PEJEPSCOT INDUSTRIAL PARK v. MAINE CENTRAL RAILROAD CO.

59 F. Supp.2d 109 (1999) | Cited 0 times | D. Maine | July 26, 1999

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Pejepscot Industrial Park, Inc. d/b/a Grimmel Industriesfiled a six-count First Amended Complaint seeking: a declaration ofownership rights of a railroad spur (Count 1); an injunction preventingdestruction of the spur and interference with Grimmel's right to repair,maintain, and use the spur (Count II); unlawful refusal to provide railservice, in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 11101 (Count III); breach ofduty to Grimmel as third-party beneficiary of the freight easementagreement between MEC and the State of Maine (Count IV); breach ofcontract (Count V); and tortious interference with business advantage andexpectancies (Count VI). Defendants Maine Central Railroad Company,Springfield Terminal Railway Company, and Guilford TransportationIndustries, Inc. move pursuant to 12(b)(1) to dismiss this action withprejudice because the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.Alternatively, Defendants move to dismiss the action without prejudiceunder the doctrine of primary jurisdiction for all of the issues withinthe special expertise of the Surface Transportation Board. The Court willgrant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

I. FACTS

Defendant Maine Central Railroad ("MEC") is a common carrier providingrailroad freight services. First Amended Complaint ¶ 2. DefendantSpringfield Terminal Railway ("ST") operates MEC's railroad. DefendantGuilford Transportation ("Guilford") owns MEC, ST, and various otherentities providing transportation services. First Amended Complaint¶ 4. At the heart of this controversy is a 3000-foot railroad spurlocated in Topsham, Maine, northeast of the Androscoggin River andsouthwest of the main line of the "Lewiston Lower Road" Branch. FirstAmended Complaint Ex. 1 at Ex. A at 2. The spur was constructed in thelate 19th century to provide freight service to a paper mill owned by thePejepscot Paper Company. First Amended Complaint ¶ 8. In January1992, Grimmel purchased the abandoned Pejepscot Paper mill andincorporated as Pejepscot Industrial Park engaged in the business ofsalvaging, selling, and shipping scrap metal. First Amended Complaint¶ 7. Eastbrook Timber Company owns the land adjacent to Grimmel'sfacility. First Amended Complaint ¶ 8. A spur railroad track (the"spur") runs across Grimmel's land and Eastbrook's land to a mainrailroad track. First Amended Complaint ¶ 8. Eastbrook has nooperations at its site. First Amended Complaint ¶ 9. Thus, at thistime the spur serves only Grimmel. First Amended Complaint ¶ 9.

The main railroad track to which the spur connects traverses fromBrunswick/Topsham to Lewiston, and is commonly known as the "LewistonIndustrial Track." First Amended Complaint 11 10. MEC's predecessorsacquired the track in 1937. First Amended Complaint 11 10. In February1991, MEC executed a deed (the "Deed") granting to the State of Maineportions of the Lewiston Industrial Track. First Amended Complaint Ex. 1,Ex. A. Among the parcels granted was the Lewiston Lower Road Branch,which lies within Brunswick, Topsham, and Lisbon, Maine and is theportion of the line the spur connects. First Amended Complaint 11 11;First Amended Complaint Ex. 1, Deed Ex. A. In conveying the LewistonLower Road Branch of the rail line to the State, MEC expressly reserved"a certain parcel of land in Topsham known as the "Pejepscot Spur Line."'First Amended Complaint 11 12; First Amended Complaint Ex. 1, Ex. A at2. The Pejepscot Spur Line is the spur serving Grimmel's facility. MECdoes not own the "parcel of land" reservedin the Deed. First Amended Complaint ¶ 12.

As part of the sale of the Lewiston Industrial Track, MEC, along withST, entered into a "Freight Easement Agreement" (the "Agreement") withthe State. First Amended Complaint Ex. 2. Pursuant to the FreightEasement Agreement, Defendants reserved "from the Lines conveyed to theState a rail freight easement for the purpose of providing common carrierrail freight service to all shippers and shippers' facilities on theLines." First Amended Complaint ¶ 14; First Amended Complaint Ex. 2,part 1.1. Further, the Agreement provided that "[t]he conveyance of theLines by MEC to the State excludes any and all rights and obligations ofthe MEC under federal law to provide, directly or through ST, commoncarrier freight service and the MEC retains all such rights andobligations to provide said service to all shippers and shippers'facilities located on the Lines." First Amended Complaint ¶ 14; FirstAmended Complaint Ex. 2, part 1.2.

By 1994, Grimmel's operations were fully in swing and Grimmel wasprepared to ship scrap metal out of Maine. First Amended Complaint ¶15. The most efficient and least expensive method of such shipment is byrail. First Amended Complaint ¶ 15. Thus, Grimmel requested thatDefendants provide common carrier freight service at Grimmel's PejepscotIndustrial Park. First Amended Complaint ¶ 15. Defendants refused toprovide service, asserting no appropriate rail cars were available. FirstAmended Complaint ¶ 16. After shipping the product out of Portlandfor a time, by other means, Grimmel again requested rail service at thePejepscot industrial facility. First Amended Complaint ¶ 22.Defendants provided Plaintiff with rail service rates which Grimmelaccepted. First Amended Complaint 1123. Apparently before any product wasshipped by rail, Defendants again refused to provide service to Grimmel.First Amended Complaint ¶ 24. Thereafter, Grimmel began negotiationswith the State over repairs to the Lewiston Lower Road Branch track andthe provision of rail service to Grimmel upon MEC's formal abandonment ofrail service on the Lewiston Industrial Track line. First AmendedComplaint 1125.

In June 1998, MEC filed with the Surface Transportation Board a Noticeof Exemption for abandonment and discontinuance of service over theLewiston Industrial Track line. First Amended Complaint 11 26; FirstAmended Complaint Ex. 5. In its Notice of Exemption, MEC represented tothe Board that the Lewiston Lower Road Branch portion of the line wasalready owned by the State. First Amended Complaint 11 27; First AmendedComplaint Ex. 5 at 3. It further represented that "the State of Maine, ora third party acting in conjunction therewith, will acquire the remainderof the Line and/or operating rights over the same post-abandonment."First Amended Complaint 1127; First Amended Complaint Ex. 5 at 3. MECmaintained that "no salvage operations will be undertaken" afterabandonment. First Amended Complaint 11 27; First Amended ComplaintEx.5, Ex. D at 4. MEC also represented that "[t]he proposed abandonmentwill not affect carrier operations in the area." First Amended Complaint11 27; First Amended Complaint Ex.5, Ex. D at 5.

The Surface Transportation Board permitted abandonment of the line.First Amended Complaint ¶ 28. Thereafter, Defendants informed Grimmelthat they intend to rip up the spur and sell it for scrap. First AmendedComplaint ¶ 28. Destruction of the spur will entirely cut offGrimmel's ability to obtain rail service from whichever rail carrieroperates the main rail line after MEC abandons it. First Amended Complaint1129. The State of Maine has agreed to upgrade the Lewiston Lower RoadBranch so that Grimmel may be provided rail service, so long as Grimmelupgrades the spur. FirstAmended Complaint ¶ 30. In June1999, however, Grimmel requested MEC's consent to repair and upgrade thespur at Grimmel's own expense, so that Grimmel could have access to railservice on the Lewiston Lower Road Branch. First Amended Complaint ¶31. MEC refused to allow Grimmel to repair the spur at Grimmel's ownexpense. First Amended Complaint ¶ 32. Thus, Grimmel will be unableto obtain rail service when the main rail line is restored. First AmendedComplaint ¶ 32.

II. DISCUSSION

Federal jurisdiction may never be presumed. Instead, theproponent—here, the Plaintiff—has the burden of demonstratingthe existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction. See Aversa v.United States, 99 F.3d 1200, 1209 (1st Cir. 1996); Murphy v. UnitedStates, 45 F.3d 520, 522 (1st Cir. 1995). On a motion to dismiss, thisCourt is required to construe the complaint liberally, treating allfactual averments as true and indulging all reasonable inferences infavor of Plaintiff. See Royal v. heading Edge Prods., Inc., 833 F.2d 1(1st Cir. 1987).

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Grimmel asserts two bases of subject matter jurisdiction for itsclaims—federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331and supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (a). FirstAmended Complaint ¶ 5. The only federal question expressly raised iswhether Defendants violated federal law by refusing to provide railservice to Grimmel or by otherwise interfering with the provision of railservice, in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 11101 (a). Complaint ¶43-48.

Late in 1995, in line with the general trend regarding deregulation,Congress enacted the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act,which dissolved the Interstate Commerce Commission. Interstate CommerceCommission Termination Act of 1995 ("ICCTA"), Pub.L. No. 104-88, 109Stat. 803 (1995)(codified at scattered sections of U.S.C.A., including 49U.S.C.A. §§ 10101-16106 (1997)). See also 49 U.S.C.A. § 101 note(1997) (detailing the Act's codification). The passage of the ICCTA,however, did not signal the complete end of regulation. In its place,Congress established the Surface Transportation Board ("STB") within theDepartment of Transportation. 49 U.S.C.A. § 701 (1997). Under theICCTA the jurisdiction of the STB over

transportation by rail carriers, and the remedies provided in this part with respect to rates, classifications, rules (including 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 (b)(emphasis added).

Plaintiff argues that § 10501 is a preemption provision only.Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the language of § 10501demonstrates that it is intended to preempt state law and other federalremedies, not eliminate the district court's jurisdiction. See49 U.S.C. § 10501 (b). The Court disagrees with Plaintiff. Although§ 10501(b), which governs the STB's jurisdiction, states "theremedies provided under this part with respect to regulation of railtransportation are exclusive and preempt the remedies provided underFederal or State law." That section also provides that the STB hasexclusive jurisdiction over "transportation by rail carriers, and theremedies provided in this part with respect to rates, classifications,rules (including car service, interchange, andother operating rules), practices, routes, services, and facilities of suchcarriers." 49 U.S.C. § 10501 (b). This broad provision which governsthe STB's jurisdiction is not limited to addressing the preemptive effectof the remedies provided in the statute. By its plain language, thisprovision awards exclusive jurisdiction to the STB with respect totransportation by rail carriers, including a carrier's obligations undersection 11101(a).1

Plaintiff also argues that 49 U.S.C. § 11704 (a) and (c)(1) providethis Court with original jurisdiction over a civil action for damagescaused by Defendants' purported violation of § 11101(a). Subsection(a), which states "[a] person injured because a rail carrier providingtransportation or service subject to the jurisdiction of the Board underthis part does not obey an order of the Board, except an order for thepayment of money, may bring a civil action in a United States DistrictCourt to enforce that order under this subsection," is not implicatedhere because there is no predicate order of the STB, addressing the issuein this case, to enforce in this Court. The Court also disagrees withPlaintiffs reading of § 11704(c)(1) as furnishing a basis for thisCourt's jurisdiction. Subsection 11704(c)(1) provides that "[a] personmay . . . bring a civil action under subsection (b) of this section toenforce liability against a rail carrier providing transportation subjectto the jurisdiction of the Board under this part." At first blush, §11704(c)(1) appears to authorize a civil action in this court. If thiswere correct, however, there would be little remaining of the STB'sexclusive jurisdiction. After a full review of the statute, the Court nowunderstands the term "enforce liability" in § 11704(c)(1) to meanenforce a determination previously made by the Board. Thus, theauthorization to bring a civil action in the district court under §11704(b) for "damages sustained by a person as a result of an act oromission of that carrier in violation of this part" and for "amountscharged that exceed the applicable rate for the transportation"necessarily requires an initial decision of the Board. As stated above,there is no such order by the STB in this case and, therefore, neither49 U.S.C. § 11704 (a) nor (c)(1) provide the Court withjurisdiction.

The parties cite numerous cases in support of their respectivepositions. The Court finds that all but one of these cases do not addressthe issue raised in this case. The only case to directly address thisissue is DeBruce Grain v. Union Pacific R.R., 983 F. Supp. 1280 (W.D.Mo.1997), affirmed on other grounds, 149 F.3d 787 (8th Cir. 1998), where thecourt held that the STB has exclusive jurisdiction over plaintiffs claimsthat defendant railroad failed to satisfy its obligation to provide railservice under §§ 11101(a) and 11121(a)(1).2 As pointed out bythe DeBruce Grain court, the statute seems to permit, the filing ofcertain types of suits in federal district court. See 49 U.S.C. § 11704(a), (d) and 49 U.S.C. § 11705 (e)(authorizing suit to be filed infederal district court to enforce an order of the STB);49 U.S.C. § 11705 (a)(authorizing suit by rail carrier to be filed infederal district court to recover charges for transportation or serviceprovided); 49 U.S.C. § 11705 (b)(to recover overcharges);49 U.S.C. § 11706 (d) (authorizing suit to be filed in federaldistrict court to recover under a bill of lading). Despite the Court'sawareness of these statutory provisions apparently authorizing certaintypes of actions to be brought in the a federal district court and,thus, undermining theSTB's exclusive jurisdiction, none ofthe exceptions to exclusive jurisdiction are applicable here where theclaim is for failure to provide transportation or service. Hence, thestatutory language providing for the exclusive jurisdiction of the STB isapplicable to this case.

Plaintiff next asserts that, regardless of the ICCTA, jurisdiction isproper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which gives district courtsjurisdiction over "civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, ortreaties of the United States." Because federal courts are courts of onlylimited jurisdiction, there is a general presumption against federaljurisdiction which a plaintiff bears the burden of rebutting. SeeKokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct.1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994) (citations omitted). Furthermore, statutespurporting to confer federal jurisdiction are to be construed narrowly,with ambiguities resolved against a finding of federal jurisdiction. SeeMars Inc. v. Kabushiki-Kaisha Nippon Conlux, 24 F.3d 1368, 1373(Fed.Cir. 1994); Boelens v. Redman Homes, Inc., 748 F.2d 1058, 1067 (5thCir. 1984) (citations omitted). The Court finds that Plaintiff fails tomeet its burden to establish jurisdiction here.

The jurisdictional grant of § 1331 does not mean that jurisdictioncannot be precluded by another statute. "To establish a cause of actionin district court under § 1331 [the plaintiffs] must show first thattheir action . . . "arises under . . . [federal law] and second thatsection 1331 jurisdiction is not preempted by a more specific statutoryprovision conferring exclusive jurisdiction elsewhere." Connors v. AmaxCoal Co., Inc., 858 F.2d 1226, 1229-30 (7th Cir. 1988) (concluding that,even if plaintiff's claims arose under ERISA or federal common law,§ 1331 could not supersede provisions of Longshore and HarborWorkers' Compensation Act and Black Lung Benefits Act conferringexclusive jurisdiction in the courts of appeals). Here, the ICCTA doescreate the cause of action. However, the fact that federal law createsthe cause of action does not end the inquiry regarding the existence offederal subject matter jurisdiction. Section 10501(b) establishes theexclusive jurisdiction of the STB over this type of action. By virtue ofsuch a specific assignment, Congress abrogates district courtjurisdiction under § 1331. Federal statutes frequently assignjurisdiction to a court or entity other than the federal districtcourts. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. § 1491 (a)(1) (assigning jurisdiction ofcertain takings claims to the Court of Federal Claims); 29 U.S.C. § 160(f) (assigning original jurisdiction to review agency orders under theNational Labor Relations Act to federal courts of appeals). The Courtconcludes that because the ICCTA reflects Congress's intent to authorizethis type of suit in the STB only, and it is a more specific statutoryprovision conferring exclusive jurisdiction elsewhere, Plaintiff cannotrely on the general federal question jurisdiction of§ 1331.

Although not asserted in its First Amended Complaint, Plaintiffcontends in its memorandum of law that federal jurisdiction is alsoauthorized by 28 U.S.C. § 1337 (a), which grants district courtsoriginal jurisdiction over any proceedings arising under any Act ofCongress regulating commerce. The same tests for determining whether anaction "arises under" federal law for purposes of § 1331 apply todetermine whether an action "arises under" an Act of Congress regulatingcommerce. See Franchise Tax Board of Calif. v. Construction Laborer'sVacation Trust for Southern Calif, 463 U.S. 1, 8 n. 7, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77L.Ed.2d 420 (1983) (citation omitted). Accordingly, any action that couldbe brought in federal court under § 1337(a) could also be broughtunder § 1331. See 13B Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & EdwardH. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3574, at 235 (2d ed.1984). In this case, Plaintiff's argument that § 1337 authorizesfederal jurisdiction fails for the same reason thatits argument under § 1331 fails. Like § 1331, § 1337 is a generaljurisdictional statute. As such, it can be displaced by another statutethat assigns jurisdiction elsewhere. See Simmons v. Arkansas Power &Light Co., 655 F.2d 131, 133 (8th Cir. 1981); Assure CompetitiveTransp., Inc. v. United States, 629 F.2d 467, 471 (7th Cir. 1980). Thus,Congress' intent to limit certain types of suits under the ICCTA to theSTB supersedes the general grant of jurisdiction in § 1337.

B. Supplemental Jurisdiction

Defendants next argue that the Court cannot exercise supplementaljurisdiction over Plaintiffs state law claims because it does not have aproper basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction. District courts havesupplemental jurisdiction over "claims that are so related to claims inthe action within [the court's] original jurisdiction that they form partof the same case or controversy under Article III of the United StatesConstitution." 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (a). A district court may exercisesupplemental jurisdiction over state law claims even if it dismisses allclaims over which it has original jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). The court may not, however, exercise supplemental jurisdiction ifthere is no proper basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction. SeeUnited Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 1139, 16L.Ed.2d 218 (1966); Musson Theatrical Inc. v. Federal Express Corp.,89 F.3d 1244, 1255 (6th Cir. 1996); Nowak v. Ironworkers Local 6 PensionFund, 81 F.3d 1182, 1187 (2d Cir. 1996); Edmonds v. Clarkson,996 F. Supp. 541, 552 (E.D.Va. 1998). As one commentator has explained:

if the federal claim was dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a district court has no discretion to retain the supplemental claims for adjudication. The dismissal means that there never was a valid claim within the court's original jurisdiction to which the state claims may be supplemental. Therefore, the district court has no discretion to exceed the scope of its Article III power.

16 James Win. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 106.66 (3ded. 1999). As discussed above, this court does not have originaljurisdiction over Plaintiffs claim in Count III, and therefore, §1367(a) does not grant this Court supplemental jurisdiction to hear theother claims Plaintiff has raised.

Accordingly, it is ORDERED that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss be, andit is hereby, GRANTED.

1. Title 49 U.S.C. § 11101 (a) states that a rail carrierproviding transportation or service "shall provide the transportation orservice on reasonable request."

2. The DeBruce Grain court went on to hold that even if it did havesubject matter jurisdiction, it would apply the doctrine of primaryjurisdiction and dismiss the case. On the latter basis alone, thedecision of the district court was affirmed by the Court of Appeals forthe Eighth Circuit.

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