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Groh v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

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

August 26, 2019

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

          ORDER AND OPINION DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR INJUNCTION TO PROTECT THE COURT'S JUDGMENT

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE

         Pending is Defendants Jackson County, Missouri, and Jackson County, Missouri d/b/a Rock Island Rail Corridor Authority's Motion for Injunction to Protect the Court's Judgment. Doc. #31. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiffs Deborah Groh; DJJHS Enterprises, LLC; JHB & MEB Enterprises, LLC; Dawn Wells; David Wells; Current Properties Investments LLC; and Nephrite Fund 1, LLC filed a Petition in the Circuit Court of Jackson County in July 2017 against Defendants Jackson County, Missouri; Jackson County, Missouri d/b/a Rock Island Corridor Authority (“RICA”); and Union Pacific Railroad Company. Doc. #1-2, at 4-12 (hereinafter, Groh I). In the Petition, Plaintiffs, who are landowners owning fee title in land adjacent to a railroad right-of-way, challenged the legality of Jackson County's use of the railroad line and corridor located between Milepost 270.6 North of Greenwood, Missouri, and Milepost 288.3 in Jackson County. Union Pacific previously acquired an easement over and through Plaintiffs' property for railroad purposes. The rail line is out of service and has no customers.

         In December 2015, Jackson County filed a Verified Notice of Exemption with the Surface and Transportation Board (“STB”) to permit RICA to acquire from Union Pacific and operate the rail line described above. The STB granted Jackson County the exemption. 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 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.

         In their Petition, Plaintiffs alleged Defendants “improperly and illegally invaded and clouded Plaintiffs' fee ownership in their land associated with the right-of-way.” Plaintiffs also claimed Union Pacific abandoned the easement, and as a result, Plaintiffs regained the right to use and possess their property free of any easement. Plaintiffs also alleged Union Pacific was not authorized to transfer any interest to Jackson County. They further asserted “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 the railroad right-of-way under 16 U.S.C. [§] 1247(d) (“Trails Act”).” Plaintiffs also maintained claims of inverse condemnation, trespass, and quiet title, and sought monetary damages.

         In September 2017, the matter was removed to this Court, alleging this Court had original jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' claims because the claims necessarily and explicitly turned on substantial and disputed issues of federal law. Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims arguing they were preempted, and Plaintiffs' challenge to Union Pacific's transfer of the rail line for recreational purposes failed because they failed to challenge the STB's decision granting an exemption.

         On December 1, 2017, the Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss. Doc. #29. The Court found Plaintiffs' state law claims were preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 (“ICCTA”) because Plaintiffs' claims related to whether the rail line was abandoned, and the STB has exclusive authority over determinations regarding, among other things, abandonment of rail lines. Id. at 4-7. The Court also dismissed Plaintiffs' collateral attack on the STB's decision because they did not challenge the STB's decision, and even if they had, only the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals would have jurisdiction to review such a decision. Id. at 7-8. Because the Court lacked jurisdiction, it granted Defendants' motion to dismiss. No. one appealed the Court's decision.

         In January 2018, the same Plaintiffs filed another lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, against Defendants Jackson County and RICA. Doc. #31-4 (hereinafter, Groh II).[2] In June 2019, after Groh II had been pending for roughly eighteen months, Defendants filed a motion in the matter pending before this Court, arguing Plaintiffs are asserting the same claims in Groh II that were previously litigated in Groh I, and asking the Court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction preventing Plaintiffs from prosecuting any further actions against Jackson County based on the same injury. Doc. #31. Plaintiffs filed their opposition to the motion. Doc. #35. On July 26, 2019, Defendants filed their reply. Doc. #36.

         Five days after Defendants' motion became fully briefed, Plaintiffs filed a notice of supplemental authority. Doc. #37. Plaintiff provided the Court with a decision issued by the STB on July 31, 2019, wherein the STB revoked Jackson County's exemption to acquire and operate the former railroad right-of-way at issue. Doc. #37-1.[3]

The Board found in the February 2016 Decision that the County's original plan to potentially build a trail in the right-of-way of the Line and the County's statement that it had no plans to remove track for the trail were consistent with its stated intention also to acquire and operate a line of railroad meant for freight rail service. The County's recent activity, however, is incompatible with that stated intention on which the February 2016 Decision was based. By removing the track and placing the trail directly on the rail bed, where the track previously was, the County has taken a step that is contrary to the acquisition of a rail line. If the County intends to remove the track and place a trail on the rail bed, then the County should do so by using the Board's interim trail use/railbanking procedures under the Trails Act. See 49 C.F.R. § 1152.29.

Doc. #37-1, at 1-2. The STB made “no findings on the claims that the County…violated other state or local law as part of the County's acquisition of the right-of-way. Those matters…are better suited for a state forum.” Doc. #37-1, at 7. The STB further noted, “although the Landowners claim that the Line was abandoned under Missouri state law, it is well settled that the Board has exclusive and plenary authority over the abandonment of rail lines.” Id. Since the supplemental authority was filed, neither party requested leave to supplement their briefing on the pending motion.[4]

         II. DISCUSSION

         The All Writs Act provides that this Court “may issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.” 28 U.S.C. § 1651. The All Writs Act has also been interpreted as allowing a court to “issue such commands under the All Writs Act as may be necessary or appropriate to effectuate and prevent the frustration of orders it has previously issued in its exercise of jurisdiction otherwise obtained.” United States v. N.Y. Tel. Co.,434 U.S. 159, 172 (1977). The authority imparted to this Court under the All Writs Act is limited by the Anti-Injunction Act (“AIA”). See SFM Holdings, Ltd. v. Banc of Am. Secs., LLC, 764 F.3d 1327, 1334-35 (11th Cir. 2014); In re Sprint Premium Data Plan Mktg. & Sales Practices Litig., 563 Fed.Appx. 221, 224 (3d Cir. 2014); United States v. Schurkman, 728 F.3d 129, 135 (2d Cir. 2013); In re Life Inv'rs Ins. Co. of Am., 589 F.3d 319, 330 ...


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