MARK GRIFFIOEN, JOYCE LUDVICEK, MIKE LUDVICEK, SANDRA SKELTON, and BRIAN VANOUS, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Appellants,
CEDAR RAPIDS AND IOWA CITY RAILWAY COMPANY, ALLIANT ENERGY CORPORATION, UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY, and UNION PACIFIC CORPORATION, Appellees.
from the Iowa District Court for Linn County, Paul D. Miller,
owners appeal a district court's order granting judgment
on the pleadings to railroads based on federal preemption.
Russell G. Petti of Law Offices of Russell G. Petti, La
Canada, CA; Sam Sheronick of Sam Sheronick Law Firm, P.C.,
Cedar Rapids; C. Brooks Cutter and John R. Parker Jr. of
Cutter Law P.C., Sacramento, CA; Edward A. Wallace and Amy E.
Keller (until withdrawal) of Wexler Wallace LLP, Chicago, IL;
and Eric J. Ratinoff of Eric Ratinoff Law Corp., Sacramento,
CA, for appellants.
E. Loughran of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, Washington, DC;
Charles T. Hvass Jr. of Donna Law Firm P.C., Minneapolis, MN;
and Bruce E. Johnson of Cutler Law Firm, P.C., West Des
Moines, for appellees Union Pacific Railroad Company and
Union Pacific Corporation.
Timothy R. Thornton and Leah Ceee O. Boomsma of Briggs and
Morgan, P.A., Minneapolis, MN; and Kevin Collins and Sarah J.
Gayer of Nyemaster Goode, P.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellees
Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway Company and Alliant Energy
case is yet another outgrowth from the terrible flooding that
struck our state a decade ago. Property owners in Cedar
Rapids have sued the owners of certain railroad bridges
across the Cedar River, alleging that their misguided efforts
to protect those bridges from washing out worsened the
effects of the flooding for other property owners. We must
decide whether the property owners' state-law damage
claims against the railroad bridge owners are preempted by
the Federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act
(ICCTA). See 49 U.S.C. § 10501(b) (2006). The
ICCTA confers "exclusive" jurisdiction on the
Federal Surface Transportation Board over
"transportation by rail carriers" and over the
"construction" or "operation" of rail
tracks or "facilities." Id. The ICCTA
expressly provides "exclusive" remedies "with
respect to regulation of rail transportation" and
expressly preempts any other "remedies provided under
Federal or State law." Id.
careful review of the ICCTA and authorities interpreting it,
we conclude this federal law does indeed preempt the property
owners' action alleging that the railroads' design
and operation of their railroad bridges resulted in flood
damage to other properties. Accordingly, we affirm the
district court's ruling granting the defendants'
motion for judgment on the pleadings.
decision is consistent with the federal authorities examining
this question of federal law. Clearly, not all state-law tort
claims involving railroads are preempted by the ICCTA. But
state tort claims like the ones alleged here that involve
second-guessing of decisions made by railroads to keep their
rail lines open are expressly preempted by Title 49 §
10501(b) of the ICCTA. See Tubbs v. Surface Transp.
Bd., 812 F.3d 1141, 1144-46 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting
§ 10501(b) and then concluding that it preempts the
plaintiffs' tort claims "as applied");
Jones Creek Inv'rs, LLC v. Columbia County, 98
F.Supp.3d 1279, 1291-94 (S.D. Ga. 2015) (agreeing with the
railroad's contention that the ICCTA "expressly
preempts [the plaintiff's] state law tort claims");
Waubay Lake Farmers Ass'n v. BNSF Ry., No. 12-
4179-RAL, 2014 WL 4287086, at *6 (D.S.D. Aug. 28, 2014)
(finding that plaintiffs' state-law tort claims
"fall squarely within the express terms of the
ICCTA's preemption clause"); In re Katrina Canal
Breaches Consol. Litig., No. 05-4182, 2009 WL 224072, at
*4-6 (E.D. La. Jan. 26, 2009) (describing § 10501(b) as
an "express preemption provision" and applying it
to preempt plaintiffs' state-law tort claims);
Maynard v. CSX Transp., Inc ., 360 F.Supp.2d 836,
842 (E.D. Ky. 2004) (stating that "section 10501(b) of
the ICCTA expressly preempts Plaintiff's [common-law
tort] claims"); A & W Props., Inc. v. Kan. City
S. Ry., 200 S.W.3d 342, 347 (Tex. App. 2006) (finding
that there is no "blanket exception" from section
10501(b) for state-law tort claims and that "preemption
is express" for the tort claims asserted by the
categories of state-law tort claims typically are not
preempted by the ICCTA. One is a tort claim that challenges a
railroad's activities other than the maintenance and
operation of its rail lines. See Guild v. Kan. City S.
Ry., 541 Fed.Appx. 362, 368 (5th Cir. 2013) (declining
to find that a state-law tort claim that the defendant
damaged plaintiff's private spur track by temporarily
parking train cars of excessive weight on that private track
was preempted); Emerson v. Kan. City S. Ry., 503
F.3d 1126, 1130 (10th Cir. 2007) (finding that §
10501(b) does not preempt a claim relating to a railroad
"discarding old railroad ties into a wastewater drainage
ditch adjacent to the tracks and otherwise failing to
maintain that ditch"); Rushing v. Kan. City S.
Ry., 194 F.Supp.2d 493, 499-501 (S.D.Miss. 2001)
(finding that § 10501(b) preempted tort claims relating
to the railroad's operation of its switch yard but not
relating to its erection of an earthen berm outside the
switch yard); Jones v. Union Pac. R.R., 94
Cal.Rptr.2d 661, 666-67 (Ct. App. 2000) (finding no
preemption where there was a triable issue whether the
railroad ran its engines and sound "solely to harass
plaintiffs" rather than for safety reasons or "in
furtherance of [defendant's] railroad operations").
second category of claims are those relating to rail safety,
where a separate, narrower preemption provision in the
Federal Rail Safety Act (FRSA) applies. See 49
U.S.C. § 20106; Tyrrell v. Norfolk S. Ry., 248
F.3d 517, 523-25 (6th Cir. 2001) (finding that the FRSA
rather than the ICCTA governed a trainman's personal
injury claim and the claim was not preempted); Waneck v.
CSX Corp ., No. 1:17cv106-HSO-JCG, 2018 WL 1546373, at
*4-6 (S.D.Miss. Mar. 29, 2018) (finding in a personal injury
case that tort claims relating to the design and maintenance
of the crossing and related rail structures were governed by
the ICCTA and therefore preempted, whereas claims relating to
the railroad's failure to slow the train related to rail
safety, were therefore governed by the FRSA, and were not
short, "there is nothing in the case law that supports
[the] argument that, through the ICCTA, Congress only
intended preemption of economic regulation of the
railroads." City of Auburn v. U.S. Gov't,
154 F.3d 1025, 1030 (9th Cir. 1998). If a state-law tort
claim requires second-guessing of a railroad's operation
and management of its own rail lines as opposed to other
activities, and the claim does not pertain to rail safety, it
is preempted by the ICCTA. Hence, after careful
consideration, we conclude this tort action seeking a large
sum of damages for flooding allegedly caused by the
railroads' maintenance of their rail bridges is
preempted. In this instance, as in many preemption cases, we
do not believe further development of the record is needed,
and accordingly we affirm the district court's grant of
judgment on the pleadings.
Background Facts & Proceedings.
this case was resolved on a motion for judgment on the
pleadings, we assume the truth of the facts stated in the
pleadings. See Hussemann ex rel. Ritter v.
Hussemann, 847 N.W.2d 219, 222 (Iowa 2014) ("The
court should grant a party's motion for judgment on the
pleadings only if the uncontroverted facts stated in the
pleadings, taken alone, entitle a party to judgment.").
Certain facts can also be judicially noticed. See
Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.415. In the summer of 2008, Iowa residents
experienced devastating flooding. Cedar Rapids was hit
particularly hard with the worst flooding in its history.
More than ten square miles were impacted by the floodwaters,
and an estimated 10, 000 residents were displaced by the
plaintiffs own property in Cedar Rapids. The defendants-
Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway Company, Union Pacific
Railroad Company, Union Pacific Corporation, and Alliant
Energy Corporation- own railroad bridges traversing the Cedar
River in Cedar Rapids. On June 10, 2008, the defendants
parked railcars laden with rocks on their bridges to weigh
down the bridges in an effort to keep them from washing away
during the flooding. Two days later, two of the four bridges
fallen railcars clogged the Cedar River and therefore caused
or exacerbated the damage to plaintiffs' property. The
two bridges that did not collapse also caused damage when the
rising water reached the railcars atop the bridges, creating
a dam effect and diverting water to low-lying areas.
7, 2013, the plaintiffs filed a class action petition at law
in the Linn County District Court, alleging negligence,
strict liability for engaging in an abnormally dangerous or
ultra-hazardous activity, and strict liability based on
violations of Iowa Code sections 468.148 and 327F.2 (2009).
The plaintiffs sought actual damages of $6 billion and
punitive and treble damages.
defendants removed the action to the United States District
Court for the Northern District of Iowa on the theory that
the plaintiffs' claims were completely preempted by the
ICCTA. The district court denied the plaintiffs' motion
to remand, held that complete preemption applied, and
dismissed the case. Griffioen v. Cedar Rapids & Iowa
City Ry., 977 F.Supp.2d 903, 908-09 (N.D. Iowa 2013).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
reversed and remanded. Griffioen v. Cedar Rapids &
Iowa City Ry., 785 F.3d 1182, 1192 (8th Cir. 2015). That
The absence from the ICCTA of a substitute federal cause of
action that would embrace the Griffioen Group's claims
leads us to conclude that Congress has not expressed the
clear intent necessary to overcome the exceptionally strong
presumption against complete preemption . . . .
Id. At the same time, the court added, "Our
holding is, of course, limited to the issue of
federal-question jurisdiction, and so we offer no views
regarding any preemption defense that may be raised in state
remand to the Linn County District Court, the defendants
moved for judgment on the pleadings based on preemption. In
its ruling on February 12, 2016, the district court granted
the motion for judgment on the pleadings. The court reasoned,
The uncontroverted facts, as stated in the pleadings,
establish that the ICCTA expressly preempts the state law
claims stated by Plaintiffs. The bridges at issue with
respect to Plaintiffs' claims are . . . inextricably
intertwined with the railroad Defendants' tracks, which
affects rail transportation. Plaintiffs, having made
complaints about how the railroad Defendants loaded and
positioned their rail cars; as to where and when they parked
their rail cars; and as to the design, construction and
maintenance of the bridges, have stated claims that go
directly to rail transport regulation. . . . Plaintiffs are
complaining about actions taken by the railroad Defendants
that are an essential part of the railroads' operations,
and that would result in Plaintiffs managing or governing the
operations of the railroads. . . .
. . . .
Plaintiffs' state law claims are expressly preempted by
federal law because the claims fall within the scope of the
ICCTA preemption clause.
plaintiffs appealed, and we retained the appeal.
Standard of Review.
review a district court's ruling on a motion for judgment
on the pleadings for the correction of errors at law.
Hussemann, 847 N.W.2d at 222. "The district
court should only grant the motion if the pleadings, taken
alone, entitle a party to judgment." Meinders v.
Dunkerton Cmty. Sch. Dist ., 645 N.W.2d 632, 633 (Iowa
1995, Congress enacted the ICCTA, which abolished the
Interstate Commerce Commission and created the Surface
Transportation Board (STB). ICC Termination Act of 1995, Pub.
L. No. 104-88, 109 Stat. 803 (codified at 49 U.S.C.
§§ 10101-16106). The purpose of the ICCTA was to
create "the direct and complete pre-emption of State
economic regulation of railroads" and thereby deregulate
the economic activity of the industry. H.R. Rep. No. 104-311,
at 82, 95 (1995), as reprinted in 1995 U.S.C.C.A.N.
793, 793, 807; see also S. Rep. No. 104-176, at 2,
5, 7 (1995) (noting that because "the Committee [was]
impressed with the positive effects rail deregulation . . .
had on the railroad industry," the bill as initially
proposed would "significantly reduce[ ] regulation of
surface transportation industries" and would
"continue[ ] the deregulation theme" of the past
accomplish this deregulation, Congress vested the STB with
exclusive regulation of rail transportation and operations,
including remedies related to railway transportation. The
ICCTA contains an express preemption provision:
jurisdiction of the Board over-
(1) 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
(2) 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).
(A) a locomotive, car, vehicle, . . . property, . . .
instrumentality, or equipment of any kind related to the
movement of passengers or property, or both, by rail . . .;
(B) services related to that movement . . . .
Id. § 10102(9). Railroad bridges, like railroad
crossings, railroad tracks, and roadbeds for tracks, meet
this statutory definition. See Pere Marquette Hotel
Partners, L.L.C. v. United States, No. 09-5921, 2010 WL
925297, at *4 (E.D. La. Mar. 10, 2010).
"[R]ailroad" as statutorily defined includes
bridges. 49 U.S.C. § 10102(6)(A).
defendants' position is that the property owners'
claims are expressly preempted by the foregoing language in
the ICCTA. They contend that the defendants'
decisions to park railcars loaded with rock on railroad
bridges in order to keep those bridges open, and their prior
construction of those bridges, related to the
"construction" and "operation" of
"facilities," as to which the STB's
jurisdiction is exclusive. They maintain that allowing an
Iowa district court to second-guess those decisions ...