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State v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co.

Supreme Court of Indiana

September 24, 2018

State of Indiana Appellant (Plaintiff)
Norfolk Southern Railway Company Appellee (Defendant)

          Argued: May 17, 2018

          Appeal from the Allen Superior Court, Nos. 02D04-1505-IF-3082, -3084, -3251, -3255, -3263, -3362, -1506-IF-6383, -1508-IF-9742, -1512-IF-15577; 02D05-1503-IF-2039, -1505-IF-3070, -3248, -3264, -3312; 02D06-1504-IF-2988, -1505-IF-3071, -3183, -3246, -3262, -3363, -1506-IF-6379, -1508-IF-9744, -1511-IF-13718 The Honorable Wendy W. Davis, Judge The Honorable Frances C. Gull, Judge The Honorable John F. Surbeck, Jr., Judge The Honorable David M. Zent, Magistrate

         On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 02A03-1607-IF-1524

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Thomas M. Fisher Solicitor General Andrew A. Kobe Larry D. Allen Deputy Attorneys General Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Raymond A. Atkins Hanna M. Chouest Sidley Austin LLP Washington, DC Bryan H. Babb Bradley M. Dick Bose McKinney & Evans LLP Indianapolis, Indiana John C. Duffey Heather L. Emenhiser Stuart & Branigin LLP Lafayette, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR AMICUS CURIAE THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN RAILROADS Harold Abrahamson Jonathan E. Halm Abrahamson, Reed & Bilse Munster, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR AMICI CURIAE FRANCIS P. MULVEY AND CHARLES D. NOTTINGHAM Stephen J. Peters David I. Rubin Plunkett Cooney, P.C. Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR AMICI CURIAE INDIANA RAIL ROAD COMPANY ET AL. Karl L. Mulvaney Margaret M. Christensen Nana Quay-Smith Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP Indianapolis, Indiana


          Rush, Chief Justice.

         Indiana-The Crossroads of America[1]-is a railroad capital. Statewide, dozens of railroad companies run trains on more than four thousand miles of track. Roads intersect those tracks, creating 5, 693 public railroad- highway grade crossings. That's one for every seventeen public-roadway miles-the highest concentration in the country.[2]

         To aid public travel, the State bars railroads from blocking those crossings for more than ten minutes, except in situations outside the railroads' control. Violations carry minimum $200 fines. After 23 citations, Norfolk Southern challenged the State's regulation as preempted by federal law.

         This issue of first impression in Indiana raises two questions. Does the standard presumption against preemption apply in the railroad-crossing context? And to what extent has Congress kept the tracks clear from state regulation of rail transportation?

         We hold that while the longstanding presumption against preemption applies here, Indiana's blocked-crossing statute is a remedy that directly regulates rail transportation and is thus expressly preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act.

         Facts and Procedural History

         Indiana's blocked-crossing statute bars railroads from blocking railroad-highway grade crossings[3] for more than ten minutes, except in circumstances outside the railroads' control. Ind. Code § 8-6-7.5-1 (2018). Violations are Class C infractions and carry a minimum $200 fine. I.C. § 8-6-7.5-3(a).

         Between December 2014 and December 2015, Norfolk Southern collected 23 blocked-crossing citations for violations near its Allen County trainyard. Norfolk Southern moved for summary judgment on the citations, arguing that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act ("ICCTA") and the Federal Railroad Safety Act ("FRSA") expressly preempt Indiana's blocked-crossing statute. It also designated evidence- undisputed by the State-that it faced a heavy compliance burden at grade crossings near the trainyard.

         Based on that evidence, the trial court found that train-switching maneuvers, track congestion, and mechanical defects can all cause traffic blockages lasting more than ten minutes. It also found that, to shorten blockages, Norfolk Southern would have to run trains faster, run shorter trains, or "cut" trains into segments-an onerous process that requires more than ten minutes of reassembly and brake tests. The court then granted summary judgment for Norfolk Southern on all 23 citations, finding that both the ICCTA and the FRSA preempt the blocked-crossing statute.

         The State appealed, arguing that neither federal act preempts Indiana's blocked-crossing statute, especially given the presumption against preemption. The Court of Appeals agreed, reversing the trial court because neither the ICCTA nor the FRSA explicitly list blocked-crossing statutes as preempted. State v. Norfolk S. Ry., 84 N.E.3d 1230, 1236, 1238 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017).

         Norfolk Southern petitioned to transfer, which we granted, vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A).

         Standard of Review

         Preemption here turns on whether federal law expressly preempts Indiana's blocked-crossing statute. See Kennedy Tank & Mfg. Co. v. Emmert Indus. Corp., 67 N.E.3d 1025, 1028 (Ind. 2017). We review that issue of law, and the trial court's grant of summary judgment, de novo. Id.; Young v. Hood's Gardens, Inc., 24 N.E.3d 421, 423 (Ind. 2015).

         Discussion and Decision

         Congress can preempt state law expressly, with explicit preemptive text, or impliedly, "under the twin doctrines of field and conflict preemption." KS&E Sports v. Runnels, 72 N.E.3d 892, 905 (Ind. 2017); see also Kennedy Tank, 67 N.E.3d at 1028. Field preemption exists when Congress imposes "exclusive federal regulation of the area." Kennedy Tank, 67 N.E.3d at 1028 (quoting Basileh v. Alghusain, 912 N.E.2d 814, 818 (Ind. 2009)). And conflict preemption exists when compliance with both state and federal laws is "physically impossible" or when a state law does "major damage" to Congress's purpose. Id. at 1029.

         Norfolk Southern argues only that Indiana's blocked-crossing statute is expressly preempted. The statute's current version says:

It shall be unlawful for a railroad corporation to permit any train, railroad car or engine to obstruct public travel at a railroad-highway grade crossing for a period in excess of ten (10) minutes, except where such train, railroad car or engine cannot be moved by reason of circumstances over which the railroad corporation has no control.

I.C. § 8-6-7.5-1. State statutes like this one are ordinarily covered by a presumption against preemption, see Kennedy Tank, 67 N.E.3d at 1028, but Norfolk Southern ...

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