- On August 22, 2019
“We understand federal preemption too!” a Cook County court seemed to say in granting summary judgment to a railroad against a landowner’s action to condemn track on Chicago’s South Side.
In Calumet Realty, L.P. and Maryland Pig Services v. Chicago Rail Link L.L.C. & OmniTrax, Inc.No. 16-CH-3780, (Cook Co. Chanc. Div. Jun. 5, 2019) the Circuit Court of Cook County, found that a landowner’s state law action to both (1) declare a rail line traversing the landowner’s parcel to be abandoned and (2) enjoin the railroad from using the line, was preempted by the exclusive federal jurisdiction of the Surface Transportation Board (“STB”). The court adopted Fletcher & Sippel’s argument that when the remedy associated with state law property rights affects the federally-recognized and regulated right of a railroad to operate, the court’s ability to provide a remedy is preempted by the exclusive jurisdiction of the STB—even if the railroad has not used it track in many years.
The court wrote: “the Court recognizes that the Track is a federally-regulated railroad line and the result Plaintiffs seek in this action is to wholly prevent Defendants from using the Track, now and in the future. Even though Defendants have not used the Track for over twenty years, the case law is clear that any type of separation between a common carrier and federally-regulated railroad lines is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the STB.”
As demonstrated in this matter and another recent decision, Coulas v. Belt Railway of Chicago, 13-CH-28409 (Cook Co. Chanc. Div. Mar. 9, 2019), state courts are increasingly aware of the applicability of federal preemption principles to railroads and are applying them. This is a positive development in the efficient and economical administration of disputes over railroad property.
Michael J. Barron was counsel of record to defendants in Calumet Realty, L.P. and Maryland Pig Services v. Chicago Rail Link L.L.C. & OmniTrax, Inc. Michael W. Schumate and Bradon J. Smith assisted him in the matter.