__ U.S. __ (2015), 13-1080, Department of Transportation v. Association of American Railroads

Docket Nº:13-1080
Citation:__ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1225, 191 L.Ed.2d 153, 83 U.S.L.W. 4145, 25 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 114
Opinion Judge:KENNEDY, JUSTICE
Party Name:DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN RAILROADS
Attorney:Curtis E. Gannon argued the cause for petitioners. Thomas H. Dupree, Jr. argued the cause for respondent.
Judge Panel:KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and SCALIA, GINSBURG, BREYER, ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed a concurring opinion. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. ALITO, JUSTICE concurring. THOMAS, JUSTICE concurring i...
Case Date:March 09, 2015
Court:United States Supreme Court
SUMMARY

The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) has priority to use track systems owned by the freight railroads for passenger rail travel, at agreed rates or rates set by the Surface Transportation Board. In 2008, Congress gave Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) joint authority to issue “metrics and standards” addressing performance and scheduling of passenger railroad services, 122 Stat. ... (see full summary)

 
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Page __

__ U.S. __ (2015)

135 S.Ct. 1225, 191 L.Ed.2d 153, 83 U.S.L.W. 4145, 25 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 114

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, ET AL., PETITIONERS

v.

ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN RAILROADS

No. 13-1080

United States Supreme Court

March 9, 2015

Argued December 8, 2014.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

721 F.3d 666, 406 U.S. App.D.C. 34, vacated and remanded.

SYLLABUS

[135 S.Ct. 1226] [191 L.Ed.2d 154] In 1970, Congress created the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak). Congress has given Amtrak priority to use track systems [191 L.Ed.2d 155] owned by the freight railroads for passenger rail travel, at rates agreed to by the parties or, in case of a dispute, set by the Surface Transportation Board. And in 2008, Congress gave Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) joint authority to issue " metrics and standards" addressing the performance and scheduling of passenger railroad services, see § 207(a), 122 Stat. 4907, including Amtrak's on-time performance and train delays caused by host railroads. Respondent, the Association of American Railroads, sued petitioners--the Department of Transportation, the FRA, and two officials--claiming that the metrics and standards must be invalidated because it is unconstitutional for Congress to allow and direct a private entity like Amtrak to exercise joint authority in their issuance. Its argument rested on the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the constitutional provisions regarding separation of powers. The District Court rejected respondent's claims, but the District of Columbia Circuit reversed as to the separation of powers claim, reasoning in central part that Amtrak is a private corporation and thus cannot constitutionally be granted regulatory power under § 207.

Held : For purposes of determining the validity of the metrics and standards, Amtrak is a governmental entity. Pp. 6-12.

(a) In concluding otherwise, the Court of Appeals relied on the statutory command that Amtrak " is not a department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States Government," 49 U.S.C. § 24301(a)(3), and the pronouncement that Amtrak " shall be operated and managed as a for profit corporation," § 24301(a)(2). But congressional pronouncements are [135 S.Ct. 1227] not dispositive of Amtrak's status as a governmental entity for purposes of separation of powers analysis under the Constitution, and an independent inquiry reveals the Court of Appeals' premise that Amtrak is a private entity was flawed. As Amtrak's ownership and corporate structure show, the political branches control most of Amtrak's stock and its Board of Directors, most of whom are appointed by the President, § 24302(a)(1), confirmed by the Senate, ibid., and understood by the Executive Branch to be removable by the President at will. The political branches also exercise substantial, statutorily mandated supervision over Amtrak's priorities and operations. See, e.g., § 24315. Also of significance, Amtrak is required by statute to pursue broad public objectives, see, e.g., § § 24101(b), 24307(a); certain aspects of Amtrak's day-to-day operations are mandated by Congress, see, e.g., § § 24101(c)(6), 24902(b); and Amtrak has been dependent on federal financial support during every year of its existence. Given the combination of these unique features and Amtrak's significant ties to the Government, Amtrak is not an autonomous private enterprise. Amtrak was created by the Government, is controlled by the Government, and operates for the Government's benefit. Thus, in jointly issuing the metrics and standards with the FRA, Amtrak acted as a governmental entity for separation of powers purposes. And that exercise of governmental power must be consistent with the Constitution, including those provisions relating to the separation of powers. Pp. 6-10.

(b) Respondent's reliance on congressional statements about Amtrak's [191 L.Ed.2d 156] status is misplaced. Lebron v. National Railroad Passenger Corp., 513 U.S. 374, 115 S.Ct. 961, 130 L.Ed.2d 902, teaches that, for purposes of Amtrak's status as a federal actor or instrumentality under the Constitution, the practical reality of federal control and supervision prevails over Congress' disclaimer of Amtrak's governmental status. Treating Amtrak as governmental for these purposes, moreover, is not an unbridled grant of authority to an unaccountable actor, for the political branches created Amtrak, control its Board, define its mission, specify many of its day-to-day operations, have imposed substantial transparency and accountability mechanisms, and, for all practical purposes, set and supervise its annual budget. Pp. 10-11.

(c) The Court of Appeals may address in the first instance any properly preserved issues respecting the lawfulness of the metrics and standards that may remain in this case, including questions implicating the Constitution's structural separation of powers and the Appointments Clause. Pp. 11-12.

721 F.3d 666, 406 U.S. App.D.C. 34, vacated and remanded.

Curtis E. Gannon argued the cause for petitioners.

Thomas H. Dupree, Jr. argued the cause for respondent.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and SCALIA, GINSBURG, BREYER, ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed a concurring opinion. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

OPINION

[135 S.Ct. 1228] KENNEDY, JUSTICE

In 1970, Congress created the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, most often known as Amtrak. Later, Congress granted Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) joint authority to issue " metrics and standards" that address the performance and scheduling of passenger railroad services. Alleging that the metrics and standards have substantial and adverse effects upon its members' freight services, respondent--the Association of American Railroads--filed this suit to challenge their validity. The defendants below, petitioners here, are the Department of Transportation, the FRA, and two individuals sued in their official capacity.

Respondent alleges the metrics and standards must be invalidated on the ground that Amtrak is a private entity and it was therefore unconstitutional for Congress to allow and direct it to exercise joint authority in their issuance. This argument rests on the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the constitutional provisions regarding separation of powers. The District Court rejected both of respondent's claims. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, finding that, for purposes of this dispute, Amtrak is a private entity and that Congress violated nondelegation principles in its grant of joint authority to Amtrak and the FRA. On that premise the Court of Appeals invalidated the metrics and standards.

Having granted the petition for writ of certiorari, 573 U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 2865; 189 L.Ed.2d 805 (2014), this Court now holds that, for purposes of determining the validity of the metrics and standards, Amtrak is a governmental entity. Although Amtrak's actions here were governmental, substantial [191 L.Ed.2d 157] questions respecting the lawfulness of the metrics and standards--including questions implicating the Constitution's structural separation of powers and the Appointments Clause, U.S. Const., Art. II, § 2, cl. 2--may still remain in the case. As those matters have not yet been passed upon by the Court of Appeals, this case is remanded.

I

A

Amtrak is a corporation established and authorized by a detailed federal statute enacted by Congress for no less a purpose than to preserve passenger services and routes on our Nation's railroads. See Lebron v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation, 513 U.S. 374, 383-384, 115 S.Ct. 961, 130 L.Ed.2d 902 (1995); National Railroad Passenger Corporation v. Atchison, T. & S. F. R. Co., 470 U.S. 451, 453-457, 105 S.Ct. 1441, 84 L.Ed.2d 432 (1985); [135 S.Ct. 1229] see also Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970, 84 Stat. 1328. Congress recognized that Amtrak, of necessity, must rely for most of its operations on track systems owned by the freight railroads. So, as a condition of relief from their common-carrier duties, Congress required freight railroads to allow Amtrak to use their tracks and facilities at rates agreed to by the parties--or in the event of disagreement to be set by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). See 45 U.S.C. § § 561, 562 (1970 ed.). The Surface Transportation Board (STB) now occupies the dispute-resolution role originally assigned to the ICC. See 49 U.S.C. § 24308(a) (2012 ed.). Since 1973, Amtrak has received a statutory preference over freight transportation in using rail lines, junctions, and crossings. See § 24308(c).

The metrics and standards at issue here are the result of a further and more recent enactment. Concerned by poor service, unreliability, and delays resulting from freight traffic congestion, Congress passed the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) in 2008. See 122 Stat. 4907. Section 207(a) of the PRIIA provides for the creation of the metrics and standards:

" Within 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak shall jointly, in consultation with the Surface Transportation Board, rail carriers over whose rail lines Amtrak trains operate, States, Amtrak employees, nonprofit employee organizations representing Amtrak employees, and groups representing Amtrak passengers, as appropriate, develop new or improve existing metrics and minimum standards for measuring the performance and service quality of intercity passenger train operations, including cost recovery, on-time...

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