Dominianni v. Consolidated Rail Corp.

CourtNew York Town Court
Citation443 N.Y.S.2d 334,110 Misc.2d 929
Decision Date29 September 1981
PartiesEmil DOMINIANNI, Plaintiff, v. CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, Defendant.

Page 334

443 N.Y.S.2d 334
110 Misc.2d 929
Emil DOMINIANNI, Plaintiff,
v.
CONSOLIDATED RAIL CORPORATION, Defendant.
Harrison Town Court, Westchester County.
Sept. 29, 1981.

Page 336

Sanford Goldman, New York City, for plaintiff.

Michael J. Siris, New York City, for defendant.

DECISION

HARVEY J. FRIED, Town Justice.

This action by a Conrail commuter for breach of his contract of carriage, by reason of Conrail furnishing persistently late, overcrowded, unheated, odorous and filthy trains, requires at the outset a determination of the nature of the rights and obligations to which his commutation ticket entitled him.

I

THE STANDARD OF SERVICE TO WHICH A PASSENGER IS ENTITLED:

The common law view, well settled as early as Willis v. Long Island R.R. Co., 34 N.Y. 670, 683 (1866), was that a passenger was entitled to be transported "safely and properly" within "suitable and reasonable accommodations". The Railroad Law and Public Service Law, adopted in 1910 (consolidating earlier enactments), thus were declaratory of the common law in mandating that common carriers furnish,

"such service and facilities as shall be safe and adequate and in all respects just and reasonable" (Public Service Law, Sec. 26)

and, that a railroad

"shall start and run its cars ... at regular times ... and shall furnish sufficient accommodations for the transportation of all passengers" ... (Railroad Corp. Law, Sec. 54).

Enactment of the Transportation Law, in 1970, merely highlighted the durability of the common law standard recognized by the Court of Appeals a century earlier in Willis, supra. Thus, Transportation Law, Sec. 96 provides that every carrier,

"shall furnish ... such service and facilities as shall be safe and adequate and in all respects just and reasonable".

Accordingly, the Court holds that the language of Transportation Law, Sec. 96 sets forth the standard of service to which a passenger is entitled ... regardless of whether that standard be deemed common law or statutory. The application of such standard to the facts of any particular case is, of course, an accustomed task of courts and juries (see, e. g., Davis v. New York Central R. Co., 163 Misc. 710, 298 N.Y.S. 44 (App. Term, 1st Dept., 1937)).

II

APPLICABILITY OF STATUTORY AND COMMON LAW STANDARDS TO CONRAIL

Conrail contends that it is exempt from the statutory standard of "just and reasonable" service because it operates the commuter lines under a contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). This MTA connection is claimed to be dispositive on two separate grounds. First, on

Page 337

the theory that the Transportation Law (and its predecessors) does not apply to MTA because MTA, being a public benefit corporation performing an "essential governmental function" (Public Authorities Law, Secs. 1263, 1264), is neither a "railroad corporation" nor a "common carrier" as those terms are defined by Transportation Law, Secs. 2 (6) and (7). Second, because, Public Authorities Law, Section 1266 (8) specifically exempts MTA from the regulatory authority, under the Transportation Law, of the Department of Transportation ("DOT") and its predecessor, the Public Service Commission (Long Island Railroad Corp. v. Public Service Commission, 30 A.D.2d 409, 292 N.Y.S.2d 167 (2d Dept. 1968) affd. 23 N.Y.2d 852, 298 N.Y.S.2d 65, 245 N.E.2d 799; Metropolitan Transportation Authority v. Village of Tuckahoe, 67 Misc.2d 895, 325 N.Y.S.2d 718 (SC West., 1971)).

Conrail concludes therefore that the standard of performance due a passenger under the Transportation Law has no bearing on Conrail's operations and that the sole lawful measures of its performance are its own tariff schedules which, paradoxically, were filed under the self-same Transportation Law which Conrail claims to be irrelevant when relied upon by plaintiff.

The difficulties with Conrail's position are several.

1. MTA, it is true, is a governmental agency and neither a "common carrier" nor a "railroad corporation" (Publ.Auth.Law, Secs. 1263, 1264, Transp.Law, Secs. 2 (6) and (7)). Conrail, however, is not a governmental agency; it is--or at least was intended to be--a for-profit corporation; it is a common carrier; and it is subject to State regulation (45 U.S.C., Sec. 741(b); Transp.Law, Secs. 2 (7), 95).

Unlike MTA, then, Conrail is within the statutory definition of enterprises which are made subject to the Transportation Law and is not explicitly immunized by the Public Authorities Law from DOT regulation. Conrail's immunity, if any, therefore must be found in the language of its contract with MTA and MTA's broad authority in contracting, to do,

"all things it deems necessary, convenient or desirable, to manage, control and direct the maintenance and operation of transportation facilities, equipment or real property operated by or under contract, lease or other arrangement ..." (Publ.Auth.Law, Sec. 1266(8))

The MTA-Conrail "contract, lease or other arrangement", however, never was offered at trial nor was any reference made to pertinent terms thereof. Hence, on this record, there is no basis for finding that Conrail shares MTA's claimed immunity from the standards and regulations generally applicable to common carriers and railroad corporations in this State.

2. Quite apart from the issue of whether Conrail shares MTA's immunity from regulation by DOT under the Transportation Law, there remains the issue of whether Conrail is subject to the standards of performance imposed by the statute--and by common law.

The Transportation Law operates upon two distinct levels. On the one, DOT is empowered to regulate carriers and adopt administrative standards (e. g., Transportation Law, Article 2); on the other, the Legislature, itself has enacted its own...

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2 practice notes
  • Fendelman v. Conrail
    • United States
    • New York Villiage Court
    • March 16, 1983
    ...condition 10 complained of by a plaintiff (Dominianni v. Consolidated Rail Corporation, 1981, Harrison Town Justice Court, Fried, J., 110 Misc.2d 929, 443 N.Y.S.2d 334) the defendant has nonetheless failed to meet the required standard of performance mandated of a common To hold with the de......
  • Leeds v. Metropolitan Transp. Authority
    • United States
    • New York City Court
    • July 9, 1982
    ...and the Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail), to passengers for late and faulty service. (See Dominianni v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 110 Misc.2d 929, 443 N.Y.S.2d 334 Kessel v. Long Island R. R. Co., 107 Misc.2d 1067, 436 N.Y.S.2d 684 Javeline v. Long Island R. R. Co., 106 Misc.2d 814, 435 N.Y......
2 cases
  • Fendelman v. Conrail
    • United States
    • New York Villiage Court
    • March 16, 1983
    ...condition 10 complained of by a plaintiff (Dominianni v. Consolidated Rail Corporation, 1981, Harrison Town Justice Court, Fried, J., 110 Misc.2d 929, 443 N.Y.S.2d 334) the defendant has nonetheless failed to meet the required standard of performance mandated of a common To hold with the de......
  • Leeds v. Metropolitan Transp. Authority
    • United States
    • New York City Court
    • July 9, 1982
    ...and the Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail), to passengers for late and faulty service. (See Dominianni v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 110 Misc.2d 929, 443 N.Y.S.2d 334 Kessel v. Long Island R. R. Co., 107 Misc.2d 1067, 436 N.Y.S.2d 684 Javeline v. Long Island R. R. Co., 106 Misc.2d 814, 435 N.Y......

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