Griffioen v. Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Ry. Co., No. 16-1462

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtMANSFIELD, Justice.
Citation914 N.W.2d 273
Parties Mark GRIFFIOEN, Joyce Ludvicek, Mike Ludvicek, Sandra Skelton, and Brian Vanous, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Appellants, v. CEDAR RAPIDS AND IOWA CITY RAILWAY COMPANY, Alliant Energy Corporation, Union Pacific Railroad Company, and Union Pacific Corporation, Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 16-1462
Decision Date22 June 2018

914 N.W.2d 273

Mark GRIFFIOEN, Joyce Ludvicek, Mike Ludvicek, Sandra Skelton, and Brian Vanous, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Appellants,
v.
CEDAR RAPIDS AND IOWA CITY RAILWAY COMPANY, Alliant Energy Corporation, Union Pacific Railroad Company, and Union Pacific Corporation, Appellees.

No. 16-1462

Supreme Court of Iowa.

Filed June 22, 2018
Rehearing Denied July 18, 2018


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.

Alice 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 Corporation.

MANSFIELD, Justice.

914 N.W.2d 277

This 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.

After 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.

Our 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 plaintiff).

Two 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 F. App’x 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

914 N.W.2d 278

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. , 79 Cal.App.4th 1053, 94 Cal.Rptr.2d 661, 666–67 (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").

A 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 preempted).

In 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.

I. Background Facts & Proceedings.

Because 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 flood.

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

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washing away during the flooding. Two days later, two of the four bridges collapsed.

The 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.

On June 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.1

The defendants removed the action to the United States...

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8 practice notes
  • State v. Coffman, No. 16-1720
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 22, 2018
    ..., Chief Justice Cady concluded that under the facts presented, a warrantless search of an automobile could be sustained on an exigent- 914 N.W.2d 273circumstances theory but only because the defendant failed to show that technology made the acquisition of a warrant practical under the circu......
  • Gordon v. New England Cent. R.R., Case No. 2:17-cv-00154
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. District of Vermont
    • October 10, 2019
    ...second-guessing of decisions made by railroads" are preempted by the ICCTA. Griffioen v. Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Ry. Co., 914 N.W.2d 273, 277 (Iowa 2018). To allow such a claim to proceed would subject a railroad to unpredictable, piecemeal state regulation with little to no guida......
  • Wermerskirchen v. Canadian Nat'l R.R., No. 18-2039
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 5, 2021
    ...v. Liggett Grp. Inc. , 505 U.S. 504, 516, 112 S. Ct. 2608, 2617, 120 L.Ed.2d 407 (1992) ; Griffioen v. Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Ry. , 914 N.W.2d 273, 291 (Iowa 2018) (Appel, J., dissenting); Freeman v. Grain Processing Corp. , 848 N.W.2d 58, 75 (Iowa 2014).But federal preemption of stat......
  • Wermerskirchen v. Can. Nat'l Rd., No. 18-2039
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 5, 2021
    ...Cipollone v. Liggett Grp. Inc., 505 U.S. 504, 516, 112 S. Ct. 2608, 2617 (1992); Griffioen v. Cedar Rapids & Page 27Iowa City Ry., 914 N.W.2d 273, 291 (Iowa 2018) (Appel, J., dissenting); Freeman v. Grain Processing Corp., 848 N.W.2d 58, 75 (Iowa 2014). But federal preemption of state l......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • State v. Coffman, No. 16-1720
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 22, 2018
    ..., Chief Justice Cady concluded that under the facts presented, a warrantless search of an automobile could be sustained on an exigent- 914 N.W.2d 273circumstances theory but only because the defendant failed to show that technology made the acquisition of a warrant practical under the circu......
  • Gordon v. New England Cent. R.R., Case No. 2:17-cv-00154
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. District of Vermont
    • October 10, 2019
    ...second-guessing of decisions made by railroads" are preempted by the ICCTA. Griffioen v. Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Ry. Co., 914 N.W.2d 273, 277 (Iowa 2018). To allow such a claim to proceed would subject a railroad to unpredictable, piecemeal state regulation with little to no guida......
  • Wermerskirchen v. Canadian Nat'l R.R., No. 18-2039
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 5, 2021
    ...v. Liggett Grp. Inc. , 505 U.S. 504, 516, 112 S. Ct. 2608, 2617, 120 L.Ed.2d 407 (1992) ; Griffioen v. Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Ry. , 914 N.W.2d 273, 291 (Iowa 2018) (Appel, J., dissenting); Freeman v. Grain Processing Corp. , 848 N.W.2d 58, 75 (Iowa 2014).But federal preemption of stat......
  • Wermerskirchen v. Can. Nat'l Rd., No. 18-2039
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 5, 2021
    ...Cipollone v. Liggett Grp. Inc., 505 U.S. 504, 516, 112 S. Ct. 2608, 2617 (1992); Griffioen v. Cedar Rapids & Page 27Iowa City Ry., 914 N.W.2d 273, 291 (Iowa 2018) (Appel, J., dissenting); Freeman v. Grain Processing Corp., 848 N.W.2d 58, 75 (Iowa 2014). But federal preemption of state l......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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