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Groh v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

December 1, 2017

DEBORAH S. GROH, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SENIOR JUDGE

         Pending is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Doc. #12. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiffs filed a Petition in the Circuit Court of Jackson County on July 20, 2017. Doc. #1-2. Plaintiffs are landowners who own fee title in land adjacent to a railroad right-of-way that runs between Milepost 270.6 North of Greenwood, Missouri, and Milepost 288.3 in Jackson County, Missouri. Defendant Union Pacific Railroad Company (“Union Pacific”) acquired an easement for railroad purposes over and through landowners' property. The rail line at issue is out of service, and has no customers.

         In December 2015, Defendant Jackson County filed a Verified Notice of Exemption with the Surface and Transportation Board (“STB”) to permit Jackson County to acquire from Union Pacific and operate, as Defendant Rock Island Corridor Authority (“RICA”), the rail line described above.[2] The STB granted the exemption, stating Jackson County, doing business as RICA, will be the operator on the line. Jackson County, Mo. - Acquisition & Operation Exemption - Union Pac. R.R. Co., Fin. Dkt. No. 35982, 2015 WL 9672626, at * 1 n.1 (S.T.B. Jan. 8, 2016). The exemption was served and published in the Federal Register, and scheduled to become effective on January 22, 2016. Jackson County, Mo. - Acquisition & Operation Exemption - Union Pac. R.R. Co., Fin. Dkt. No. 35982, 2016 WL 454035, at * 1 (S.T.B. Feb. 4, 2016).

         In February 2016, the STB denied a motion to stay the effective date of the exemption filed by an entity not a party to this matter. Id. Accordingly, the exemption was effective immediately. The STB stated Jackson County planned to use the rail line as a recreational trail and potentially for commuter rail service. Id. at * 1-2. In April 2016, Union Pacific, through a quit claim deed, transferred to Jackson County the 17.7 miles of rail line between Milepost 270.6 North of Greenwood, Missouri, and Milepost 288.3 in Jackson County.

         Plaintiffs allege Defendants “improperly and illegally invaded and clouded Plaintiffs' fee ownership in their land associated with the right-of-way.” Plaintiffs claim Union Pacific abandoned the easement, and as a result, Plaintiffs maintain they regained the right to use and possess their property free of any easement. Plaintiffs also allege Union Pacific was not authorized to transfer any interest to Jackson County. They further allege “Defendants failed to make a formal request to the Surface and Transportation Board (“STB”) for a Notice of Interim Trail Use (“NITU”) which authorizes the interim trail use and railbanks[3] the railroad right-of-way under 16 U.S.C. [§] 1247(d) (“Trails Act”).” Plaintiffs allege claims of inverse condemnation, trespass, and quiet title against Union Pacific, Jackson County, and RICA, and seek monetary damages.

         On September 6, 2017, Union Pacific, with Jackson County's and RICA's consent, removed the matter to this Court. Docs. #1, 3. Union Pacific alleges this Court has original jurisdiction over the claims alleged in this matter under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. It maintains Plaintiffs' claims necessarily and explicitly turn on substantial and disputed issues of federal laws - specifically, federal laws governing abandonment of a railroad right-of-way under the Trails Act, and the STB's jurisdiction over operation of a railroad right-of-way under the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (“ICCTA”). After obtaining an extension of time to respond to Plaintiffs' Petition, Union Pacific filed a motion to dismiss. Doc. #12. Union Pacific argues Plaintiff's claims are preempted, and Plaintiffs' challenge to Union Pacific's transfer of the rail line for recreational purposes fails because Plaintiffs failed to challenge the STB's decision granting an exemption. Jackson County and RICA join Union Pacific's motion. Doc. #14. Plaintiffs filed their opposition to the motion. Doc. #15. Union Pacific filed its reply, in which Jackson County and RICA joined. Docs. #22-23. The motion to dismiss is now ripe for consideration.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Defendants move to dismiss this matter pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and/or 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Rule 12(b)(1), a court “must distinguish between a ‘facial attack' and a ‘factual attack' on jurisdiction.” Carlsen v. GameStop, Inc., 833 F.3d 903, 908 (8th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). When faced with a facial attack, as is the case here, “the court restricts itself to the face of the pleadings, and the non-moving party receives the same protections as it would defending against a motion brought under Rule 12(b)(6).” Id. (citations omitted).

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. The liberal pleading standard created by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). “Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the…claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Id. (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court “must accept as true all of the complaint's factual allegations and view them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff[ ].” Stodghill v. Wellston Sch. Dist., 512 F.3d 472, 476 (8th Cir. 2008).

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume ...

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