constitutional, if his or her case
depended on that law being constitutional. That Williams may lack authority to make those
arguments on behalf of the State of Ohio is therefore irrelevant, as that is not Williams’s role as the
defendant in this case.
The second argument is no more persuasive.
By this suit, CSX seeks to halt the City of Defiance from prosecuting it and, more
importantly, collecting the $1,000 fine that accrues with each violation. A permanent injunction
barring the City’s Law Director from prosecuting CSX for a violation of § 5589.21 will have
precisely that effect.
Williams responds that such an injunction would not stop the Sheriff from citing CSX for
violating the blocked-crossing law, nor would it prevent the Prosecuting Attorney of Defiance
County, who also has authority to bring a criminal case against CSX, see O.R.C. §309.08(A), from
prosecuting the company.
That is true enough, but it remains the case that the injunction CSX seeks will afford it
complete relief: a permanent bar on the City of Defiance’s Law Director from enforcing the statute
against CSX. The possibility that another entity might prosecute whatever citations the Sheriff issues
does not mean that the Sheriff is a necessary party under Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(a)(1)(A).
It is, therefore,
The plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. 13) be, and the same
hereby is, granted;
Ohio’s blocked-crossing statute, O.R.C. § 5589.21 is preempted by the Interstate
Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995, 49 U.S.C. § 10101, et seq.; and
The Law Director of the City of Defiance, Ohio, be, and the same hereby is,
permanently enjoined from prosecuting CSX Transportation, Inc., for violations of
O.R.C. § 5589.21.
/s/ James G. Carr
Sr. U.S. District Judge
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